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Improving Education Through Social Gaming

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the i'd-play-a-number-munchers-mmo dept.

Education 44

A piece up at Mashable explores how some schools and universities are finding success at integrating social gaming into their education curriculum. Various game-related programs are getting assistance these days from sources like the government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "For the less well-to-do educator, the Federation of American Scientists has developed a first-person shooter-inspired cellular biology curriculum. Gamers explore the fully-interactive 3D world of an ill patient and assist the immune system in fighting back a bacterial infection. Dr. Melanie Ann Stegman has been evaluating the educational impacts of the game and is optimistic about her preliminary findings. 'The amount of detail about proteins, chemical signals and gene regulation that these 15-year-olds were devouring was amazing. Their questions were insightful. I felt like I was having a discussion with scientist colleagues,' said Stegman. Perhaps more importantly, the video game excites students about science. Motivating more youngsters to adopt a science-related career track has became a major education initiative of the Obama administration. So desperate to find a solution that motivates students to become scientists, the government has even enlisted Darpa, the Department of Defense’s 'mad scientist' research organization, to figure out a solution."

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Suddenly, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31069832)

Halo 3 frat beer pong playing is going to become a nerd activity?
...
God save us all.

Games can teach so much. (5, Funny)

nicknamenotavailable (1730990) | more than 4 years ago | (#31069836)

I've learned so much from games.
Everything, from Tetris to GTA (my favorite).

I'm even thinking about writing a book about it once I get paroled.

Re:Games can teach so much. (5, Funny)

paeanblack (191171) | more than 4 years ago | (#31069930)

I'm even thinking about writing a book about it once I get paroled.

Too bad you never played Breakout.

I learned a ton of stuff from games (1)

dushkin (965522) | more than 4 years ago | (#31069906)

Mario taught me that it's OK to take shrooms.
Pac-Mac told me I gotta munch as many pills as possible before the ghosts get me.
And lastly EVE taught me that no matter how big a guy is, I can always bring 200 of my friends and kill him.

Educational benefits of educational games. (3, Insightful)

triorph (992939) | more than 4 years ago | (#31069936)

Its funny how the supposed "educational" games seem to have the least educational benefit. Games with no intended educational use such as Civilisation seem to do the best jobs of it. Of course nowadays with most games reaching for the lowest common denominator (aka Consoles) its hard to say whether normal games will give the best educational response, but at least that's how it has traditionally been.

Re:Educational benefits of educational games. (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31069996)

OK, fair enough, not RTFAing.

But did you even read the summary?!

"The amount of detail about proteins, chemical signals and gene regulation that these 15-year-olds were devouring was amazing."

I don't recall anything like this in Civ.

Re:Educational benefits of educational games. (2, Interesting)

Bakkster (1529253) | more than 4 years ago | (#31072962)

"The amount of detail about proteins, chemical signals and gene regulation that these 15-year-olds were devouring was amazing."

I don't recall anything like this in Civ.

You obviously never read the Civilopedia. With the obvious difference of describing history rather than cellular biology, it had a similar wealth of information that was almost as vital for success. I learned about the Great Library, Colossus at Rhodes, Hanging Gardens, and most other wonders of the ancient world through that game. These are things we never studied in school, and I wouldn't have learned about them unless I happened to watch the right program on the History channel (while they weren't airing shows about UFOs and other bollocks).

But more importantly, it opens a learning opportunity outside of the game. It provides an incentive and interest in the topic that most kids wouldn't otherwise have. In this instance, it's a depiction of the immune system that takes it from words on a page about immunoglobin and mast cells to an exciting view of the actual processes as they happen. Even if the game doesn't describe a particular process, many students would be interested to pursue the topic afterward. The game doesn't need to be the only vector for learning, it can increase the interest in further learning from textbooks and lectures.

On a related note, my aunt allows my younger cousin (5th grade) to play Age of Empires, but he must first research and write a short report on the nation he intends to play. Again, he has an incentive to learn beyond his natural curiosity, and as such he probably knows more about ancient culture and history than I do.

Re:Educational benefits of educational games. (1)

Toksyuryel (1641337) | more than 4 years ago | (#31139758)

Dwarf Fortress is like this for me and a lot of people. I'd never been interested in geology before, and now I'm fascinated by it.

Re:Educational benefits of educational games. (1)

brkello (642429) | more than 4 years ago | (#31073440)

I game on both platforms (i.e. PC and consoles). I really have no preference, other than wanting a kb + mouse for certain genres. But people on consoles are not the LCD. The interface is different, but console gamers are no more or less stupid than a PC gamer.

