Category Archives: News and Views

Enhanced Cognitive Control after Video Game Training

neuroRacerA recent study by Joaquin Anguera and the Gazzaley lab at UCSF reported that older adults who receive training on a customized driving simulator demonstrate improvements on tasks that demand divided attention. Performance benefits achieved by the simulator last for 6 months, and the resulting performance of the experimental group exceeded that of a 20-year-old control group that received no training. Electrophysiological measurements in this group also provided evidence for relief from the decline of brain wave activity associated with a decline of cognitive control in advanced age.

Anguera J.A. et al., (2013), Nature. 501: 97–101. doi:10.1038/nature12486

The Gazzaley Lab at UCSF  

A Need for Data

dataEvery academic in game-based learning should read Todd Oppenheimer’s book “The Flickering Mind: Saving Education from the False Promise of Technology.” The book is long, dense, depressing, nearly ten years out of date, and everyone should read it. Oppenheimer’s book surveys the wreckage of the 1990s “e-learning” fad that cost the nation approximately $70 billion dollars. Poor planning, a lack of data, blind optimism, and a healthy amount of profiteering created a system that was guaranteed to fail even though technological efforts in other industries were succeeding. We should read this book because we, as educators, believe in failing forward. In order to provide a better technological landscape for the students of the future, we need to learn from our collective past. The good news is that some of the major obstacles that capsized the e-learning movement of the 1990s have been solved. For example, the cost of rolling out software to thousands of computers is no longer necessary now that the Internet can be accessed by over 95% of undergraduate students (Smith et al., 2011). However, other problems have yet to be solved. There remains a paucity of data on the efficacy of educational games and a lack of peer review for games that even receive federal funding.

By imposing a scientific standard of data collection and peer review, the games-based learning movement might avoid repeating the Ed Tech bubble of the 1990s.

By imposing a scientific standard of data collection and peer review, the games-based learning movement might avoid repeating the Ed Tech bubble of the 1990s. A great deal of effort, particularly in the private sector, is spent on creating apps, but very little effort is spent on assessing the efficacy of those products. When a private company makes claims about an app, it is very unlikely that assessment was conducted under the rigor of peer review. By comparison, when a psychological assessment is created, the assessment undergoes years of review before becoming available for use. The reliability and the validity of the assessment are quantified before a test can be considered beneficial. It would be nice to see the games-based learning community adopt this kind of rigor when producing games for learners. Fortunately, some NGOs and government entities are starting to address the problem. The New York Times published an article that calls attention to the paucity of data for mobile apps that claim to improve math skills in children. However, it is really the responsibility of the game developers to be honest and not make claims that can’t be backed by data.

Smith, A., Rainie, L., and Zickuhr, K. (2011). “College students and technology.” Pew Internet. Retrieved from:

Classroom Inspiration from Online Multiplayer Games

avatarChris Bell, a designer of the award-winning “Journey” (That Game Company), gave a presentation at the 2012 Game Developer Conference that is now online in the GDC Vault. Chris shared his observations about several online multiplayer games that are designed to bring people together. He cited language as a major barrier to building friendships online. Players who want to connect might not be able to because the designer didn’t account for language. Visible appearance might also be a barrier that keeps people from bonding over a shared interest. In the online world of avatars, people from various walks of life can alter their appearance and meet people they otherwise might not in the real world. Bell indicates that the goal of the designer in the online multiplayer experience is to create friendships before prejudice can take effect.

In the classroom, where players cannot hide behind an avatar, this design imperative is even more difficult to overcome.  As instructors, we must design experiences that allow learners to identify each other through their academic affinities rather than their hairstyle. Rather than assigning learners to teams, we should let teams form naturally around affinities. Simple idea is to have learners write down their topic of interest on a piece of paper. The instructor can go through each topic in front of the class and ask students how topics should be grouped. After grouping, students congregate at various points in the room according to their affinity. There may be some drawbacks to this method, but the some of the advantages follow:

  1. This method splits up students who only cluster together because they are friends rather than sharing a common interest.
  2. It gives the group project some direction at the outset.
  3. It allows shy learners to express their opinions without being overshadowed by more dominating learners.

If you have an idea to improve upon this method or incorporate more game mechanics into the idea, please post in the comments!