Brain Training vs. Brain Gym

Some of the most interesting stuff presented at the recent DiGRA Scotland day was from Derek Robertson from Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS). Derek’s blog is the Consolarium, which is regularly updated. The focus is on games-based learning in Scotland, but included updates on studies of much wider interest.

The particular example I was most impressed by on the day was a study on ways of improving childrens arithmetic performance which compared Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training and Brain Gym (a movement exercise program which aims to help stimulate students. The exercise bit seems to work, though the pseudo-science behind it has been criticized, however. See here). A third, control, group was also assessed – making the study reasonably rigorous, although some issues over equivalence are noted in the case study, which you can find here. (Also look out for other GBL projects – one featuring Guitar Hero!)

I was thinking at the time that Brain Training is an interesting example of games-based learning because it clearly demonstrates that success and engagement do not require convincing graphics on a par with the current crop of commercial games. It also features a range of relatively simple exercises which are practiced over and over again – almost rote like, in encouraging an almost automatic response to visual recognition and mental maths problems. Indeed, if it isn’t a perfect example of ‘drill-and-kill’ edutainment, then I clearly haven’t understood the term ‘drill-and-kill’. I note that both ‘drill-and-kill’ exercises and rote learning appear to be pedagogically unpopular currently, e.g.:

what Professor Seymour Papert calls “Shavian reversals”: offspring that inherit the worst characteristics of both parents (in this case, boring games and drill-and-kill learning)

(From ‘Digital Game-Based Learning: It’s Not Just the Digital Natives Who Are Restless‘, Richard Van Eck)

Sorry, off on a tangent there.

Anyway, the Brain Training study showed that the Nintendo game led to the greatest improvement in test results, with a number of other positive outcomes to-boot. Well worth reviewing.

I can’t really criticize the study, but the web-page had a tab ‘Digital Natives’ that I just had to click on…

The question at the top of this tab turns out to be “Are digital natives at ease with games technology?”, which if we take to mean ‘are current school pupils at ease with games technology’ the answer seems to be so immediately obvious I don’t know why the question is being asked at all.

While the ‘digital native’ concept has been arguing that old folks will never ‘get it’, and will never be able to get on with technology the way young folks do, its interesting to note that Nintendo are making heavy use of some relatively mature celebrities in their current Nintendo DS advertising campaigns (Patrick Stewart and Julie Walters amongst them).

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