1 July, 2011

Interactive computer games have the potential to help young people with learning difficulties master everyday tasks and motivate them to learn, according to new research from Nottingham Trent University.

PhD researcher, Rachael Folds, from the University’s School of Education, has studied how repetitive use of interactive mimetic digital games (IMDG), such as those on the Nintendo Wii and Xbox Kinect, could help to improve certain skills.

The research was carried out with Loughborough College students who are undertaking specialist training programmes that assist in the transition from Special Schools into further education courses. The participants were aged 16-24 and have intellectual disabilities ranging from Down’s syndrome to autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

During the study the students undertook pre and post test‘real-world’ activities. The first part of the project– tennis - involved 24 students hitting ten forehand and backhand balls and serving ten balls. They were then asked to carry out the same task on a Wii tennis game at regular intervals over five weeks.  The second stage - bowling - asked 18 students to knock down as many pins as possible with five balls and this was then replicated over five weeks on an Xbox Kinect bowling game. After playing the computer games, the students repeated the real-world exercise and their results were compared.

Both the cycles showed significant statistical improvements in their abilities in various activities.  During the five week Wii trial, 75% of the group experienced an increase in their computer game scores and the final test showed that the students’ real-life tennis skill level has improved by an average of 53%.

The second stage of the project showed even more significant findings, 94% got higher scores in week five than they did in the first week playing the computer game and the average increase in their bowling real world skills was 143% after interacting with the game.

When questioned following the project, 92% of the students said they would like to play computer games to learn in college in the future and the same number thought that IMDG help them to learn better than traditional methods associated with traditional teaching. 93% commented that the games had elements that encouraged their interest, 87% said they had learnt some things that were surprising or unexpected using the game and 100% of the participants stated that after playing each game, they were confident that they could pass a test on what they had learnt.

Rachael Folds said:“The initial results from this small sample suggest that interactive games teach the students movements which they can improve upon and mimic in everyday life. Although they were playing tennis and bowling in the trial, games which teach them how to do things like bake a cake or change a tyre could potentially be very beneficial.

“The students really enjoyed taking part in this project and found it a rewarding and enriching learning experience, they were very motivated to learn using this method. The outcomes were certainly very interesting and I think this is an area which warrants further research so we can build on how we best teach children with special educational needs.”

Anita Smith, from Loughborough College, said:“Loughborough College staff have found that the digital games based learning project has been a positive motivator for the learners that have taken part. One student, when asked about their accomplishments at college in the last year, stated that“learning with the Xbox Kinect has helped my achievement this year”.

“Our students often have difficulties in focusing their attention and this project has enabled them improve their motivation and concentration on learning. We are looking forward to expanding the research in collaboration with Rachael by actively involving more students in 2011-2012, as well as developing the learners’ skills using digital game based learning in the future.


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