Games are still a fairly new form of entertainment. Using them effectively as education tools will follow, it just takes time for that to follow since there is less profit in education.

Re:Educational benefits of educational games. (1)

Zerth (26112) | more than 4 years ago | (#31074080)

It depends on the game mechanics, I think. I've played several educational games that sucked and thus didn't focus on the gameplay or the knowledge component.

On the other hand, I once played a game about filtering in the kidneys that actually had a fun arkanoid/pong sort of mechanic that was both fun to play and made me focus on the chemistry involved.

Similarly, I had a chance to use a factory layout design suite that included a simulation component. Despite it not being intended as a game, I had lots of fun treating it as a sandbox game and seeing what weird results I could get by stressing the simulation's rules.

Pressure to dumb down education (3, Insightful)

Smegly (1607157) | more than 4 years ago | (#31069972)

So desperate to find a solution that motivates students to become scientists, the government has even enlisted Darpa, the Department of Defense’s 'mad scientist' research organization, to figure out a solution.

Must be extremely difficult to create a solution that balances the pressure to both dumb down education [google.com] , limit critical thinking AND become good scientists.

does this mean? (2, Interesting)

crazybit (918023) | more than 4 years ago | (#31069978)

Does this mean kids learn better from virtual sim's than from real people? Or that virtual teachers are better than poorly trained teachers?

Re:does this mean? (1)

Marcika (1003625) | more than 4 years ago | (#31070618)

Does this mean kids learn better from virtual sim's than from real people? Or that virtual teachers are better than poorly trained teachers?

I think it just means that kids learn better (a) by doing things themselves and (b) by learning through a medium that keeps their attention engaged. Virtual "teachers" (as in ex-cathedra frontal teaching) are probably not even better than their real-world counterparts.

But building in the necessity of applying knowledge in order to "win" is easier in virtual simulation -- although there are real-world ways of doing it: those famous engineering school competitions where you have to drop eggs from building roofs, or building in actual classroom debates into history/citizenship/language classes etc.

Re:does this mean? (3, Insightful)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#31070662)

Does this mean kids learn better from virtual sim's than from real people? Or that virtual teachers are better than poorly trained teachers?

Theoretically, 30 teachers in a classroom with 30 students would do better than 30 computers in a classroom with 30 students.

In practice, 30 computers in a classroom with 30 students can provide more one on one interaction than one teacher vs thirty students.

I wonder how much of it is preventing the problem kids from messing up the non-problem kids. In a class of 30 kids, if 5 are gossiping/high/spaced out, 5 are violent, and 5 don't speak any english (probably with considerable overlap) that means the remaining kids will be completely ignored.

Re:does this mean? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31072072)

Our goal with immune attack is to present invisible things like cells and proteins so that grade school kids are familiar with their behaviors before their teachers start teaching about them. Think about how we all learn grammar, or physics... You learn grammar from your parents or older sibs... You hear it and mimic it and years later in grade school your teachers formalize what you learned intuitively. And in physics class your teachers formalize what you have learned on the soccer field or baseball field.
Immune Attack will be somethink teachers can reference in class when they discuss cells and molecules.
So video games add to education. They are tools that teachers can take advantage of. Video games can present worlds of information that a lecture can't touch. Games can present complex behaviors without requiring the player to learn vocabulary first. Then, after the game's fun has them interested, the player picks up the vocabulary. And the teacher, if she is aware of the goals of the game and the principles it presents, can teach the vocabulary and formalize the concepts in class.
Of course, the game should be designed by experts in the field, as Immune Attack is. We have a board of scientists who review our game during the development process....
We are evaluating the game in 7th-12th grade classrooms NOW. Teachers, sign up we need you! Immune Attack 2.0 will be released in July.......

Re:does this mean? (1)

Anachragnome (1008495) | more than 4 years ago | (#31080072)

"Think about how we all learn grammar..."

i thunked we all learnt grammers from da web. lol

kthanksbye

Wasted education... (1)

VendettaMF (629699) | more than 4 years ago | (#31070070)

If the students in question are not interested in learning the material for the sake of their own goals (or in rarer, and even more valuable cases simply for the sake of learning) then any time spent pushing it at them is utterly wasted.

Once a few generations see their parents clawing at uranium ore work-faces barehanded (as it's cheaper to bring in replacement worker drones than supply equipment) we'll rapidly see a genuine and sustainable increase in students actually willing to learn.

Re:Wasted education... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31070118)

I think they're trying to find a way of motivating students that doesn't involve enslaving their parents to work in the mines. Your idea might be effective, but seems rather harsh.

