Daphne Bavelier: Your brain on video games

Speaker

Daphne Bavelier studies how the brain adapts to changes in experience, either by nature or by training

Summary

Fears over children playing video games is leveraged by the media for many headlines. While most children play games, most gamers are adults. Daphne is a brain scientist, so has studied the impact of video games on the brain. She notes that excessive gaming is hazardous to the health, but in reasonable levels is generally beneficial. With the amount of time people can play games, she is looking at ways to leverage this power to solve health problems.

Her main focus for these studies were violent first person shooter action games – such as Call of Duty, which in previous tests showed much greater benefits than other games. Her findings were

  1. Gamers have better vision. This is counter to the old story that too much screen time will harm your eyes – gamers could make out small details better and could distinguish between shades of grey (useful for driving in foggy conditions). Games are now being developed to improve patients with poor vision.
  2. Gamers are better at focussing their attention. Again this is counter to the myths, but gamers can track more objects at a time and focus on tests for longer.
  3. Gamers are better multi-taskers: they can switch from one task to another with minimal cost. They performed better in the multitasking tests than ‘multimedia taskers’ – students who report chatting while listening to music and studying.

Most of these findings fly in the face of common wisdom, and show that scientific testing is necessary to test common knowledge.

Daphne used this to try and improve the brains of non-gamers. She assigned them to play first person shooters for 10hrs over 2wks and tested their ability to mentally rotate shapes before and after. They showed a significant improvement after gaming, and maintained that improvement 5 months after the study.

She is now working with game publishers to better integrate the elements of games that improve our brains while still keeping the games fun. This is not an easy or quick thing to do – since people are wary of past efforts at educational software.

My Thoughts

I must admit I am skeptical of some of the studies shown. During the shape rotation one for example she didn’t mention a control group – is it possible the brain is improving as it gets exposed to the same test multiple times? I had a look through her publications (http://cms.unige.ch/fapse/people/bavelier/publications/publication-video-games/) and couldn’t pick out the exact study she was referring to. I hope I am wrong though – it is an interesting result if it is correct.

I am curious about how her work with the gaming companies will end up. If shooting games are already showing these benefits, is she aiming to tweak the games to focus more on the most beneficial points? Or is she trying to build more of these elements into non-shooter games?

Regardless, love the talk. Gaming often gets a bad rap from the media and other old wives tales (of the sort she debunked). It is good to know this is just another round of fear that strikes every generation as the world changes.

 

Diana Laufenberg: How to learn? From mistakes

Speaker

Diana Laufenberg teaches 11th-grade American History at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia.

Summary

When Diana’s grandparents and parents went to school, the goal was to transfer knowledge from teacher to student. As encyclopedias and the internet arrived, it is no longer necessary for students to simply acquire  facts at school – they can look up information whenever they want. Teachers now need to be comfortable taking a different role.

Diana taught American government, and took a different approach. She instead got her students to organise a night to teach others about the candidates for a local government election. She took a back seat, and it culminated in a night of debate which all students showed up to. Later she asked students in their own voice to discuss how they would use their life positively. She was amazed at the results – all she had to do was ask a genuine question and listen to the results.

She now works in an environment where all students are given laptops – a world where teachers need to be comfortable that they are giving students the tools they need to acquire knowledge. Students now need to explore wider ideas – it is not enough to tell them that all questions have only one right answer. She asked them to build an infographic poster about a major event, and honestly assessed each student telling them what they did well and what they needed to improve. An amount of failure is expected in every project, but only by pointing out failure will they do better next time.

Education is no longer about going to school and getting information. It must be more experiential learning, listening to students’ voice and allowing them to fail.

My Thoughts

Interesting talk – I expect most schools nowadays are adopting more open approaches in the way Diana describes. If not, hopefully they will soon – because the old model of schooling really is obsolete. Students need more than just to be told information, they have to learn skills.

Diana Laufenberg: How to learn? From mistakes

Speaker

Diana Laufenberg teaches 11th-grade American History at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia.

Summary

Diana Laufenberg is a teacher who shares a few things she’s learned about how most school’s teach and how most children learn. In the 1930’s, when Diana’s grandmother was in gradeschool, the purpose of going to class was to get information.  Students got all of their information from teachers and stored it all in their brains. When Diana was in school, information became more readily accessible in the form of encyclopedia’s and textbooks.

At the same time the internet became popular, she started teaching in Kansas. After the first year of teaching, she decided she needed to change her approach to teaching. Instead of she posed a challenge to her students: put on an election for your own community. They took ownership of the challenge, exceeded all expectations, and were able to learn while they created something useful and impactful. As her career progressed she was also witness to how meaningful and authentic students were when they were given a chance to speak freely. The final point she makes is about the culture of failure that exists in school. Students are taught that there is one right answer, a way of thinking abetted by the multiple choice tests at the front of academic assessment. Diana says it doesn’t make sense to tell kids to never be wrong when so much can be learned from failure. Kids need to be allowed to fail, process, and learn from their experiences in school.

TL;DR

Diana wants people to let go of the paradigms of the past. Information is no longer scarce and we should realize that education is not about coming to school to learn facts. It is about the student voice, experiential learning, and embracing failure.

My Thoughts

Even though I agree with the points Diana made in her talk, I didn’t find her stories from her teaching experience that compelling.  But her passion and energy is clearly visible and helps make this talk enganging.