“IN the second of a three-part series looking at how Scotland’s gaming sector intersects with education, Martyn McLaughlin speaks to the team behind the Xbox 360 version of Minecraft to discover how the hit sandbox construction title is helping children learn complex skills.
NEARLY four and a half years have passed since Minecraft was unleashed on an unsuspected games industry. In that time, it has come to occupy an influential plinth in our cultural landscape. Devised by Sweden’s Mojang studio, it deposits players at the centre of a randomly generated cuboid domain abundant with raw materials. Creativity is essential to progress; the fundamentals of existence such as shelter are the first priorities, but in time, the game allows those who master its techniques and tools to raise wonderfully intricate structures and entire cities from the ground.
Since its official release in November 2011, the title has shifted upwards of 33 million copies, a sales figure in excess of seminal albums such as Sergeant Peppers’ Lonely Hearts Club Band, Hotel California and Born in the USA. In an industry too often obsessed with graphical prowess and the awkward aping of cinematic techniques, its constantly evolving universe has captured the imagination of not only gamers, but an increasing number of educationalists who see the merits of applying its mesmerising form of digital Lego to learning environments.
Around the world, Minecraft is slowly becoming accepted as a legitimate classroom tool waiting to be exploited in the same way as established media like films, books and television. In Stockholm, the home of Mojang, the Victor Rydberg school has declared it compulsory for 13-year-olds, with pupils using it to learn about city planning and environmental issues. In New York, Joel Levin, a computer teacher at a private school, helps run MinecraftEdu, an international resource geared towards promoting the game’s use in classrooms.
‘Exciting and engaging’
One of the earliest advocates for the game’s educational values, he first realised its potential after introducing it in favour of a Google Earth geography project in January 2011. “In my eight years of teaching I have never seen students so excited and engaged,” he recalled. “They run up to me in the halls to tell me what they plan to do [in the] next class. They draw pictures about the game in art. They sit at the lunch tables and strategize their next building projects. And not only the boys, but girls too.”
To read the full article by MARTYN McLAUGHLIN click here;
“Someday doctors may tell you to beat two levels and call them in the morning. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, have found that a driving videogame can improve memory and attention among older players, lending new scientific support to the burgeoning field of therapeutic software.
In the game, called NeuroRacer, players drive a car along a winding road while keeping an eye out for road signs that occasionally pop into view. They’re supposed to click on certain signs and ignore others while maintaining control of the car. It’s not exactly Grand Theft Auto, but it requires players to multitask, something that becomes increasingly difficult as we get older. A preliminary study of the game showed just how badly age wears down our ability to switch attention: people in their 20s were 26 percent worse at choosing the right signs when they had to drive at the same time, while people in their 60s and 80s were 64 percent worse.
But the exciting thing about the study is that it found elderly players got better—a lot better—with practice, and that this improvement carried over to other mental activities. After playing the game for 12 hours over the course of a month, players in their 60s and 80s outdid 20-somethings playing for the first time. More importantly, separate tests found that this improvement carried over into other cognitive functions. Elderly players’ memory and attention improved, mental powers not directly targeted by the game—suggesting that the brain can continue to change late into life, and that properly designed games might be able to direct this change, counteracting some of the mental decline that comes with age.
“Previous work has shown that the brain is plastic,” says Dr. Joaquin Anguera, the lead author of the study, using the neuroscience term for the brain’s mutability. “Other studies have shown that games can improve cognitive function. But the most important thing we found is that videogames can have beneficial effects on other tasks if they’re properly designed.” Not only did elderly players perform better on tests of working memory and attention, but EEG imaging found that brain activity in the prefrontal cortex, an area involved with attention, began to resemble that of younger adults.”
To read the full article by Josh Dzieza click here;
Media release from FightDemenitia.org on October 23, 2013;
“Internationally recognised dementia friendly design principles and practices will be showcased at a ground-breaking, dementia learning facility in Parkville to be opened later today by Ita Buttrose AO, OBE, Alzheimer’sAustralia National President and Australian of the Year.
The first of its kind in Australia, the new facility showcases dementia friendly design features with the intention of educating and calling for all workplaces, homes and public spaces to commit to becoming dementia friendly.
Maree McCabe, Alzheimer’s Australia Vic’s CEO said through this undertaking, Alzheimer’s Australia Vic is taking the lead in tackling dementia and ensuring people living with dementia receive the best care and support possible to enable and empower them to have the quality of life they deserve.
“With the prevalence of dementia in Victoria projected to increase to 141,000 by 2030, we are responding to the need we have for new and more sophisticated approaches to learning.
“We are committed to creating the better-skilled, quality aged and healthcare workforce we need for the future.
“Being dementia friendly is about developing ways to promote social inclusion as well as awareness about dementia. It is about the ways in which society as a whole, not just the aged and health care sectors, embraces people with dementia to ensure their needs are addressed in both the physical and social environment,” Ms McCabe said.
A major feature of the project is the Perc Walkley Dementia Learning Centre that will create a multi-sensory simulation using light, sound, colour and visual content while incorporating ‘serious gaming’ technology to create a virtual reality experience – Aged and healthcare workers will be taken in to the world of dementia.
The Centre includes doughnut shaped mood lighting, a massive ten metre by two metre wall that can have a seamless image projected across its width and breadth, an interactive touch screen and gesture- sensor technology.
“The intention is to lead our course participants into thinking differently in their approach to caring.
“After 30 years of caring for people with dementia, their carers and families, this facility empowers our organisation to deliver on our purpose and showcase our important dementia friendly design messages throughout Victoria and indeed the world,” Ms McCabe said.
Features such as carpets, wall colour, signage and clear fronted cupboards can greatly impact on a person living with dementia and their ability to successfully negotiate their environment.
The use of the same colour paint on walls, door frames and doors, for example, can make it difficult for some people living with dementia to identify and find their way into a room. The move to Parkville also opens the doors to the development of stronger relationships and collaboration with research neighbours, The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, Melbourne Brain Centre, National Ageing Research Institute and the University of Melbourne. Alzheimer’s
Australia Vic will retain its Hawthorn offices at 98-104 Riversdale Rd from which we continue to provide our Victoria-wide Family Services. The 155 Oak St, Parkville site will be dedicated to Learning Services.
This initiative was funded by the Lorenzo and Pamela Galli Charitable Trust, jointly funded by the Commonwealth and State governments through funding from the Home and Community Care Program, and other private donors. Alzheimer’s Australia Vic would like to acknowledge their generosity.
In Victoria almost 74,600 people are living with dementia. Alzheimer’s Australia Vic is the charity representing people with dementia in Victoria. As the peak body, we provide specialised dementia information, education and support services. Call our National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500 or visit www.fightdementia.org.au/vic”
“By engaging students and pushing them to succeed, games may offers a new way to teach students, according to an expert on performance and gaming.
In a presentation at least week’s “Educause” conference in California, Jane McGonigal – a game designer, author and researcher – predicted that “extreme learning environments” will offer students a chance to play and create while they learn.
“We normally think of games as being fun, kind of trivial, maybe something to pass the time, but what if we thought about them as a platform for inventing the future of higher education?” McGonigal said in her presentation, according to Ed Tech magazine.”
“Games have long been used to engage students. But as game-based learning becomes more prevalent in schools, researchers are interested in how game structure mirrors the learning process. In many games, students explore ideas and try out solutions. When they learn the skills required at one level, they move up. Failure to complete tasks is reframed as part of the path towards learning how to conquer a level.