Equality, diversity, inclusion and Redstone

Minecraft block image
Credit: pixabay, danielalejandroo1712, CC0

In this post, Neil McCormick, a policy officer within Information Services, offers some reflections on the conference sessions he attended at the recent Learning and Teaching Conference. This post is part of the ‘Hot topic’ theme ‘Lessons from the Learning and Teaching Conference 2021′.

Curriculum Transformation

Keynote speaker Kerri-Lee Krause gave us important advice on how best to manage and consult during a curriculum transformation project, and the thing that stuck with me was her example of structural change at Victoria University Melbourne. VU replaced the parallel learning of several learning units over 12-week semesters with four-week blocks that concentrate on one learning unit at a time.

While there’s perhaps a greater need to make sure that earlier learning is reinforced, and that synoptic elements are included in each block, this approach could work better for students who have several demands on their time (work, family, even just those students who want to make the most of university’s extra-curricular opportunities) to help them take in and assimilate their teaching. This is something that chimed with my own recent experience of learning languages in my spare time largely through mobile apps.

Assessment and Feedback

Ah, there are always interesting problems in assessment!  The first two talks presented some evidence of how different assessment methods differentially spread the cohort being assessed. For example, in his talk on Unintended consequences of approaches to marking and assessment, Michael Daw showed that, in the contexts examined, single best answer questions seemed to spread candidate marks much more than essays or essay-type questions. This also seemed to hold for marks at the top end of the cohort.

The talk linked well with a second talk on Supporting Criteria-Based Marking, by Paul Anderson. Paul outlined the workings and rationale for a bespoke programme that can combine very granular assessment outputs, which may be as simple as binary pass/fail, into decisions that are again not necessarily numerically-based.


In a well-intentioned but probably futile attempt to steal a march on my primary-aged children, I signed up to Richard Fitzpatrick’s workshop on using Mojang’s Minecraft game to teach, in this case, undergraduate biological sciences.

As well as straightforward building and creation of shapes, buildings and so on, Minecraft lets the creator use certain materials to build working machines using redstone circuitry and, er, slime blocks.  It presents some great opportunities for students to explore concepts deeply through building structural or geometric models, but potentially at the risk of students spending an inordinate amount of time either learning the game or implementing their models.

An alternative way to use Minecraft is for staff or student interns to make-up challenges within a Minecraft world, and for students to then explore and learn from this. A nice example was given of a lockdown field trip to the virtual Isle of Great Cumbrae for tasks including counting and classifying tortoises on the beach.

A virtual field trip can overcome some accessibility issues for some students, but using Minecraft or other virtual worlds for teaching still leaves some other accessibility concerns.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

My impressions here are from several sessions, including one of the keynotes. I’m in the sorts of groups (white, male, born less recently than average, etc) that mean I rarely encounter discrimination against me, although I think I may still identify with parts of an excellent narrative presentation from colleagues in GeoSciences around the impact of economic differences between students.

So, it was helpful to learn more about the extent of the microaggressions that colleagues and students clearly and frequently perceive and are hurt by. This leads to interesting questions around the extent to which the perpetrator in any given case is aware of what they are doing.

…think about what your reaction would be if you stand on my foot.

The image that has stayed with me is from presenter Rayya Ghul’s suggestion to think about what your reaction would be if you stand on my foot. Would I point out that you’re making my foot hurt if you didn’t seem to notice? I suppose I’d want to be sufficiently sure that you’d made a genuine mistake, but there is the more sinister possibility. Perhaps you know you’re causing me pain, and worse – that you might use my intervention to escalate the situation and belittle me further?

Neil McCormick

Neil is a policy officer within Information Services, focusing on digital learning and educational technology. He has previously specialised in computer vision and image processing, undergraduate admissions and medical student assessment.

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