Scientists Find No Evidence That Brain Games Make You Brainier

Katherine Streeter for NPR

Want to be smarter? More focused? Free of memory problems as you age?

If so, don’t count on brain games to help you.

That’s the conclusion of an exhaustive evaluation of the scientific literature on brain training games and programs. It was published Monday in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

“It’s disappointing that the evidence isn’t stronger,” says Daniel Simons, an author of the article and a psychology professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“It would be really nice if you could play some games and have it radically change your cognitive abilities,” Simons says. “But the studies don’t show that on objectively measured real-world outcomes.”

The evaluation, done by a team of seven scientists, is a response to a very public disagreement about the effectiveness of brain games, Simons says.

In October 2014, more than 70 scientists published an open letter objecting to marketing claims made by brain training companies. Pretty soon, another group, with more than 100 scientists, published a rebuttal saying brain training has a solid scientific base.

“So you had two consensus statements, each signed by many, many people, that came to essentially opposite conclusions,” Simons says.

In an effort to clarify the issue, Simons and six other scientists reviewed more than 130 studies of brain games and other forms of cognitive training. The evaluation included studies of products from industry giant Lumosity, which has been a prominent sponsor of NPR and other public radio programming.

“We went through each paper and tried to look at the kind of evidence it provided,” Simons says.

That meant asking questions like: How big was the study? Did it have an appropriate control group? Do the results support the marketing claims made by companies?

The scientists found that “many of the studies did not really adhere to what we think of as the best practices,” Simons says.

Some of the studies included only a few participants. Others lacked adequate control groups or failed to account for the placebo effect, which causes people to improve on a test simply because they are trying harder or are more confident.

There were some good studies, Simons says. And they showed that brain games do help people get better at a specific task.

“You can practice, for example, scanning baggage at an airport and looking for a knife,” he says. “And you get really, really good at spotting that knife.”

But there was less evidence that people got better at related tasks, like spotting other suspicious items, Simons says. And there was no strong evidence that practicing a narrow skill led to overall improvements in memory or thinking.

That’s disappointing, Simons says, because “what you want to do is be better able to function at work or at school.”

The evaluation got a warm reception from at least some of the scientists who had signed the 2014 letter defending the science behind brain training.

“The evaluation was very even-handed and raised many excellent points,” says George Rebok, a psychologist at Johns Hopkins University who has been involved in brain training research for the past 20 years. “It really helped raise the bar in terms of the level of science that we must aspire to.”

Rebok, who says he has no ties to brain training companies, remains optimistic that the right program of brain exercises can improve mental functioning and delay the effects of aging.

One reason brain games haven’t shown a clear benefit so far, he says, may be that they don’t work the brain hard enough or over a long enough time period.

“It takes mental effort and practice to be able to see results,” Rebok says. “If we can implement that long range, I think that there will be a big dividend eventually.”

In the meantime, the brain training industry is facing scrutiny from the Federal Trade Commission.

In January, the company behind Lumosity agreed to pay a $2 million fine to settle FTC charges that it made unfounded claims about its brain training program.

And in May, a smaller brain training company called LearningRx agreed to pay a $200,000 fine to settle similar charges. Even so, the Learning Rx website still promises “A better brain at any age.”

Scientists Find No Evidence That Brain Games Make You Brainier : Shots – Health News : NPR.

Source: Scientists Find No Evidence That Brain Games Make You Brainier : Shots – Health News : NPR

How playing one game can help students get into college

Mission: Admission takes some of the fear out of applying for further education

Next week, the U.S. Federal Student Aid program (FAFSA) will launch a new Oct. 1 start date and form schedule for students seeking financial help getting into college. In previous years, the FAFSA start-date was in March. The change is designed to give students more time to prepare for college, and to bring the aid program into the same timeline as college applications.

Research shows that those kids whose parents went to college are far more likely to apply for college than those whose parents did not go to college, regardless of grades.

For activists and professionals operating in higher education, this is a matter of concern. Applying for college and applying for aid is not a simple matter. Most kids need help. But with schools still reeling from budgetary cuts, there simply aren’t enough in-school councillors to go around.

Mission: Admission shows students how to enroll in the appropriate college

One project that’s gaining traction is a videogame that teaches kids how to go through the process of applying for college. Played in realtime over the course of a week, Mission: Admission shows students how to meet scholarship deadlines, apply for aid, work on personal statements, request letters of recommendation and take extra curricular activities as well as apply to and enroll in the appropriate college…

For the rest of the article, please follow the link below.

How playing one game can help students get into college | Polygon.

Source: How playing one game can help students get into college | Polygon

EdSurge News Reports on CUNY Games Network

The following was published on Ed Surge News. Follow the link at the bottom of this reprint to find the original publication.

When four professors from the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) started collaborating on game-based learning (GBL) in developmental math and writing instruction in the mid-2000s, they had no idea what they were setting in motion. Today, more than 160 GBL researchers and practitioners contribute to the dynamic CUNY Games Network (CGN), housed within the City University of New York (CUNY), with its more than 540,000 students on 24 campuses.