Re:Wasted education... (1)

VendettaMF (629699) | more than 4 years ago | (#31070164)

"Enslaving" is such a nasty word. "Indenturing" fits so much better.

"18 years in the yellowcake mines in exchange for food and accommodation, plus 18 years of education for one worker-spawn so they can get a better life/job".
Seems just to me.

Sooner or later we'll be faced with that choice, and essentially it's that or leave them up on the surface to breed and fatten themselves for harvesting each new moon.

Re:Wasted education... (1)

Asadullah Ahmad (1608869) | more than 4 years ago | (#31070248)

I am assuming that the uranium you mentioned wasn't destined to get in a nuke, but still I am hoping that the next few generations will at least not be that interested in making stuff that blows other stuff (and people) up. There are an infinite number of questions and other stuff that can be done with improved education.

As far as the students and their interest go, It is Human psyche to be more influenced by something you admire and is unique in its way. So if they see their favourite game character talking about Baryonic Asymmetry etc, they'll most probably get on google for curiosity's sake.

Re:Wasted education... (1)

Jade_Wayfarer (1741180) | more than 4 years ago | (#31070482)

So if they see their favourite game character talking about Baryonic Asymmetry etc, they'll most probably get on google for curiosity's sake.

Especially if he is voiced by Morgan Freeman [xkcd.com]

Re:Wasted education... (1)

VendettaMF (629699) | more than 4 years ago | (#31070502)

Which will certainly enrich their lives and make them a more useful and contributory member of society if they somehow remember than and the near limitless other snippets of supporting information needed to make it useful and somehow through sheer happenstance end up in a career where something they happened upon despite lack of interest because they saw it in a computer game when they were a dropout teenager...

I could continue the run-on sentence, but I think my point is made.

Re:Wasted education... (1)

jimicus (737525) | more than 4 years ago | (#31070518)

I am assuming that the uranium you mentioned wasn't destined to get in a nuke, but still I am hoping that the next few generations will at least not be that interested in making stuff that blows other stuff (and people) up. There are an infinite number of questions and other stuff that can be done with improved education.

Indeed. Such as "Here is something that, under the right circumstances, releases an enormous amount of energy. Can we harness this energy to do something useful?".

Re:Wasted education... (1)

Jade_Wayfarer (1741180) | more than 4 years ago | (#31070742)

"Here is something that, under the right circumstances, releases an enormous amount of energy. Can we harness this energy to do something useful?".

Like eliminate all war-mongers, and all other "bad people"? Yay, that will solve all our problems for sure. You know, every horrible, immoral and insane thing in our history was made with the best intentions, "to make something better". And it's almost unreal - to someone with knowledge and power to just want to "blow things up". No, "unimaginable evil" is often brought to this world with most altruistic, peace-promising and generally "good" intentions, is it not? It's deeper then just education, it's human nature, which doesn't change in ages.

Re:Wasted education... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31070934)

That's bad-people talk...

when I'm social gaming... (1)

Loktar Ogar (960557) | more than 4 years ago | (#31070224)

I'm driving the schoolbus, taking noobs to school!

mo3 down (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31070258)

All hope is not lost (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31070522)

I used to play games like The Incredible Machine and Sokoban when I was young and I like to believe that they sparkled my interest in engineering and a technical education. I see these games now returning in new forms on these newfangled things that seem to be glued to the hands of the younger generations so I still have some hope left for them to actually achieve something in life...

Usefulness (1)

kieran (20691) | more than 4 years ago | (#31070764)

"The amount of detail about proteins, chemical signals and gene regulation that these 15-year-olds were devouring was amazing."

I can only imagine this is because they were able to make this information useful to the learner in a way not normally seen in a classroom: a great teaching technique.

Re:Usefulness (2, Informative)

Narpak (961733) | more than 4 years ago | (#31072432)

Here is the link to the game. [fas.org]
They are asking for donations for "ll monies that are donated are returned to game development and further research in the field of learning technologies. And "Immune Attack is free to download for educational purposes."

Re:Usefulness (1)

Narpak (961733) | more than 4 years ago | (#31072582)

I find the growing field of interactive education, or educational tools, interesting. Personally I have do problems believing that a well constructed narrative combined with virtual tasks of various types; can help stimulate the mind. Such a system by mimicking mechanics of games and other forms of entertainment could potentially be able to keep the attention and focus of a student for far longer than a single teacher could ever hope to.

Projects like Immune Attack can be helpful in increasing our understanding and I wish the developers luck in developing their next program, whatever it might be.

