The Educational Technology Group is investing heavily in educational games for very young children. This year it is conducting its first large-scale study in Sweden.
With fun games adapted to the individual we can pick up and address issues in the development of children who are at risk of doing poorly in maths in school”, says Agneta Gulz, who leads the research team. The Educational Technology Group at Lund University comprises researchers in cognitive science, informatics, computer science, linguistics, design and media studies. In collaboration with Swedish and American universities, they are developing educational games in subjects including mathematics. The common feature of the games is a digital ‘teachable agent’ – a character that the children teach.
“All research indicates that children learn better by doing the teaching, and this also improves their self-confidence. Our studies of 7 to 14-year-olds show that this type of educational game benefits children’s mathematical development and understanding of concepts. After using the game, the children got much better results on tests. The studies also show clearly that the teachable agent particularly benefits weaker pupils”, says Agneta Gulz, Professor of Cognitive Science.
“Children learn better by doing the teaching.”
Her research group is now focusing on developing educational games for very young children. M-world is the name of a fun, light-hearted game for 3 to 5-year-olds in which the children help a little ‘protégé’ to solve different exercises. As they solve the problems, the playing area – a garden – becomes greener and is filled with exciting items. The games adapt to the individual – the better the child performs, the harder the exercises become.
“We are testing the game on 40 children in the course of the spring and autumn in both Sweden and the US. It will be interesting to see how the really young children handle the digital protégé, whether they find the game fun, and what effect it has on their mathematical understanding. Research shows that it is possible to identify children at the age of 3 or 4 who have a weak interest in ‘numerosity’ and a weakly developed understanding of numbers. Studies also show how difficult it is for parents or nursery teachers to support these children’s development even if they are aware of the problems.
“We want to make an early impact with our educational games. The games are also intended to serve as a diagnostic tool and aid for special educational needs teachers.”
Agneta Gulz sees huge potential in digital learning, especially when it comes to identifying weaker children. However, she thinks nurseries and schools are too slow to take on the new educational tools.
“Sweden could make major investments in digital learning and become a model country for schooling again. We have the knowledge and the skills. Together with other institutions, we could build up a national infrastructure and give all nurseries and schools access to educational games for all ages.”
Text: Liselotte Fritz
Photo: Kennet Ruona