A government schools adviser and 'behaviour tsar' has criticised plans to teach schoolchildren using a new educational version of Minecraft, due to be unveiled by Microsoft later today.
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According to The Times, Tom Bennett says "I am not a fan of Minecraft in lessons. This smacks to me of another gimmick which will get in the way of children actually learning. Removing these gimmicky aspects of education is one of the biggest tasks facing us as teachers. We need to drain the swamp of gimmicks.”
Proponents of Minecraft: Education Edition suggest it can make learning fun and collaborative, teaching social skills at the same time as such subjects as engineering, history, and the visual arts. Sample lesson plans on the Minecraft Wiki also feature environmental topics, including preventing urban sprawl, deforestation, and sustainable living.
Bennett clearly prefers traditional methods. “I would say to teachers: ‘Do you need to use this game or is there something that is cheaper and better - like books?’ By offering a game and a gimmicky way of learning a subject, you run a real risk of children focusing on the wrong thing.”
Inevitably, his comments catalysed a debate on Twitter, with Guardian journliast John Harris accusing Bennett of "Gradgrindian bollockry". In fairness to Bennett, he began by making the reasonable point that there should be evidence beyond the anecdotal before teaching methods are changed:
There then follows a useful conversation - by Twitter standards, at least - about how quickly evidence can be gathered and how substantive it needs to be before we can at least experiment with new methods.
Another Guardian journalist - this time their games editor Keith Stuart - cited "the experiences I've heard from dozens of schools" suggesting that Minecraft had value, while Games industry luminary Ian Livingstone dismissed Bennett as a “luddite” (with, as if to prove a point, a hashtag).
Clearly tired of being reasonable, Bennett then resorted to reductio ad absurdum:
Right I'm off to design some lessons about the Great Schism using Tomb Raider, Jet Set Willy and a box of frogs I need to use up— Tom Bennett (@tombennett71) 20 November 2016
I'm sure every reader of this site understands how compulsive games can be, and if we can make them educational at the same time then it seems to me this is a good thing. Is anecdotal evidence enough to justify this experiment? Or should we wait for something more substantive first?