Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

Games and Learning, Health and Social Impact

The majority of Americans regularly play computer and video games, spending billions of hours deeply immersed in their favorite interactive games. Only a tiny fraction of this time, however, is spent on video games specifically designed for learning, health or social impact.

At an August 2012 meeting hosted by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and sponsored by the National Science Foundation, a panel of international experts identified 5 main areas of focus to help raise the sector of scientifically validated games designed to boost well-being or attention:

(i) Better understanding of core game mechanics driving impact outcomes. Clearly not all games are created equal when it comes to fostering brain plasticity – some game mechanics appear more efficient than others, calling for a concerted effort in characterizing those game dynamics that are most potent in inducing brain plasticity and learning.

(ii) Incorporating inter-individual differences in game design. Recognizing that there are as many ways to play a game as there are players and experience levels, the need to acknowledge and exploit inter-individual variability was highlighted, calling for the design of individualized game experiences taking into account not only game play, but also physiological and brain markers in real time.

(iii) Greater focus on social and emotional skills .The fact that emotion and social conduct may be considered skills rather than traits, and thus like all skills can exhibit sizeable plasticity, calls for more games designed to impact affective states.

(iv) Clearer validation methodologies and benchmarks. Not a week goes by without some new claim about a new piece of software curing ADD/ADHD, or a new mini-game that slows cognitive aging. Yet, few of these statements withstand scrutiny. A hot debate about best methodological and reporting practices is thus underway in the field. In addition, objective demonstration of efficacy calls for larger multi-site studies, and possibly an infrastructure allowing independent evaluation of game/intervention efficacy.

(v) Developing sustainable, scalable publishing models. Translating in-lab research documenting a beneficial effect of video games on attention or well-being into a commercially-viable product that can reach many people and truly produce social change is a tall order. Lessons could be learned from the pharmaceutical industry, but alternate paths may be worth considering for behavioral interventions, such as through video games.

games for change

In the meeting, two key points repeatedly surfaced, which together form the framework for the future short term and long term goals outlined below. The first point is that there is reason for a great deal of optimism in this burgeoning field. It is now abundantly apparent that video games and other forms of interactive technology have the potential to stimulate profound as well as pervasive real world impact. The second point is that, although we are capable of producing video games easily, we nonetheless lack of the critical fundamental knowledge that allows the technology to be harnessed for specific learning, health and social outcomes. Attaining a working knowledge of the mechanisms, which provide for video game learning impact will be key to future success of the field.

A coordinated research agenda supported by academic, philanthropic and public interest funding was recommended. And it’s also suggested to hold competitions where teams of researchers and game designers will be challenged to produce the prototype of a game addressing a key research and learning or health impact objective. The contest will also be built around a well defined health or education impact to ensure that theory remains grounded in real world applications. A framework of how to design and deliver successful prize contests is proposed.

The need for collaboration between brain and cognitive scientists and game designers, developers and digital media publishing experts is crucial. Critically, these games would be built so that users and researchers can easily control in game mechanics, and thus adapt the games to their needs not only for play, but also for research.

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photo credit: Patrick Hoesly via photopin cc


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  1. Games and Learning, Health and Social Impact | Games and education |
  2. Games and Learning, Health and Social Impact | STEM Connections |

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“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
"I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create digital tutors that are as effective as personal tutors, educational software as compelling as the best video game," President Barack Obama said while touring a tech-focused Boston school (year 2011).
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