By John Lauritsen

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — The pandemic and social distancing have put some separation between us and the rest of the world.

That’s especially true at college campuses where many classrooms have been replaced by Zoom.

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But a professor at Hamline University has found a way for his students to get together that doesn’t involve being in-person, in the classroom or on Zoom.

If you’re thinking about going back to school, keep in mind that you may need a map for Professor David Davies’ digital anthropology class. There are lakes, mountains, giant trees and it’s always springtime.

“It’s like a third location. So my students are there and I’m here and we can meet together in ‘Minecraft’,” said Davies, professor of Anthropology.

Using the game “Minecraft” to teach anthropology students is a bit of a social experiment, and it took some getting used to. Instead of gathering at the Old Main or Drew Science Center for class, student-avatars gather at the virtual versions of those buildings — buildings that they helped make.

“I may make a sort of small, introductory lecture. Give the students some things to discuss. And then say go to a mountain top and talk about it. And then they fly up to a mountain top and they sit there and then they might build a hut and sit in the hut and then talk about the work,” said Davies.

Turning a play space into a classroom space is a way to still see each other when you can’t be together.

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“It allows us to be a bit more relaxed and creative in a space that we created,” said Vlad Bowen, anthropology major.

“It’s really fun. It’s a fun take on learning. And it always keeps me engaged,” said Aaron Lacchman, anthropology major.

But the class is challenging in more ways than one. The curriculum is complex so playtime is the main part of this.

“That’s the beauty of the ‘Minecraft’ world. We are not at Hamline in a certain way,” said Delaney Grundhauser, anthropology major.

This has been so unique and such a success that when they return to campus, “Minecraft” will be waiting.

“’Minecraft’ will be a permanent addition to the class but I also am really excited to be back in person,” said Davies.

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Davies said that anthropologists know people like to play together and learn together, which is how he got the “Minecraft” idea.

John Lauritsen