Thursday, October 09, 2008

Microsoft backs using videogames as teaching tools

SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) - Microsoft's research arm and a set of US universities are creating a first-of-its-kind institute devoted to using videogames to teach math, science and engineering to school children.

A Games For Learning Institute (G4LI) is being established at New York University in Manhattan and guaranteed funding for at least three years.

G4LI research will focus on the potential of videogame as tools to teach sciences and other technology-related subjects to middle school children, particularly girls and minorities, according to Microsoft.

"Technology has the potential to help reinvent the education process, and excite and inspire young learners to embrace science, math and technology," Microsoft chief research and strategy officer Craig Mundie said Tuesday.

"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 is providing 1.5 million dollars to fund the institute and an equal amount of money is being provided Columbia University, Dartmouth College, Parsons, Polytechnic Institute of NYU, and other colleges.

"Middle school is a critical stage for students, a time when many are introduced to advanced math and science concepts," said NYU computer science professor Ken Perlin, who will direct G4LI.

"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."

Educators are hoping that by adding videogames to their education arsenals they will be able to win over Internet generation students whose math and science skills are on a disturbing decline.

"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.

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The G4LI will evaluate game prototypes and test them in New York City schools. Results will be shared with researchers, game developers and educators, Microsoft said.

A Microsoft Gaming Initiative has invested more than three million dollars in educational game kits, studies and academic events since 2004.

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