The network links educators across disciplines who are interested in using games and other forms of interactive teaching to improve student success. And participants are showing that gameplay is serious business: data from BMCC classes suggests that when students have fun learning they appear to have more meaningful learning experiences.

Can a Classic Board Game Teach Writing Skills?

BMCC associate professors of English Joe Bisz and Carlos Fernandez stimulated the formation of CGN when they were awarded a 2007/08 CUNY faculty development grant to study how using the board game “Diplomacy” in sections of their remedial writing courses could possibly combat a lack of student motivation and critical thinking skills. They found the classic game of strategy and world domination particularly useful in teaching problem solving, and used it to help explain logical paragraph construction.

Around the same time, Kathleen Offenholley, associate professor of mathematics, and Francesco Crocco, formerly a BMCC associate professor of English and now associate director of Excelsior College’s Online Writing Lab (OWL), began collaborating with Bisz and Fernandez on their varied and similar research efforts in the field of GBL, and, in 2008/09, their combined efforts helped to launch CGN.

Active professionals within this network have put on numerous GBL workshops for interested CUNY faculty members and have developed both board and paper (e.g. card) games, as well as digital game-based learning (DGBL) teaching and learning environments, including a DGBL learning management system designed by Bisz and Crocco, called Levelfly. The CGN also has hosted three increasingly well-attended conferences, called the CUNY Games Festival.

Robert O. Duncan, associate professor of behavioral sciences at York College, joined the network early on and has taken on a leading role.

“The network is fantastic,” Duncan says. “I can only describe it as you throw a party and you think no one is going to come, but actually everybody comes.”

The Levelfly game-based learning platform includes a profile page that enables users to view and share information about themselves.

Connecting the Dots Between Enjoyment and Learning

As part of their research in the field, Crocco, Offenholley and Hernandez conducted a study on GBL and co-wrote “A Proof-of-Concept Study of Game-based Learning in Higher Education,” published in the August 2016 issue of the journal Simulation & Gaming. The study covered two BMCC semesters, from fall 2011 to spring 2012, and involved nine faculty members, 18 sections and 440 students enrolled in remedial, general education and major-specific game and non-game classes in English, math and science. The key finding:

Enjoyment correlated with improvements in deep learning in both the game and non-game classes. Games increased reported enjoyment levels, especially in subjects where students reported the greatest anxiety about learning, and this increase in enjoyment correlated positively with improvements in deep learning and higher-order thinking. These results may have particular impact on non-traditional students… While further investigation is necessary to assess the specific affordances and long-term effects of GBL in higher education, this study offers preliminary support for the claim that GBL can improve deep learning in this setting, by increasing enjoyment.

“I think for community colleges, there is a big appeal for games and learning because it helps to improve engagement, which is a problem at the community college level because of the amount of remediation that goes on there,” Crocco says.

Finding New Ways to Make Math Fun

The research from that study helped to land Offenholley, Crocco and another CGN member, BMCC professor of Computing Science Ching-Song Wei, a $875,794 National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education award in March 2015 through April 2018 called “A Simulation-Based Curriculum to Accelerate Math Remediation and Improve Degree Completion for STEM Majors.” The grant is expected to create three to five math games, the first of which is currently being piloted at BMCC with 20 Geographic Information Systems (GIS) majors enrolled in a required intermediate math class.

Project Sampson is one of several games under development by CGN members and sponsored by an NSF ATE grant. Players work on saving the world from disasters by manipulating linear equations.

“We targeted math skills for STEM majors who want to go into GIS because we found that there was a need to help them remediate,” Crocco says. “A lot of our STEM majors are unable to pass this required course, so we thought that we could intervene, accelerate them and get them into the GIS program.”

“It’s amazing what happens when you play games with students, especially if they are scared of math,” Offenholley adds. “All of a sudden their brains get freed up to actually be able to think where they could not think before because they were stuck in old ways of looking at math.”

As noted in a BMCC press release announcing the award, “the project aims to impact STEM education across the country by providing free, open-source gaming materials to secondary and post-secondary institutions through downloadable curricula, game software, video tutorials, and professional development materials for faculty and staff.”

Some Practical Advice

Finally, Bisz offers advice related to GBL adoption by faculty who are thinking about adding GBL to their courses but are hesitant to adopt it because of the time it takes to fully learn what’s needed to use it effectively in their courses.

“If you are going to give faculty a new tool, then give them some kind of very accessible way to test it out without having to become a master of it,” he says. “One of the greatest things we love about teaching other than the students is the creativity behind generating new curricula, but we often get so overwhelmed that we do not have the time to really sit down and create new curricula.”

Game On: How Four Community College Professors Spawned the CUNY Games Network | EdSurge News.

Source: Game On: How Four Community College Professors Spawned the CUNY Games Network | EdSurge News

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