My friend’s children, aged 11 and 8, are often quick to shout “Mom!” when they bang on the backdoor after school. Can we play Prodigy?”
After doing a quick calculation of how much screen time they have had throughout the week, and how much quiet I need to complete my work, I agree. Prodigy encourages children to learn math facts through role-playing games. It’s educational.
E-books for kids raise questions about the consequences
Although video games are becoming more popular in classrooms, scientists who study them claim that the data is lacking regarding whether they actually improve learning. Most agree that teachers outperform video games in almost all circumstances. There is increasing evidence that certain types of video games can improve brain performance in a limited set of tasks. This could be good news for students and for millions of people who just can’t stop playing video games.
Richard Mayer, a University of California Santa Barbara education psychologist and many professional dissertation help writers , says that there is plenty of evidence that people spend a lot of their time on their screens. “If we could make that more productive, that would also be worthwhile.”
Mayer published an article in the 2019 Annual Review of Psychology. He analyzed rigorous experiments to see what people could learn from games. Although he isn’t convinced that games have any educational value, there are some studies that show games can be used to teach math, science, and second languages. He hopes to find a way to harness brain-boosting potential to improve classroom performance.
You can use your brain to play games
First-person shooter games were the first to show that gaming can improve brain function. An undergraduate studying psychology at the University of Rochester discovered that these games could actually be beneficial. C. Shawn Green administered a visual attention test to his friends, and their scores were extraordinary. His research supervisor, Daphne Bavelier thought that there was a bug in the test’s coding. Bavelier passed the test in the normal range.
Green’s friends were all devoted to Team Fortress Classic for more than 10 hours. This first-person shooter version of capture the flag was a different story. Green and Bavelier tested the idea again with new gamers. Two groups were formed and trained on two different games. One group played a first-person shooter game for one hour each day for 10 days while the other practiced Tetris, which is a spatial puzzle game. The action gamers were much more adept at focusing on the targets of interest in noisy, cluttered fields than the Tetris players. Additionally, the team found that action gamers could track five moving objects per turn in a visual field on average, as opposed to the three non-gamers.
Bavelier is now a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Geneva, Switzerland. She says action gamers are more able to switch between distributed attention (scanning large areas for a particular object) or focused attention (extracting details from a video). She calls this attentional control. It is the ability to switch between different levels of attention depending on what time it takes. Bavelier said that while it is not clear whether improving attention in the classroom can help students, she believes games could be a way to motivate them — adding some “chocolate” to their learning experience.
Green, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison admits that Call of Duty can have limited benefits in real life. He says that there are certain jobs that require enhanced visual attention, such as those in the military, law enforcement, and surgeons. But, he points out, every game comes with an opportunity cost. Video games can replace homework, which can negatively impact reading and math skills.
Researchers also found that Tetris-trained gamers were more adept at rotating two-dimensional shapes mentally than those who played a game. Two hours of All You Can E.T. was played by students to improve their focus-shifting skills. This educational game is designed to increase executive function in switching between tasks. It is not surprising that games are able to improve cognitive skills. This is evident when players practice the game over and over.
Importantly, these skill gains are specific to the task at issue. First-person shooter games do not improve the mental rotation of objects and Tetris does not improve visual attention. Ironically, Mayer did not find any convincing evidence that brain-training games such as the Lumosity suite, which are designed for healthy adults, improve memory, attention, or spatial cognition.
Next, we need to determine how these findings can be applied to classrooms where videogames are already making an impact. Many students would benefit from an increase in their ability to shift their attention as needed. Bavelier said that although first-person shooter video games are not appropriate for grade schoolers, researchers are improving their ability to identify the key features of video games that promote brain agility.
It could be a game about a doctor who must choose the best medicine to save the planet. She says it doesn’t necessarily have to be tied to violence, death, and zombies.
Green states that it is hard to make a video game that is both engaging and efficient. Green says that making games for entertainment purposes can be as expensive as making blockbuster movies. He suggests that classrooms might find it more beneficial to create kid-friendly games that target specific brain skills and will help students succeed in school.
Gaming for profits
Jan Plass, the Games for Learning Institute director at New York University, is creating an educational video game shooter type that increases executive function and cognitive skills without resorting to violence.
All You Can E.T. is a game where players drink or shoot food into the mouths of aliens. The rules are constantly changing and force their brains to switch between tasks. Guacamole, a game in the “Whac-A-Mole” style, is designed to improve players’ inhibitory control by only whacking avocados that don’t have helmets. Plass states that both of these games help students develop executive function skills that many kids don’t have in their early childhood. “Switching tasks are important for learning. Inhibitory control is also very important.”
Inhibitory control helps children stay in their seats and allows them to focus on the lesson. It also prevents distracting outbursts from disrupting the class. This method is more appealing than other methods because it allows you to practice the task at the same time as playing a computer game. He says that it is clear that games can re-engage children who have been turned off or are otherwise uninterested.
Bavelier, however, questions whether the cognitive skills acquired through gaming can be applied to real-world situations or classroom settings. She says, “It’s clear that people who play Gwakkamole are better at inhibition in that game.” It’s much more difficult to prove that this skill can be transferred to better inhibition overall.
Mayer and Plass say that the best classroom games have certain characteristics. They are focused on a specific cognitive skill and require players to practice it with embedded feedback and responsiveness. The game should be adaptive. This means that the challenge level will increase as the player progresses. This is crucial for classrooms, where teachers will need one game that can be used by both advanced and struggling students.
Designers want students to be able to use educational games to their advantage, just like the 270 million people who play Candy Crush every day. Mayer states that the most important feature of games is their motivational power. We want to harness this.”
Mayer states that brain scientists, educators, and game designers need to engage with one another more to create engaging games that sharpen cognitive skills, while entertaining. Bavelier points out the ability of children’s brains to memorize hundreds upon thousands of Pokemon characters and their special abilities. Bavelier suggests that they could apply their obsession to learning about all the stars of the night sky.
This research is still in its infancy, but I am reassured by my children’s ever-increasing requests to screen time, especially when they ask to play math games.
Also, check out our list of the Top 5 Mobile Games To Play On A Flight