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Using Games as a Teaching Mechanism

Posted by | 11:25am on Friday, April 3, 2009

This same type of learning can be applied to other complex ideas like what a disease does to the body or how a drug works inside the body. 

Kyle Crumrine, senior web designer at Siren Interactive, contributes this post:

Teaching people with a chronic disease about exactly what is happening inside their bodies has always been a difficult task. Describing a disease with text or even with pictures and diagrams can be complicated and difficult to understand. Even video and 3d animation can be tough to follow and confusing. One way to combat this obstacle is to structure the way that the information is delivered. Rather than it being a passive experience where the user’s attention could fade or wander, an interactive learning experience that forces fixed attention in order to achieve objectives is a much more effective and engaging option.

This method of teaching has been successfully used for years with the Rosetta Stone language software. Now used by even the US Army as a means to teach second languages, this software is essentially an educational video game — interacting with the lessons and learning through experience. This same type of learning can be applied to other complex ideas like what a disease does to the body or how a drug works inside the body.

Imagine loading up a game that is meant to teach about a specific immune disease… Immune Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP), for example. ITP is a disease in which your body attacks its own platelets and your blood can’t clot normally if you start bleeding.  In the first level you could play as an antibody in a normal immune system. The goal as outlined by the mission briefing is to mark pathogens for destruction by bumping into them. The marked pathogens are then destroyed by macrophages. Once you’ve marked all of the invading pathogens you move onto level two. This time you play as an antibody in an immune system of a person with ITP. The antibody, instead of targeting pathogens, is set to mark the body’s own platelets for destruction. As the level progresses, symptoms of ITP pop up on the screen as a result of the body’s lowering platelet count. In the third and final level you play as Anti-D therapy, where you fool the antibodies to mark the plentiful red blood cells for destruction and thus saving the platelets and making the symptoms disappear one by one.

This method of learning can be not only a lot less dry (or even fun!), but it’s also easier because you’ve had to play your way to understanding in order to accomplish the objectives of the game.

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) are working on a game called Immune Attack. It is intended to help students of all ages learn about the immune system. From the testimonials on their site it sounds like it’s working. Immune Attack is a free-to-download program that the FAS is encouraging middle and high school classes to use in order to learn biology.

As an avid gamer myself, I feel that this medium is becoming more and more relevant not only as a source of entertainment, but as a source of learning as well. As more of the population become gamers and the industry keeps growing ($22 billion in 2008), it makes more and more sense to use an already widely consumed medium to teach legitimately valuable lessons especially in areas like medical science and chronic diseases where those lessons can often be quite difficult to grasp.

And mom said I’d never get anywhere playing video games!

(Image courtesy of husin.sani via Flickr)

About Kyle Crumrine

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    06 April 2009 at 4:04pm
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  • http://www.fas.org/immuneattack Melanie Stegman

    Thanks for mentioning Immune Attack! We really are trying to make the game play of Immune Attack inline with what actually happens on the molecular level in your body. We are excited about our project. We invite you to play: download for free at immuneattack.org. Comment on our forum, and also register with us, and we’ll tell you when Immune Attack 2.0 is ready!! It will be soon, Fall 2009!

    Melanie Stegman, PhD
    Immune Attack Program Manager
    Federation of American Scientists

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