Youth Engagement Using Minecraft and VR Tech

November 18, 2014

On Friday, November 21st, we will celebrate the Minecraft + Oculus Rift project that involved youth from Trails West, Southeast, North-East and the African Centered Preparatory Academy.

Who:   You

What: Minecraft + Oculus Rift and KCDML showcase

When: Friday, November 21, 2014 at 6pm

Why: Why not?  Food, Fun, Future Tech!

Where:  Sprint Accelerator, 210 West 19th Terrace, Kansas City, MO


Participants were challenged to create their ideal neighborhood in Minecraft with the library as the base.  They created restaurants, banks, and railway systems.  The project required an immense amount of collaboration between participants, the ability to problem-solve and think logically about what it takes to make a neighborhood function, while also allowing them to imbue the neighborhood with their own creative perspective.

The Oculus Rift is virtual reality technology that then allows the youth to fully immerse themselves in the Minecraft neighborhood they created.  It also introduces them to this next generation technology and encourages them to think about how it is/isn’t relevant to their future lives, and how they can play a part in its development.


October 31, 2014

Oculus Rift

Oculus Intro

Oculus at the lab!

The Rifts have arrived.  Youth got a chance this week and last to experience the equipment using an Oculus demo world.  It was mind-blowing and participants are eager to see it deployed in Minecraft.

It has been an interesting process as the team has tried to make them work in Minecraft.  There are challenges using the Rift wth 3.0 USB ports.  The team immediately set about to test a variety of different work-arounds.  Most recently it has worked seamlessly on a desktop computer with a 2.0 USB connection, but unfortunately the lab operates primarily with laptop computers. It was also tested with a Lenova laptop through a 2.0 hub and after much adjustment finally worked, but for some reason it will not work with the lab’s Lenova computers even if we use a 2.0 USB hub.  It is the beauty of a development kit.  Oculus Rift never claimed to be plug and play.  So the quest continues.

In the meantime lab participants continue to build an impressive world in Minecraft.  As we get closer to showcase time they are really digging in and creating an engaging experience.


October 23, 2014

Red Stone and Powered Rails

This week in Minecraft, we are learning about Red Stone and Powered Rails. Here is a link to tutorial videos we are using.

September 19, 2014

Challenges Make Way for Opportunity

In our previous post we shared information about a few of our challenges. Today I’m going to share how we are intending to address some of those issues. The first challenge involved managing a highly mobile population; a population often mobile not of their own choosing but because of family obligations. As mentioned previously, to help address that issue we began working with on Minecraft on Mondays with students at AC Prep. Starting today, we are also adding the Trails West branch of the Kansas City Public Library on Fridays from 3-5pm. That branch consistently hosts teens every day after school that already have an interest in Minecraft.   The teen-focused staff at Trails West has already shared the project with youth and received a resounding “YES” in interest and desire to participate.

The other thing that was causing us to hold our breath just a little was receiving the Oculus Rift development kits, but we got an email this morning asking for clarification on the order implying that once those questions were resolved the equipment would be shipped. That is a positive sign.

Regarding the work just getting done, we are definitely seeing progress. We invite youth ages 13-18 to participate, but we are finding that in general the older youth are better at focusing on the building of the world. Many of our younger participants were initially more interested in blowing up the world. They wanted to play the game, and that is normal. Yet a major part of the process has been developing their ability to see beyond just playing a game, and recognizing their power to create a vision for their neighborhood.Zakaria and Nasir

Throughout this grant process, which is embedded in the larger digital media lab work of the library, we have encouraged youth to document events and activities. This included the Ethnic Enrichment Festival, the MakerFaire, the Minecraft project activities, and most recently they interviewed local youth poets who were guests on KKFI 90.1. Through these documentation efforts they are learning that their work is bigger than their school, or their library, or even their neighborhood…and that is exciting.

September 12, 2014

It’s Not All Roses…

As the weeks go flying by we’ve had a lot of successes, but we have also had some challenges – or rather, opportunities for growth.

Inherent in informal learning environments is a transient population. This is especially true in a library setting. Although we have a number of youth that regularly visit the library and the digital media lab, it can be different faces from week to week. In addition, many of the youth in the urban core move around a lot. In the past few weeks we have lost a number of youth involved in the Minecraft project that have moved completely out of the state of Missouri. This often means having to start over with a new set of youth, getting them up to par quickly. We didn’t go into this project blindly though. We knew that mobility would have an impact, which is why we added a group of youth from AC Preparatory Academy.   That group has been instrumental in providing consistency to the development of the Minecraft world, and their participation has translated into more visits to their local library.

