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Improving Education Through Social Gaming 44

Posted by Soulskill
from the i'd-play-a-number-munchers-mmo dept.
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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Improving Education Through Social Gaming

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  • by nicknamenotavailable (1730990) on Tuesday February 09, 2010 @05:15AM (#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.

  • 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.

  • by triorph (992939) on Tuesday February 09, 2010 @05:40AM (#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: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      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: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Bakkster (1529253)

        "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 air

        • 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.
    • by brkello (642429)
      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.
    • by Zerth (26112)

      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

  • by Smegly (1607157) on Tuesday February 09, 2010 @05:52AM (#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? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by crazybit (918023) on Tuesday February 09, 2010 @05:57AM (#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?
    • by Marcika (1003625)

      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 ro

    • Re:does this mean? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by vlm (69642) on Tuesday February 09, 2010 @08:26AM (#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.

  • 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.

    • 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 talkin

      • 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]

        • 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.

      • by jimicus (737525)

        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?".

        • "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 huma

  • "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: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Narpak (961733)
      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."
      • by Narpak (961733)
        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 underst
  • 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 ga

    • by Zerth (26112)

      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 yo

    • by Zerth (26112)

      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.

      • by fishexe (168879)

        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.

  • 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
  • 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
  • "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.

  • 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 serve
  • 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 othe

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