Edutainment in the form of multi-media learning games have long been popular in schools and even in our homes. Action video games often are treated as leisure time “toys” and even time-wasters. We laud the fitness addition of WiiFit, FootGaming, Gamercize and other ways to exergame our way to wellness, but the connection that active video game play to real learning and enhanced brain function has been more slowly accepted.
Playing action video games on a regular basis can alter a player’s attention skills. FootGaming (TM) is one ExerLearning strategy (R) that connects the use of active controllers to computers and existing learning and game software. The FootPOWR computer peripheral is a fantastic, active mouse. The Gamercize adds activity to the use of a computer via stepping.
Many success stories are linked to adding physical activity to the learning day. The easiest way to add such activity is by harnessing active controllers and games students (and their teachers) already enjoy.
According to a recent paper by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), games, when developed correctly and used appropriately, can engage players in learning that is specifically applicable to school curriculum—and teachers can leverage the learning in these games without disrupting the worlds of either “play” or school. ExerLearning founder, Judy Shasek, poses this question, “If we are going to spend valuable time in busy school days adding various computer games, why not connect that learning/focus time with much-needed physical activity?
“Moving Learning Games Forward: Obstacles, Opportunities, and Openness,” by Eric Klopfer, Scot Osterweil, and Katie Salen of the Education Arcade, an MIT research division that explores games that promote learning through play, explains why various video and educational games have seen an increase in popularity: mainly owing to the advances in consumer games.
“Consumer games are also changing the perception of the nature of video games, making them more accepted in a greater diversity of places. For example, gaming is becoming part of … the activities in senior centers, libraries, museums,” and the workplace, says the report. “They are also providing cheaper and easier ways to reach everyone, making open access to games a reality.”
The report credits new gaming platforms and a “sinking edutainment ship” as factors that have led to an increased education interest in gaming.
A report from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, “Game Changer: Investing in digital play to advance children’s learning and health,” claims that on an average day, children as young as eight spend as many hours engaged in media activity as they spend in school. Seventy-five percent of American children play computer and video games, it says.
The report, said Michael Levine, executive director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, aims to help answer the question: “Can digital games help reshape our nation’s approach to learning and growing?”
The center, which supports research, innovation, and investment in digital media technologies to advance children’s learning, interviewed experts in learning, health, and civic participation games–as well as scholarly skeptics, says Levine–who are directly involved in research, design, and policy development in the field of gaming.
The report analyzed issues raised by the interviewees through a review of current literature and news sources.
“We conclude that current approaches to solving key education and child-health challenges insufficiently leverage the ubiquitous digital media that currently pervade children’s lives,” said Levine. When activity turns this computer game play into ExerLearning (R) the demonstrated potential of digital media could become a ‘game changer’ in advancing children’s prospects in both learning and fitness in the decade ahead.
The report says that children can learn content and 21st-century skills, create media, and think of systems as a whole through successful digital games. ExerLearning adds fitness, balance, focus, eye-foot coordination, leadership and teamwork to the mix.
With so many children and young adults playing video games each day, researchers are exploring how exposure to consistent game playing affects brain functions and brain plasticity–the brain’s ability to change throughout life.
Daphne Bavelier, professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Rochester in New York and a recent presenter at the National Center for Technology Innovation’s annual Technology Innovators Conference, says her research suggests that playing action video games on a regular basis can alter a player’s attention skills. Casual game leaders from PopCap and the team at East Carolinea University led by Dr. Carmen Russoniello have published similar findings. The popular book, SPARK, by Harvard’s Dr. John Ratey reinforces the value of physical activity embedded in the learning process even more soundly.
Skills that are enhanced by action video game training include low-level vision owing to enhanced contrast sensitivity function; various aspects of attention, such as monitoring several objects at once or searching through a cluttered scene; more complex task constructs such as multi-tasking and task-switching; and a general speeding up of perceptual processing.
Bavelier added that while these brain functions could develop with all video games, action games push the speed of learning.
“Action games have diverse environments that don’t let gamers lose attention. They also let gamers explore their environments, and this is good. Most also have a reward system for completing actions successfully, which has been shown to be a strong motivator to playing,” said Bavelier.
By studying how various video games affect brain function, Bavelier and her colleagues at the University of Rochester hope to determine how performance can be altered by experience (the length of game playing) and to characterize the factors that favor the transfer of learning (in other words, to identify the aspects of video games help people to learn). These ongoing behavioral investigations are combined with brain imaging techniques, including MRI and fMRI, to allow for a more direct characterization of the brain systems that are modified by video-game playing.
In “The development of attention skills in action video game players,” Bavelier’s most recent study, Bavelier and her colleagues use the Attentional Network Test (ANT) to illustrate how action video game players of all ages have enhanced attentional skills, thereby helping them make faster correct responses to targets.
Bavelier said while she has not yet studied how increased attentional skills and other brain functions affected by action video-game playing can translate into classroom learning, other researchers at the University of Oregon have begun those studies.
At the University of Oregon, researchers are studying how the brain functions affected by video games in turn can affect learning.
Helen Neville, director of the university’s Brain Development Lab, is using MRI and electrophysiological techniques to study the brain’s development and plasticity.
As researchers begin to build the pieces of what makes a good educational game, and why and how gaming affects learning, the Joan Ganz Cooney report has a set of recommendations to jump-start a national “game-changing” action plan that addresses gaming in education.
Shasek, who developed ExerLearning and the popular FootPOWR computer controller agrees with the Joan Ganz Cooney report that stated, “Games [promote] understanding, motivation, and enjoyment and are terrific at immersing players in complex, feedback-rich problem spaces. And while they are most often not sufficient in and of themselves for a course of study, they can help many students advance beyond the temporary memorization of facts and procedures, attainments that are usually lost when classes stop.” FootGaming’s TEAM e3 program has connected leadership, video games, FootGaming and success for many at-risk students who have become successful and productive students. We welcome your comments and anecdotes as you add physical activity and computer-delivered games and content in your classroom or home.