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Games for brains

New online gaming project gets AU researchers hefty funding prize

One of Athabasca University’s star researchers in the School of Computing and Information Systems just got wind of a healthy cash injection she’s been awarded toward an exciting new gaming project.

Last week, the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) announced $1 million in Community Investment Program funding, which includes projects aimed at digital literacy around privacy and cybersecurity, as well as goodwill ventures for Canadians through internet-based technologies.

AU’s Dr. Sabine Graf, an associate professor in the Faculty of Science and Technology, is one of 21 lucky Canadian recipients to share in that impressive funding opportunity. Her project’s portion? $50,000 – which will allow her and co-lead, Dr. Maiga Chang, to develop their community-based, educational, online game.

Joggin' your noggin

photo of sabine graf
Dr. Sabine Graf, associate professor in the Faculty of Science and Technology, CIRA 2017 Community Investment Program funding recipient, for her team’s online educational game.

The as-yet-untitled game is designed to boost players’ brain power — from critical thinking, problem solving and innovation, to associative reasoning, organization and planning, and monitoring or checking work for accuracy.

Graf says she and Chang and their team are eager and excited to get to work on their creation.

“Game-based learning is such a powerful tool,” said Graf, noting her team’s browser-based project will provide players (Canadians students and other adults who want to improve their meta-cognitive skills) with all the “fun, strategic manoeuvring and competitive plays that are naturally embedded in the gaming process.”

The premise of the game revolves around a set of short (30-to-60 second) sub-games — each one focusing on improving said skills — designed with motivational techniques to encourage players to keep playing, learning analytics to increase their skill-level awareness, and a personalized gaming experience tailored to the skill-levels and preferences of players.

“Players will sharpen and advance their problem-solving and critical thinking skills — cognitive tools that we all need to exercise, continuously, in our everyday lives,” said Graff, adding they’ll also get to observe their meta-cognitive skill development over time, keeping track of levels reached.

“So, really,” she remarked, “—it’s a win-win!”

“So, really,” she remarked, “—it’s a win-win!”

“Game-based learning is such a powerful tool”

– Dr. Sabine Graf
photo of maiga change
Dr. Maiga Chang, associate professor, School of Computing and Information Systems; co-lead in 2017 CIRA-funded online gaming project.

Professor and Chair of SCIS, Dr. Jon Dron, says he’s thrilled about his colleagues’ sizeable research grant.

“I am delighted that Sabine and Maiga can add yet another success to their long list of exceptional achievements. It couldn’t happen to a nicer or more deserving pair of people,” said Dron.

He cites the project’s “real research” motivational factor that “aims far beyond the naïve pointsification used in countless dull ‘educational’ games that currently flood the market” — which, Dron feels, “give game-based learning a bad name.”

Moreover, he champions his colleagues’ computer-science savvy that contributed to their project’s conception.

“I am especially grateful to [Sabine and Maiga] for the inspiration and expertise that their many students gain from working and learning with such cutting-edge internationally renowned researchers,” he noted.

“Their passion and brilliance continues to enrich the culture and value of our school in many ways.”

“[The game] aims far beyond the naïve pointsification used in countless dull ‘educational’ games that currently flood the market — which give game-based learning a bad name.”

– Dr. Jon Dron, Chair, School of Computing and Information Systems, Athabasca University

CIRA President and CEO Brian Holland notified Graf directly of her research award. In a media release from June 15, Holland said the funding efforts of his organization are designed “to build a better online Canada.”

“The Community Investment Program is one of the ways we contribute to a safer and more accessible Canadian Internet. I’m proud to support all of this year’s innovative projects,” Holland wrote.

CIRA community relations manager Jenna Feldman concurred.

“We are pleased to support Athabasca University’s project to use online gaming in such a positive manner,” she said.

“At CIRA, we want to build a better online Canada and this project is a valuable contribution toward that goal.”

Graf and Chang predict that within their project’s first year, the game will “increase the meta-cognitive skills of one thousand users by 25 per cent.” The pair will host their project’s kick-off meeting mid-July.

  • July 4, 2017