Game over for award-winning technology project

27th February 2015 at 00:00
Education Scotland accused of `digital book-burning' by creator

A pioneer of computer game-based learning has accused Education Scotland of "digital book-burning" after years of work disappeared from the organisation's website.

Derek Robertson, who worked for Education Scotland as national adviser in emerging technologies and learning until 2013, ran the acclaimed Consolarium project but was stunned to find almost no trace of it on the website last month.

The Consolarium ran from 2006 until 2013, and involved hundreds of teachers and thousands of pupils throughout Scotland. It won several awards and international acclaim for its groundbreaking work, which showed how games such as Mario Kart, Guitar Hero and Nintendogs could have a powerful impact on learning.

Mr Robertson, now a lecturer at the University of Dundee, contacted Education Scotland to ask why the material was no longer available. He was told there had been a review of online services and that some of it was available in an archive, although Mr Robertson found only a single introductory page.

The vast majority could not be found, including more than 50 video clips and detailed case studies. Mr Robertson said that ethically he could not publish the materials himself, as participants agreed to them being posted online only by Education Scotland and its predecessor organisation, Learning and Teaching Scotland.

On his personal blog, he writes: "They are the custodians of such material and they have a duty to understand, respect and value the role they play in being part of the wider collegiate and connected digital world that helps continually inform our thinking and practice. What are they thinking of with such digital book-burning?"

A spokesman for Education Scotland said its website was undergoing a major review and much of the Consolarium content had been archived or moved to a new location, but that it was planning to create a new games-based learning page, which would include the old content.

"We aim to ensure that all our resources, materials and case studies are up to date and are continuing to demonstrate effective practice," the spokesman added. "We are intending to have a closer look at games-based learning and its impact on learners over the next year."

The Consolarium's accolades include a special innovation award at the 2008 Handheld Learning Conference in London and, in 2012, a Naace Award for best educational service. The team was invited to speak at the Houses of Parliament in 2010 and the Qatar Foundation wanted them to run its first major venture into games-based learning.

Several studies documented the project's success, including a paper for the British Journal of Educational Technology by Mr Robertson and University of Dundee professor of primary education David Miller (bit.lyConsoleResearch), showing that work with commercial game Dr Kawashima's Brain Training had improved primary pupils' arithmetic.

Steve Wheeler, associate professor of learning technologies at Plymouth University, said he was unaware of any similar cases where large chunks of online educational content had been removed. Education Scotland had "a duty of care to make sure that this content is kept available to the public", he added.

"It could be seen as irresponsible by those who have taken it down," he said. "This was publicly funded content which could have done a lot of good if it had stayed up."

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