Computer Games as Education

All due respect to forums, Facebook and Twitter, a recent conference discussed using computer games for education.

The January 30 issue of the “International Herald Tribune” reports from the Learning Without Frontiers conference in London. Bristol Univrersity neuroscientist Paul Howard-Jones presented his research into “teaching with immersive games” or TWIG.

The IHT writes that Howard-Jones said:

…that computer games stimulate the brain’s reward system to produce dopamine, a chemical “which helps orient our attention and enhances the making of connections between neurons,which is the physical basis for learning.”

Mr. Howard-Jones said that research has shown that the introduction of a chance or game element into any reward system increases dopamine production. “For generations, we educators have done everything we can to maintain a consistent relationship between reward and achievement, but the neuroscience is telling us something different” he said in an interview.

According to Mr. Howard-Jones, students learn more and are happier to continue learning, when they are offered the chance of a reward rather than a guaranteed reward.

Paul Howard-Jones - Neuroscientist #lwf12

Paul Howard-Jones speaking to the conference, Flickr photo by heloukee

The IHT says the call to bring computer games into the lecture room was one of the few areas where the 650 conference participants, ranging from a British Conservative cabinet minister to leftist linguist Noam Comsky and virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier, were in agreement.

Virtual reality was hyped as the new technology back when the Internet was having its big breakthrough, with Jaron Lanier as its guru. Not much has come of it, perhaps because the technology of the time was just not up to the challenge of holosuites (Second Life turned out to be rather disappointing). Lanier, who says he doesn’t use Facebook because he doesn’t like the way it distorts social life, told the conference, the IHT writes:

…that people can learn things through their bodies that they can’t learn by reading or thinking, like improvision on the piano or catching a baseball. Soo, thanks to advances in games technology, students would be able “to turn into the things they are studying. You’ll be able to turn a kid into a molecule — either a little alcohol molecule or a great big protein. And if you are the molecule that molecule is interesting ebcause it’s you.”

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