Use Minecraft to build it and the students will come
Scotland is failing to exploit the potential of computer games and coding in classrooms, and risks falling behind other countries, according to the creator of a new schools project.
Education lecturer Derek Robertson, who set up the learning programme, which is based around the fantasy building game Minecraft, said it was "a real shame" that Scotland was now trailing in an area where it was once a pioneer.
The project, called On The Waterfront, challenges older primary pupils to work with city planners and use Minecraft to reimagine Dundee's waterfront. It launched last week with a training session for teachers from 25 schools.
Mr Robertson, a former national adviser on emerging technologies and learning, said that Scotland led the way internationally on games-based education and coding until about five years ago but was now falling behind.
The University of Dundee lecturer, who has carried out research into the effectiveness of games-based learning, added that, disappointingly, children often told him they were allowed to use only computer games that contained explicit educational content, such as sums or spelling tests. There was still a common misconception that the things children did outside school were "flippant and throwaway", he said.
Previously, Mr Robertson has looked at how introducing Mario Kart racing games to lessons could increase the engagement of children who struggled educationally. Similarly, children who found classwork difficult were often experts at Minecraft.
"How do they know their way around this complex world yet they struggle with times tables?" he said. "That's something we need to explore."
Mr Robertson was accompanied at the teacher training session by a guest Minecraft expert - his P7 daughter, Aimee. "She said, `If you can imagine it, you can build it' - that encapsulates what Minecraft is," he added. "If you have a box of Lego you can build what you like with a limited number of blocks, but with Minecraft you have an unlimited number of blocks."
However, teachers did not need to be experts, Mr Robertson said. Instead, they should concentrate on encouraging pupils to build their own skills in the game, which allows players to construct incredibly detailed versions of imaginary or real buildings, such as the Taj Mahal, the Colosseum or Harry Potter's school Hogwarts.
An Education Scotland spokesman said: "Our technology resources, which highlight learning experiences and outcomes for children and young people, are not prescriptive and allow teachers to include games-based learning, coding and game design as part of the wider curriculum. Using their professional judgement and experience, teachers of technology subjects will decide what is best to be taught in their classes."
He added that the Scottish government was funding a development programme for Scottish computing teachers (Plan C) amounting to pound;200,000 a year over 2013-14 and 2014-15.
He also highlighted the national skills investment plan for ICT and digital technologies, which aims to make the education system more responsive to employers' needs and raise the profile of careers in the ICT and digital technology sectors.