The missing e-learning ingredient? The fun!
Homework is about to get more exciting for Europe’s bored students, with the power of computer games being harnessed for home learning.
Parents and teachers often despair at the amount of time children spend playing video games. Research has shown home computers are used twice as often for playing games as for doing homework. The studies have also shown that homework is only the third priority when school children use computers.
For the past two years a team of European researchers has been working on developing teaching tools that are also video games. This strategy is in itself not new, but the type of game they are developing is.
Breaking the boredom barrier
The starting point of the ELEKTRA project is a recognition of the deficits of the current generation of digital learning games. Such learning tools are simply boring compared to the games they emulate. So one of the goals of the research is to make learning games fun.
In fact the EU-funded project’s stated vision is to make learning as exciting as playing leading-edge computer games.
The researchers decided to approach the task using a multidisciplinary approach. The partners on the ELEKTRA project are not just IT specialists and games developers but also come from a variety of other disciplines. Alongside the tech heads are educationalists, cognitive psychologists and even neuroscientists.
Pedagogy meets computer science
Pedagogy, the art of being a teacher, is combined with neuroscience, cognitive science, and plain old computer science.
The researchers first examined what gamers find particularly appealing about popular video games so as to develop educational programs that are equally colourful and exciting.
They found that a high degree of interactivity and realism attracted gamers and kept them playing. Such games usually make the user an active protagonist faced with a series of choices and complex features. They tended to keep players engaged until the end of the game.
The researchers also found that gamers become embedded in an entertaining universe with its own rules and residents.
Getting lost in a new universe
Based on these factors the researchers set out to develop a game based on the school curriculum, and chose Grade 8-level optics for the test. They created an interactive universe in which the great Italian scientist Galileo Galilei is the main character.
The facial expressions for the game’s characters were refined with help from the neuroscientists. They used sophisticated scanning equipment to determine how brain activity varied when different computer-generated expressions were shown.
The other specialists chipped in with their own pieces of the puzzle to ensure the learner-player becomes involved in a situation which he or she considers important and meaningful.
While the game itself it is still very much an ongoing project with much work yet to be done, students who tried out the first ELEKTRA game were very impressed. The researchers have opened the door to a new generation of learning games.
As a result, parents may soon be encouraging their kids to head for the home computer and start playing ‘games’.
Fields of science
Call for proposal
See other projects for this call
Funding SchemeSTREP - Specific Targeted Research Project