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Thursday, February 15, 2007

MacArthur Grant For Video Games

If that sounds like yet another New Age fad, destined for the scrapheap of once-trendy educational ideas alongside "new math," "open classrooms" and "whole language," consider this: The prominent Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation -- the people who give out those half-million-dollar genius grants every year -- is distributing $50 million to researchers to understand how digital technologies are changing the ways young people learn, play, socialize and exercise judgment.

"We realized that over 80 percent of American kids have game consoles at home, 90 percent of kids are online and 50 percent of them are producing things online, so we really need to understand what is going on here," said Constance Yowell, director of the MacArthur Foundation's digital research initiative. "This is what kids are doing, so we need to know both the positive benefits and the unintended consequences."

Hard data are scant so far -- most of the MacArthur-funded research projects are just getting under way -- but there's no shortage of anecdotes testifying to the educational benefits of video and computer games and new multimedia tools. Simulation games in particular have already been embraced by some educators, as well as many businesses and the U.S. military, as effective ways to introduce people to environments and situations that would otherwise be expensive, dangerous or impossible to access.

The computer games and tools being studied are generations removed from the static, linear educational software commonly found inside many of the nation's schools today -- software that girls and boys quickly master and then discard as boring.
-- I told you to play your video game!

This is possibly a smite more important than it sounds - the MacArthur Foundation has pretty good street cred with the academic set. The more research out there - and I mean research not silly soundbite press releases - the more we can talk seriously about the subject and stop yelling like BatJack lunatics.

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