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Microsoft Researching Whether Games Help With Math & Science in School

by Rainier on Oct. 7, 2008 @ 11:22 a.m. PDT

Microsoft unveiled details about a multidisciplinary, multi-institutional gaming research alliance that will provide the fundamental scientific evidence to support games as learning tools for math and science subjects among middle-school students.

Microsoft's Chief research and strategy officer Craig Mundie unveiled details about a first-of-its-kind, multidisciplinary, multi-institutional gaming research alliance that will provide the fundamental scientific evidence to support games as learning tools for math and science subjects among middle-school students. The Games for Learning Institute (G4LI) is a joint research endeavor of Microsoft Research, New York University and a consortium of universities. The partners include Columbia University, the City University of New York (CUNY), Dartmouth College, Parsons, Polytechnic Institute of NYU, the Rochester Institute of Technology and Teachers College. The G4LI will identify which qualities of computer games engage students and develop relevant, personalized teaching strategies that can be applied to the learning process.

"Technology has the potential to help reinvent the education process, and excite and inspire young learners to embrace science, math and technology," Mundie said. "The Games for Learning Institute at NYU is a great example of how technology can change how students learn, making it far more natural and intuitive."

Microsoft Research is providing $1.5 million to the Institute. NYU and its consortium of partners are matching Microsoft's investment, for a combined $3 million. Funding covers the first three years of the G4LI's research, which will focus on evaluating computer games as potential learning tools for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects at the middle-school years (grades 6-8). The institute will work with a range of student populations, yet focus on underrepresented middle-school students, such as girls and minorities.

"Middle school is a critical stage for students, a time when many are introduced to advanced math and science concepts," said Ken Perlin, professor of computer science in NYU's Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences and founding director of the Media Research Laboratory at NYU, who will direct the G4LI, to be located at NYU. "Many students become discouraged or uninterested and pour their time at home into gaming. Ironically, we think gaming is our starting point to draw them into math, science and technology-based programs."

Video games, with their popularity and singular ability to engage young people, are showing promise as a way to excite and prepare the Net generation, the current crop of students who have grown up on technology. This generation, though well-versed in using technology for social networking and Internet research, is continuing a decline in proficiency and interest in math and sciences -- the very skills needed to prepare them for the new demands and requirements of the 21st century.

"While educational games are commonplace, little is known about how, why or even if they are effective," said John Nordlinger, senior research manager for Microsoft Research's gaming efforts. "Microsoft Research, together with NYU and the consortium of academic partners, will address these questions from a multidisciplinary angle, exploring what makes certain games compelling and playable and what elements make them effective, providing critically important information to researchers, game developers and educators to support a new era of using games for educational purposes."

Jan Plass, associate professor of educational communication and technology at NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, will co-direct the G4LI with Perlin. While NYU will serve as the hub of the G4LI in its Computer Science Media Research Laboratory at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, the multi-institutional organization will have a myriad of partner spokes. The G4LI also will evaluate game prototypes and introduce them, along with accompanying curricula, to an existing network of 19 New York City area schools; results in the classroom will be tracked. Based on the findings, the institute's goal is to expand its research and game development to all K-12 grades. Resulting scientific evidence will be shared broadly with researchers, game developers and educators.

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