Why? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31071476)

Ok I'm all for making learning fun but for crying out loud why the sciences? I have my phd in physics and have a strong background in biology and I have to question the usefulness of the degrees. I live in a basement apartment making 35k a year. I live 16 hours from my girlfriend and 12 hours from my family. I don't get to watch my nieces and nephews grow up and the youngest ones don't even remember me when I actually get a chance to visit. My main task seems to be to publish papers and generate data so more grants can be written. I spent my entire graduate and undergraduate time learn and trying to understand the material instead of getting out meeting people and having fun. Everything I create is basically owned by my employer. Most of the papers, if they get published, are owned by the journals (there are a few exceptions). My younger brother with just his GED makes about the same amount I do mowing lawns and doing landscaping. When I was in college I was offered a job at 50k with good benefits as a manager at a restaurant. So someone please explain to me why going into science is such a good thing? The prestige you say? Ha, ever tried picking up a girl after telling them you have a phd in physics? To get them to even talk to me I have to lie and say I do something a bit less scary like a tax accountant (that is only half a joke).
You want to get kids interested in the sciences give them a good reason to go into science. Give them a path to follow. Show them the rewards for going into science and dealing with all the crap that comes along with it.

What do they learn (1)

cvd6262 (180823) | more than 4 years ago | (#31071758)

One danger of any instructional system is that the student will only retain the material as it pertains to the classroom context. Last night a teacher told me that their "social-awareness" curriculum seemed to work great, until they watched the kids on the playground. In class, the kids applied the negotiation and mediation skills, but not outside the classroom.

I've had math teachers tell me they couldn't think of a real-world problem that could be solved with the math they were teaching.

With educational games - on a computer or not - social or not - the fear is that the students will learn the rules of the game, which are loose abstractions of physical reality, rather than the rules of reality. Oregon Trail taught everyone that each settler needed 99 bullets, and that you could be killed by some wild animal called a "dysentery."

Re:What do they learn (1)

Zerth (26112) | more than 4 years ago | (#31075374)

Part of that is because many of the teachers have too little real world experience to apply their subject and were never given any while earning a teaching license, which is why many states now prefer or require an undergraduate degree in a subject.

The teachers I felt were most effective in high school were frequently the substitute teachers, as they generally framed the lesson plan in terms of personal experience. Rather than "maximizing A(X) while minimizing B(X) with constraints C and D", they wanted you to "Maximize net income while minimizing work-in-progress because you have a 3 week lag time from your supplier and management straight-lined your weekly budget instead of allocating for seasonal variations".

Similarly, in university I always preferred either the adjuncts, who might be mediocre as professional teachers but practiced the subject for a living, or the professors that consulted on the side instead of just being a tenure leech.

Re:What do they learn (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31076698)

The teachers I felt were most effective in high school...

Why were you feeling the teachers? And what kind of powers do you have that make teachers more effective? Are you one of those...mutants?

Re:What do they learn (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31077340)

Felt: A fabric of matted, compressed animal fibers.

Clearly, the sentence is in the present tense and he is a serial killer.

Re:What do they learn (1)

Zerth (26112) | more than 4 years ago | (#31075794)

As for games providing education, a good trick is not to make the mechanics from the subject, but to make the mechanics reward knowledge of the subject. To use an example of a game I've actually played, you can simulate kidney function by using an Arkanoid style game where you have to collide with, shoot, or avoid particles based on the chemical balance of the system. Initially, you just hit, dodge, and shoot, but eventually knowing about the chemicals involved and the concepts resulted in better scoring. Of course, the game has to be fun enough to make you want to do better, which most educational games fail to do.

Oregon Trail taught flexibility in planning(good) and hatred of random number generators(bad). The only subject related knowledge I retained was "Basic bridge engineering and buffalo jerky drying racks would have improved success for pioneers"

Re:What do they learn (1)

fishexe (168879) | more than 4 years ago | (#31076736)

Oregon Trail taught flexibility in planning(good) and hatred of random number generators(bad). The only subject related knowledge I retained was "Basic bridge engineering and buffalo jerky drying racks would have improved success for pioneers"

I learned that it's better to start out as a banker from Boston than as a farmer from Illinois. I also think distrust of RNGs can serve one well in life.

Games introduce new worlds... a molecular world (1)

DrStegman (1383155) | more than 4 years ago | (#31072846)

We use Immune Attack to introduce the Molecular World. Students need details about the world to win the game. Another way to use video games to teach is to have kids create their own games about molecular processes. The kids I was talking about in the story above were busy programming prototypes of "Immune Attack 3.0 The Neuron" using Game Maker.