The other hurdle has to do with the Oculus Rift development kits. We ordered two in July and were told they would ship in September. It is now the second week of September and the kits have not arrived. And of course, it is the Oculus Rift technology that has everyone, including the youth participants,extremely excited about this project. It is a set-back, but not a defeat. We will keep pressing forward with building the world and designing the game, while working through a myriad of options to implement the virtual reality piece of this puzzle.

It is always an interesting process when initiating a new project. You create a plan, but then life happens. Things have to be adjusted and re-designed, but ultimately things work out exactly as they should, and if you don’t panic along the way they often work out better than you could have ever planned. This is our mantra moving forward.

September 4, 2014

It’s Already Week 6?

The Minecraft project for KCDML continues to be a whirlwind experience.

On Saturday, August 16th KCDML youth, staff, and other adult collaborators attended the Ethnic Festival in Swope Park. This annual festival features over 60 different cultures sharing their food, music, and crafts with tens of thousands of visitors. KCDML, in cooperation with festival organizers, took pictures, interviewed performers and took in all the sights, sounds, and tastes of this amazing event right in the heart of our community.

The footage from the festival will be used to populate our Minecraft world, helping it become even more specific and relevant. This was an unexpected addition to the project, but one that we feel is important in really grounding the virtual space in real world activities.

KCDML staff was off-site this week attending a 4-day retreat in Pennsylvania, but the project continued moving forward with the assistance of KCPL Teen Associate Gabi Otto. That has been one of the greatest gifts to the project, having library staff that wasn’t assigned to KCDML jump in and participate because it resonates with the work they’ve been doing with KC youth for years. In fact, we understand clearly that’s the only way our work will continue to be sustainable.

The retreat that KCDML staff attended was funding by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the MacArthur Foundation. They brought together representatives from 24 YouMedia/Learning Lab/Digital Media Lab sites around the country. KCDML is part of a national movement to use Connected Learning and HOMAGO principles to engage our country’s youth in a way that is creative, powerful, and pertinent to youth.

This Minecraft project is a direct outgrowth of that philosophy and we believe that both the product and the process of this adventure will prove useful to the youth development field.


The Secret is Out!


“My name is Shay. I’m a freshman at Lee’s Summit North High School. Minecraft is revolutionary in that it helps you learn more about the outside world.”

Last month KCDML was awarded a grant from the Mozilla Gigabit Fund.  Our proposal was to extend the work being done in the lab using a popular gaming program – Minecraft.

While working with youth at the North-East and Southeast branch of the Kansas City Public Library a common conversation began to surface.  Andrew wanted to know why there were so many abandoned houses in his neighborhood.  Other students spoke of the discrepancy between the amenities in their neighborhood and those in other parts of the city. Out of those discussions came the idea of using Minecraft to design their ideal neighborhood. 

The grant allows us to purchase additional laptops, provide for staff hours, consult with experts from the Immersive Education Group, and (drumroll please) incorporate Oculus Rift virtual reality technology.

So periodically, on this page, you’ll get updates on the progress of this project.Minecraft Launch Screen

To begin, since the formal announcement on July 23rd we’ve secured Minecraft licenses and server software through MinecraftEDU.  We also decided to house the server software on a local computer for ease and immediacy, with an intention to migrate later to an external server.  The Oculus Rift development kits have been ordered.  Marcus Brown, our facilitator on the ground, has been working with KCDML adult collaborators to define the basis of the virtual world in which the youth will build their ideal neighborhoods. 

The team has added a second site in Southeast Kansas City which allows us to expand the number of youth that can be involved without substantially increasing the work necessary to accomplish the goal.  By partnering with the librarian at the Kansas City Public School’s African Centered College Preparatory Academy, KCDML can offer access to equipment, software, and expertise while allowing school staff to focus on recruitment and retention. We are also in talks with another location in the Northeast area to accomplish the same goal.

Many of our youth are already familiar with Minecraft and are excited about this challenge.  Twelve year-old Haven even brought in a booklet about the program and introduced both the adults and youth in the space to previously unknown aspects of the virtual world and capabilities available in Minecraft.  “What I like about Minecraft is you have the ability to build whatever you want,” he said “I also like how it’s a free roam game and you can go anywhere you want. Most importantly you can expand your imagination and create architectural designs.”

Of course there are others that are just being introduced to this game, but their learning curve is immensely short.  They are jumping right in and getting a handle on the software.

As you can imagine there’s still a lot more to do.  Staff is in the process of developing evaluation tools, and creating and implementing a social media strategy.  The most challenging part, which is often the case in the nonprofit world, is having the time to both implement the grant while making sure to document and promote it. Yet it is a reciprocal process.  You have to implement the project in order to satisfy the grant, but you also have to document and promote it in order to effectively use the success to create opportunities for more sustainable funding.  It’s an old story, but an important one. 

Stay tuned, next time we’ll give you a snapshot from the perspective of a KCDML mentor.