Here's a perfect funding opportunity for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundatation, or anyone else who is interested in both technology and education:  Sponsor grants—available to both universities and private video game companies—for the production of really good educational games.

Although video game technology has made tremendous progress in recent years, educational software is for the most part stuck in the past.  Entertainment is where the commercial money is, but with proper funding there's no reason why the best and brightest of our video game designers couldn't revolutionize gaming as a learning tool.

The first thing we'd need to ditch is the idea that entertainment and education are separable, that the one is given as a reward for making one's way through the other.  We want neither 90% entertainment and 10% education, nor the other way around, but 100% education and 100% entertainment.

Consider the possibilities in language learning, for example.  A virtual world that is a total immersion experience, in which one's character must survive by interacting with the native speakers.  Speech recognition technology is good enough that this could be both an oral and a written experience.  One could be learning culture, geography, and more in addition to language by having the virtual world be a real country.

Imagine starting the game and finding yourself in Paris.  You could explore the city, learn to use the metro, convert your dollars to euro, explore the Louvre, enjoy crêpes at a café...all the while picking up French vocabulary and grammar in the most natural way.  I WANT THIS GAME!  Don't tell me it's impossible; I know it can be done.  And I know it can be so much fun the next generation of Americans could actually grow up culturally and linguistically literate—how cool is that?

If our friend's four-year-old son can bowl a 198 in Wii Bowling, the possibilities are mind-blowing.  Yes, I know—Wii Bowling is not real bowling, and Virtual Paris would not be real Paris.  There are some true dangers that our computer models might lead us astry if we don't remember always that they are only models.  But this is too powerful a tool not to be used for good ans well as entertainment.

Tangentially related, here's an article for those like me, who think that video games and computers must be bad for the eyes.  They probably are, under the wrong circumstance, but a University of Rochester study showed they can also be used to improve vision.

People who used a video-game training program saw improvements in their contrast sensitivity, or the ability to notice subtle differences in shades of gray....The training could be beneficial to people who have amblyopia—commonly known as lazy eye—and those who have trouble seeing while driving at night.

Researchers studied two groups that played video games for 50 hours during a nine-week course. One group played action games such as "Call of Duty 2" and "Unreal Tournament 2004." Another group played non-action games such as "Sims 2," which doesn't require precise, visually guided aiming actions. People who played the action games showed enhanced contrast sensitivity compared with those in the non-action game group, with improvements ranging from 43 percent to 58 percent, according to the study.

"When people play action games, they're changing the brain's pathway responsible for visual processing. These games push the human visual system to the limits and the brain adapts to it, and we've seen the positive effect remains even two years after the training was over."

Researchers suggested that the video game training's effect could last for years and could be a useful complement to other eye-correction techniques such as eyeglasses, contact lenses, or surgery. The study, which was funded by the National Eye Institute and the Office of Naval Research, noted that not all action games have such a benefit to the visually impaired. 

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, April 21, 2009 at 10:02 am | Edit
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