Games can make abstract concepts and microscopic objects understandable. Games can teach more, Game enhance education, Games cannot replace a teacher, but a teacher can use games to introduce concepts that take years to comprehend through words alone. Why should affinity and diffusion and Michaelis-Menton kinetcs be something that only bio graduate students understand? Doesn't everyone deserve to understand why drugs are addictive and how hormones affect our minds? Shouldn't teenagers have an understanding of emotions and how depression can come and also go...

Of course, these concepts are confusing in lectures... but in game format they are just are strategic tools to winning the next level.... students eat them up just like... like... like a video game!

Check us out at ImmuneAttack.org. Donate to our cause. Or wait for Immune Attack 2.0 in July and then donate!
And let us know what you think!

Melanie Stegman, Ph.D.

Director, Educational Technologies
Federation of American Scientists
FAS.org
ImmuneAttack.org

Bill & Melinda Gates (1)

HalAtWork (926717) | more than 4 years ago | (#31073104)

Does anyone know if there is a conflict of interest here with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and how their money gets spent?

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is supporting game related programs... do they just end up buying MS SDKs and 360 dev kits? They support libraries by helping them get internet access... do they just end up buying MS PCs that feature Internet Explorer? The money that helps out schools, does it go to Windows PCs and licenses for MS products?

Bill Gates may not work at MS anymore, but he still gets a lot of support from MS itself. It seems like a very incestuous relationship. He has put a lot of himself into MS and helped shaped its direction, and probably doesn't want MS to fail. It's clear from his letter to hobbyists that he has a certain agenda to push, and he'd probably like to help his buddy Steve achieve that.

Is there any problem with what's going on here or is it just coincidence?

Re:Bill & Melinda Gates (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31081762)

You're not the first to notice this.
They give money to causes based on their beliefs.
But so does everyone.

How much of his wealth is in MS stock?
Bill is Microsoft
No matter what his official MS job description is.

Therefore I don't see him giving money to the FSF anytime soon.

Bill is a great programmer, and an even grater businessman,
but I am against one (very publicized) charity that he supports,
that's why you wont find me buying anything from MS.

The "we need more scientists" scam... (1)

MontyApollo (849862) | more than 4 years ago | (#31073444)

"So desperate to find a solution that motivates students to become scientists"

I didn't realize we were in desperate need of more scientists. Nurses yes, but scientists? Nope. We are pumping out way more science PhDs than we have positions for. Even before the recession, job prospects could be absolutely dismal if you just have a bachelor's degree.

Broswer based interactive games (1)

mortmer (1741364) | more than 4 years ago | (#31074388)

Not all of the games need to be immersive or first person shooter types to be educational. Last year I was a Steward(player advocate) at http://thenethernet.com/ [thenethernet.com] until it went off line for a few months (You can read more about it here - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Nethernet [wikipedia.org] ) I am currently involved in what will be an open source version of that style of game located at http://www.nova-initia.com/ [nova-initia.com] . They are PMOG (Passive Multiplayer Online Games) run through a Firefox plugin connected to a host server. The plugin and server allow you to interact with websites, leaving tools and such on them for other players to find. Whenever you go to a site where something is located a small popup window appears and you have the choice to interact or not. The primary role of my player at the Netethernet was to make missions that guided players through sites related to World War II history. Other players used the game to pass on information about areas they were interested in. I took very educational missions about literature, science, politics, etc It proved to be a very easy way for people to share a wide range of detailed information. When Nova Initia is released to open source we plan to include a version tailored to education. The idea is that a local server would be set up and students would install the toolbar, only the students and teachers would be able to access this server. The teacher could assign them a subject and, using the game engine they could ‘write’ reports on the subject that the other students could take and comment on. Kind of like a choose your own adventure approach to the subject. The idea behind these games is to supplement your daily web experience with useful bits of knowledge but, not be something you need to be fully invested in while you learn.

Motivation Benefit (1)

Walt Sellers (1741378) | more than 4 years ago | (#31074412)

I know many teachers and hear their problems. One of the problems is motivating students. It can be quite an effort to make some science seem relevant and interesting.

Introducing games and peer competitions might provide some of the motivating force that schools can't provide. After all, haven't DARPA, NASA and others gotten progress made by making a competition out of certain challenges?

Education: any process a person (student) uses to improve their skills, knowledge or attitudes, with the help of others.
thus:
School: institution that supplies an opportunity for a student to educate themselves (for free or for fee)
"Others" include: game-maker, parent, teacher, professor, sensei, leader, author, writer, blogger, film-maker, podcaster, speaker, friend, etc
Test: feedback mechanism for student to assess progress, skill level, etc in this case, game score and peer response

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