Computer-based learning

Are you tired of watching your colleagues in the office playing inane first-person-shooter computer games when they should be working? Do you get tired of seeing your children sitting for hours in front of the PC blasting away at zombies and ghouls when they could be outside in the sunshine playing a nice game of bat and ball?

I know I do. So this week, you can imagine how mortified I was to read that research by a New Zealand academic shows that these games can actually improve the cognitive ability of the players.

Paul Kearney, a lecturer from Unitec‘s School of Computing and Information Technology, conducted some research into the matter and found that people showed significant improvements in their multitasking abilities after playing popular first-person-shooter ‘Counter Strike’. That’s the game where you and your team mates engage in a realistic brand of counter-terrorist warfare, taking out enemy sites and rescuing hostages.

Kearney says that he used software developed by the US military to test multitasking skills for the research, which involved 40 people aged between 16 and 40 plus. Results showed that those who played the computer games for eight hours a week increased their test scores by up to two-and-a-half times.

“It appears that the improvements are due to Counter Strike’s immersive environment. We also tested people after playing Quake, which is more of a fantasy-type first-person-shooter, and there weren’t the same increases in the test scores. It seems that the realistic scenarios and higher stakes in Counter Strike meant players concentrated harder and as a result the improvements in their cognitive abilities were more marked.”

He is planning more work on the topic at gaming research lab Unicave – the only research centre of its kind in New Zealand – which he established at Unitec. Because, of course, the research hasn’t ended yet. Kearney still has plenty more questions to ask.

“Given these results, could an immersive, online 3D educational environment help students learn more effectively than the current software we use for online courses?” he asks.

Hopefully, it could. But horror of horrors! What if we were to discover instead that the best way to teach kids maths in this virtual world would be to have them first round up their maths teachers from some seedy club, rough them up a bit and then drive them to school in a stolen car to deliver their maths lecture?

Would we then have to transfer these same teaching principles into the real world? The mind boggles.

Dave Wilson

Editor

The Engineer Online