Are computer games and apps the new frontiers for communicating science?

27 February 2012to29 February 2012

Computer games can be a powerful form of media, not only in school teaching, but also to engage the general public in science. In a session at the Australian Science Communicators’ National Conference, ASC2012, a panel of experienced game designers and educators will explore and explain how this is done. Among the speakers at this session will be Cathy Howe, project leader for MacICT’s Game Design Team and Sam Doust, who developed the ‘participatory drama’ Bluebird AR for ABC online.

The success story of computer games closely tracks that of the technology on which we play them: personal computers, gaming consoles and lately mobile phones. As these devices have spread and developed into sophisticated multi-media communication tools, computer games themselves have become intricate ‘worlds’ within which gamers – often together with other players – solve complex challenges. What started off as a means of passing time and escaping reality is increasingly being recognised as valuable training to wrestle with real-world problems. Military forces across the globe have long been using game-like simulations to train soldiers. Educational institutions are now following suit.

Playing computer games children acquire skills through applying them to challenges. This problem-based learning, argues Prof James Paul Gee of Arizona State University, the author of several books on the educational value of video games, is far more effective than the classic teaching approach, which is “focused on relating facts and how well students retain this info”. A purely mathematical activity can become much more engaging when, with the help of video games, students can be involved in developing the entire exercise. Alice Leung, head science teacher at Merrylands High School in Sydney and a speaker at the GAME ON! video gaming festival last October experienced this, when she started using a Formula 1 racing game to teach Newton’s laws of motion. An additional advantage of game-based learning is that students are happy to play more often and longer than the time they would devote to conventional study. The immediate feedback and constant rewards for every individual point scored or level completed in a computer game leads to the release of the pleasure hormone dopamine in the brain and keeps gamers happy and playing.

Getting science where it’s needed
Sydney Masonic Centre
27 to 29 February 2012

Concurrent Session 4D

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About Achim Eberhart

Achim Eberhart holds a degree in Biology from the University of Tübingen, Germany and a PhD in Zoology from The University of Melbourne. He has always been enthusiastic about communicating science to a general audience and currently works as a freelance science writer.

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