Friday, July 17, 2009

Reality vs Virtual Reality?

Neuropath Learning has always made it an point to use real-world photographic images and videos, natural sounds and human voices in a real life context. No cartoons, virtual environments or computer generated audio. This unique feature of our product is one of the important things that set us apart from other educational software and learning systems. However, virtual environments have been frequently used for training and skill improvement. Do real and virtual worlds engage the same brain states in human perceivers? That is what a team of research scientists led by Shihui Han set to find out.

They measured brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while subjects watched movie and cartoon clips, simulating real and virtual visual worlds, respectively. Relative to baselines using random static images, the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and the cerebellum were activated only by movie clips of other humans. In contrast, cartoon clips of human and non-human agents activated the superior parietal lobes, while movie clips of animals also activated the superior parietal lobes. Their fMRI findings suggest that the perception of real-world humans is characterised by the involvement of pre-frontal cortex and the cerebellum.
It is important to note that the prefrontal cortex is where most of our cognitive functions such as "working memory" and "executive function"are located in the brain. Our learning programs are packed with hundreds and thousands of images of human faces, especially those of children. Therefore, the Neuropath Learning process must stimulate the developing brain differently from a learning system that uses cartoon and virtual reality. Given that greater stimulation of specific brain regions generally leads to enhanced development of those parts and the functions housed within, our real-world learning system is definite at an advantage when it come to facilitating cognitive development. Use of real-world stimuli is one of the criteria that makes it a true brain based learning program. Which means it is designed around the way the brain is attracted to and retains new and useful information.

Another study, conducted by scientists in Italy, found that watching a video of a real hand moving vs. an animation of a moving cartoon hand stimulated the brain differently.

This team of researchers, led by Daniel Perani, investigated whether observation of actions reproduced in three-dimensional virtual reality would engage perceptual and visuomotor brain processes different from those induced by the observation of real hand actions. Participants were asked to passively observe grasping actions of geometrical objects made by a real hand or by hand reconstructions of different quality in 3D virtual reality as well as on a 2D TV screen. They found that only real actions in a natural environment activated the visuospatial network including the right posterior parietal cortex. Observation of virtual-reality hand actions engaged prevalent visual perceptual processes within lateral and mesial occipital regions. Thus, only perception of actions in reality, maps onto existing action representations, whereas virtual-reality conditions do not access the full motor knowledge available to the central nervous system. They also noted that the degree of realism in the reproduction of the virtual reality hand seemed to have limited effect, in particular in the engagement of right hemispheric structures. This means that virtual reality cannot substitute for reality because they are not processed by the same neural networks.

In other words, if you want to teach someone to tie their shoe laces, you will be far more successful using a real life movie rather than a computer generated graphic animation. Definitely something to keep in mind!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Game Changer

Can digital games, especially well-designed educational games, help reshape our nation’s approach to learning and growing? This question was addressed in a new report by the Joan Ganz Cooney's Center at the Sesame Workshop. The report titled: "Game Changer:Investing in Digital Play to Advance Children’s Learning and Health" specifies how increased national investment in research-based digital games might play a cost-effective and transformative role. It provides recommendations for the media industry, government, philanthropy, and academia to harness the appeal of digital games to improve children’s health and learning.

Digital media have dramatically transformed children’s play. From the preschool years on, millions of American children are actively immersed in play within a new, virtual playground.
Research now offers solid evidence that children learn important content, perspectives, and vital “21st-century skills” from playing digital games.

In their recent review of learning and games, Moving Learning Games Forward, Klopfer, Osterweil, and Salen (2009) categorize different types of learning that are possible with games. For example:

  • Content (from rich vocabulary to science to history)
  • Skills (from literacy to math to complex problem-solving)
  • Creation of artifacts (from videos to software code)

  • Systems thinking (how changing one element affects relationships as a whole)

Research has begun to document a number of powerful potential benefits from digital-media play, including positive social growth (more peer interaction around common interests), cognition (greater motivation to read and solve problems), and health (better understanding of the importance of healthy behaviors, improved self-care skills, more self-confidence and drive
to carry out those skills).

Nine areas of learning and behavior change supported by well-designed interactive games:
  1. Motivation to learn

  2. Perception and coordination

  3. Thinking and problem-solving

  4. Knowledge

  5. Skills and behaviors

  6. Self-regulation and therapy

  7. Self concepts

  8. Social relationships

  9. Attitudes and values
The experts they interviewed said that "our conception of the nature of learning itself needs to fundamentally change". What is literacy and learning today? Is it memorizing a lot of facts, or is it having the capability to maneuver your way through data to find answers to questions that come up in your life? There are so many 9-year-olds who have two or three screens in their personal control at home, and yet at school, we expect children to power down their devices and learn.

When parents and teachers were asked to rate digital media’s potential as an educational tool, they said that they viewed the internet, computer programs, and CD-Roms as having more educational potential than other forms of digital media, likely because they require kids to use their reading and writing skills.

The study concludes by saying " digital games are here to stay and offer the country a rare opportunity to leverage children’s already established enthusiasm in order to reform education and promote healthy development. We know enough about digital games and how they work to recognize their promise. Now we need to invest time and resources to turn this promise into a real “game changer” for America’s children."

At Neuropath Learning we go one step further in providing online computer games for children that foster their critical thinking skills and reinforce important concepts they encounter in the classroom and in the real world. Our interactive learning tools help develop cognitive abilities and executive funtion that is required for success. For more information on our programs, visit our website at

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Project Tomorrow

In the mid-90s, Sun Microsystems executive John Gage founded NetDay, which began as a grassroots campaign in California to wire schools but soon blossomed into a national nonprofit organization. Julie Evans has been running the organization since 2000, when it expanded its mission beyond one-day "electronic barn-raising" efforts connecting neighborhood schools to the internet and started helping schools integrate technology effectively into the curriculum. In 2008 Julie Evans was recognized as one of "Ten Who've Made a Difference in Educational Technology". Last year, NetDay merged with a California-based science education group to become Project Tomorrow.

Under Evans' leadership, the group has made its biggest impact through a series of annual surveys, called "Speak Up." These surveys aim to collect students', teachers', and parents' views on science, math, and technology, and how to improve education for the 21st century. Since 2003, more than 850,000 K-12 students and their teachers and parents have participated in the annual online Speak Up surveys, and the surveys' findings have helped shape ed-tech policy at the federal, state, and local levels.

Here are two videos from Project Tomorrow which address LEARNING IN A GLOBAL AGE. The needs of students cannot be confined to the walls of a school building anymore; online learning and even hands on learning outside the school are now necessary to make students sucessful in life. At Neuropath Learning we noticed these gaps a while ago and have been working hard to provide students with opportunities for online learning and testing at an early age.
A new study, Learning in the 21st Century: 2009 Trends Update reports this demand for more online learning by students, as well as the online learning practices of schools today and identifies future needs. Parents believe the goal of science education is to provide critical thinking skills and creative problem solving and this is the goal of our educational products and services also.

This first video identifies a disconnect between students and educators in the use of technology in education and how schools are failing to provide students with life skills. Watch Julie Evans, Project Tomorrow CEO Speak Up in Learning to Change, Changing to Learn.

In this second video students speak up to President Obama about how to improve their schools. They have many great ideas and envision some of the same changes that we believe in need to occur. It is very inspiring to hear what they have to say.

Finally here is a slideshow of the 2007 survey showing what is lacking in science education today and what is needed to prepare and motivate student for careers in science and technology.