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Learning Federation to Co-Sponsor Games for Health Conference

Learning Federation to Co-Sponsor Games for Health Conference


Type: Release

How can gaming technology offer incentives to help diabetic kids maintain good blood sugar levels? How can we deepen students' understanding of their immune system and teach about the correlation of proper hygiene and the prevention of infection and disease? How can technology help health workers at small, rural institutions remain certified in specific medical procedures they're unlikely to encounter firsthand?

The Learning Federation Project of the FAS is co-sponsoring the first annual "Games for Health" meeting in Madison, Wisconsin September 16 and 17, 2004. The conference will bring together the growing community of video games designers, researchers and creators of learning simulations for the health professions. The goal is to move forward the exciting field of simulated learning.

Often decried as too violent, video and computer games are now looked on in a positive light by a growing number of educational researchers. Computer games can be engaging and game play is increasingly recognized for its potential to motivate learners to engage with learning content for longer periods of time and in more meaningful ways. These so-called serious games are proliferating in the health field with goals as diverse as preventing disease and injury, to improving health care delivery and professional training.

The conference is organized by the Serious Games Initiative, housed at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., with the Academic ADL Co-Lab of the University of Wisconsin, Madison as partner. The third sponsoring partner is the FAS' Learning Federation Project.

The Learning Federation has authored a national Learning Science and Technology Road Map which outlines the R&D needed for information technology to produce the dramatic rise in education and workforce skills that is badly needed in the United States. An early part of the 10-year plan calls for researchers to better understand and exploit the motivational aspect of games.

The Madison conference, "Games for Health," will review some present-generation games, such as one designed to help people address phobias. Another is "Glucoboy," a Gameboy-based simulation that aims to teach young diabetics to monitor their blood sugar levels so they comply better with prescribed regimens. The FAS Learning Federation Project is also developing a game, Immune Attack. In this technically realistic, fast-paced game, young adults will be able to experience the challenges of defending the human body against invading antigens. Players will face progressively more difficult challenges in which success depends on increasingly sophisticated grasp of concepts in immunology.

The conference plans to take up cognitive learning issues and research relevant to current and next-generation health-related games.

But Kay Howell, director of the Learning Federation Project, notes that individual new games will not enable this field to reach the takeoff point where it can begin to transform education in the United States. In a recent speech to the Army's Advanced Technologies Applied to Combat Casualty Care Conference, Howell noted that most current simulations across all fields are "short term, small scale and stovepiped"--that is, not leveraged on one another. "We need basic building blocks of interoperable, scaleable, extensible software tools," she said. "We need a vision or plan as to how to make progress."

For instance, a player's concentration or excitement does not guarantee that they are adding to their knowledge or skills. Research needs to be undertaken to measure which skills improve and by how much. A 50% increase in mastery has been observed when students receive one-on-one tutoring. Computers and advanced information technologies could be used mimic some of the features of individualized instruction that account for this impressive increase in learning to make it both cost effective and ubiquitous. Partnerships between researchers and game designers, facilitated by conferences such as "Games for Health" are the key to real success in this area.

The Learning Federation's Road Map lays out key research questions and goals researchers and developers should try to achieve in two, five and ten years, across five inter-related areas. One of the component roadmaps, Instructional Design in Technology-Enabled Learning Systems: Using Simulations and Games in Learning, addresses the application of gaming techniques for learning and training and guidelines for the design of simulations and games. The Road Maps can be read here.

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