Pioneering software that enables children to design their own computer games could significantly improve the teaching of literacy, design and ICT skills in our schools.
With EPSRC funding, a new project at Heriot-Watt University aims to produce "Adventure Author" – innovative game-creation software specifically targeted at enhancing children's education.
The objective is to show that computer games, as well as being fun, offer a great way of motivating pupils to learn. They can develop their creativity, and in many cases, generate better results than conventional teaching methods.
Adventure Author will allow 10-14 year olds to design and build 3D, interactive fantasy-based computer games, which will involve developing characters, writing dialogue, plot-structuring and visual design, as well as dealing with technical programming issues and testing/evaluating the games. It could make a particularly valuable contribution to developing children's self-esteem and helping pupils with motivation/concentration problems in the classroom.
"Because they see games as 'play' not 'work', many children are much more receptive to the idea of designing computer games than to conventional schoolwork," says Dr Judy Robertson, who is leading this groundbreaking project. "The value of teaching through play is increasingly being recognised – we're simply extending the concept to see if learning can be improved not just by playing computer games but also by creating them in the first place."
As well as computer scientists at Heriot-Watt University, the initiative is harnessing the expertise of an educational consultant and a software developer. A central task is to acquire a detailed understanding of the creative process involved in computer game design and, based on this, to pinpoint how Adventure Author can be designed in a way that encourages development of the necessary skills. Equipped with easy-to-use editing tools and cutting-edge graphics, Adventure Author will include an integrated "Designer's Notebook" to help children develop their ideas and a "Teacher's Notebook" providing lesson plans, classroom materials etc.
Close involvement of schoolchildren (to test ideas, features etc.) will be a vital component in the project. A preliminary field study, in which 10-11 year old children at Ancrum Road Primary School in Dundee designed games using existing, non-education-specific game-authoring software, has produced very promising results – and has highlighted the even greater impact that education-specific software like Adventure Author could have in terms of delivering major educational benefits.
"It really opened up my son's creative side," says the parent of one child who took part in the preliminary field study, while head teacher Mrs O'Rourke notes: "It ticks a lot of boxes for me – especially motivation. Children of all abilities have benefited."
"We're keen to hear from other primary schools around the country who would be interested in taking part," says Judy Robertson. "We believe our initiative could ultimately lead to education-specific game-authoring software becoming widely available and its use could boost achievement in many aspects of learning in UK schools."
Notes for Editors
The 27-month research project "Supporting Creativity in Computer Game Authoring" is due to run until September 2008 and is receiving EPSRC funding of nearly £210,000.
The project is targeting the 10-14 age-range because by that stage in their development children can progress to more creative and sophisticated thinking and storytelling. In future, there could also be potential to extend the education-specific game-authoring concept to an older age group.
The software that the team is developing will be based on foundations provided by Neverwinter Nights 2, a commercially available fantasy computer game that includes a toolset allowing users to develop their own adventures. This was the software used in the preliminary field study undertaken at Ancrum Road Primary School.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK's main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. The EPSRC is investing £650 million this year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC also actively promotes public awareness of science and engineering. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK. Website address for more information on EPSRC: www.epsrc.ac.uk/
For more information, contact:
Dr Judy Robertson, School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences, Heriot-Watt University, Tel: 0131 451 8223, E-mail: email@example.com, Website: http://www.macs.hw.ac.uk/AdventureAuthor/index.html
An image 'boyatcomputer.jpg' is available from the EPSRC press office. Contact: Natasha Richardson, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, tel: 01793 444404. Suggested caption: "Games without frontiers – designing computer games could give a real boost to children's development."
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