Posts tagged ‘World of Warcraft’

Crowd-funding Autism Research

We got an interesting email recently from Elisabeth Whyte, who’s a post-doc working in the Laboratory of Developmental Neuroscience (part of Penn State’s psychology department) on what seems like a cool project: developing a game that would help children with autism get better at identifying faces and making eye contact, two things that can make it difficult for people with autism to connect with others. Whyte, who plays and blogs about World of Warcraft, is trying to use elements of video games to make the intervention more fun and more effective for the participants. She’s working with faculty member Suzanne Scherf.

The problem: Getting enough money. Whyte is between grants right now, so she’s organized a crowd-funding project as part of the #SciFund Challenge. You can click here to watch a video about the research, get some more information on how crowd-funding works, and get details on what the money will be used for. In this case, the money will help pay for MRIs of the brains of people participating in the first phrase of the project—the MRIs cost $500 each—and prepare for the second phase. She’s looking to raise $10,000 by Dec. 14; the project is more than a third of the way there.

The project has a blog, as well, which has some information about the project and some general information about autism, too. And you can read an in-depth interview with Whyte, in which she talks about both the project and the possibilities (and limitations) of crowd-funding, by clicking here.

Crowd-sourcing as a form of funding for research seems to be a growing trend. For more background, check out this 2011 piece from the New York Times and a more recent blog from The Huffington Post.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

December 7, 2012 at 2:27 pm Leave a comment

Videogames in the Classroom? They Might Help Boys Learn

Every chair was taken, causing the staff at Schlow Memorial Library to quickly add a few more rows in the back of the room. But still, some people had to stand in the back of the room, and others peeked in through the doors.

They came to the spring’s first talk in the Research Unplugged series—which is designed to connect Penn State’s researchers with the State College community—to hear Alison Carr-Chellman, department head and professor instructional systems in the College of Education, discuss how the U.S. school system is failing boys. Looking out at the crowd, she said, “I do think the gender issue brings out lots of people.”

It certainly does. Carr-Chellman gave a talk about the issue at TEDxPSU in 2010, and since the video was posted on the main TED website, she’s received at least one email or phone call every day. She believes that a combination of Zero Tolerance policies (designed to stop bullying and violence) that are carried too far, a drop in the number of male elementary school teachers, and a collaborative learning culture that discourages competition and individualism are causing boys to tune out in the classroom—and eventually drop out.

She provided a lot of numbers to back up her position—check out The Boys Initiative or the 100 Girls Project, which has found, for instance, that for every 100 girls who are expelled from school, 325 boys are. And she talked about a provocative solution: incorporating videogames, even violent ones such as Call of Duty and World of Warcraft, into the classroom.

The way Carr-Chellman framed her talk was particularly clever. She asked, “What are boys like?” Then she showed a photo of her sons curled up together in a hammock, reading books—it was titled, “what we want them to be like.” She then showed a second photo—the same boys, outfitted for Halloween in full soldier regalia. “Halloween,” she said, laughing, “is all about, ‘Can I get a sword or an axe or a mace?’”

Just about everyone in the audience laughed knowingly.

Carr-Chellman understands that some teachers have reservations about using videogames, and she certainly doesn’t want to abolish Zero Tolerance programs. She’s also a feminist, and she doesn’t want to hinder girls’ progress at the expense of boys. But she wants policy makers and teachers to think about ways to keep boys engaged in the classroom. “This is a symptom of a larger problem,” she said. “They need to feel confident.”

The issue is complex, and it deserves a thorough treatment; we’re working on a story about Carr-Chellman and her research for an upcoming issue. In the meantime, you can check out her TEDxPSU talk here, and watch an excerpt from her Research Unplugged talk here.

And if you’re in the State College area on a Thursday between now and April 19, stop by Schlow Memorial Library, on the corner of Beaver Avenue and Allen Street, for additional speakers. The talks start at 12:15 p.m. and last for about an hour. They’re always worth the time.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

March 20, 2012 at 8:53 am 3 comments

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