Hull academic recognised for Minecraft work

A University of Hull academic, who is using a virtual reality computer game to teach students, has won a prestigious award

Joel Mills, Technology Enhanced Learning Advisor at the University has won the Learning Technologist of the year award, from the Association of Learning Technologists (ALT), for his work with world-building computer game Minecraft.

Mills uses Minecraft as an educational tool to help students understand various concepts by trying them out in a virtual world.

He says the use of Minecraft in primary and secondary schools has great advantages as it encourages children to begin conversations about topics they may not have done so, including about architecture, buildings, converting 2D to 3D and ratios.

In these settings, he likens the use of the game to ‘chocolate-covered broccoli’. He said: “It’s about using the child’s interest in a computer game. It is very straightforward, they play a game they enjoy, but have conversations about advanced topics and learn new things. They are doing maths, talking about architecture, drawings, ratios and other ideas, just by building blocks.”

Mills says he now wants to take the use of Minecraft to a different level by using it to teach university students. He is working with students in areas such as chemistry, history, archaeology and business management in a series of projects at the university.

‘Winning the award recognises that there are educators out there who are succeeding in being innovative and creative in the way they engage with learning’

He is using the game mechanics to create maps in Minecraft that teach supply-chain management and the issues around trade agreements, negotiations and contract. In the archaeology and history departments, the game is being used to recreate the medieval site Wharram Percy and will give the undergraduate students the opportunity to explore the site and recreate the medieval settlement from their theory books 

The work came about after students were having difficulty in interpreting the site from their textbooks, particularly the scale and size of the buildings.

He said: “We take real geographical data from maps and process it in Minecraft. They look at the text book and re-create the buildings in the game, it helps them to understand the whole site of Wharram Percy by rebuilding it in the game. By virtualising the lay-out they can understand it and walk around the site before they go to visit it. 

“Winning the award recognises that there are educators out there who are succeeding in being innovative and creative in the way they engage with learning. Personally for me, it recognises dedication and commitment to lifelong learning in all its forms and the support I have had from my wife and our children to be able to create work on these projects.”

The award builds on the University’s capabilities in virtual reality including creating facilities to train radiographers in the treatment of cancer patients and training offshore wind technicians for hazardous environments.