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October 7, 2008 9:30 AM

Microsoft and NYU partnering on research into video games that teach math, science

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft, New York University and several other New York-area schools are launching an initiative to study how video games can be applied to education. The Games For Learning Institute will "focus on evaluating computer games as potential learning tools for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects at the middle-school years (grades 6-8)."

Craig Mundie, Microsoft's chief research and strategy officer, is making the announcement at NYU today as part of his U.S. campus tour. Microsoft Research, which Mundie oversees, is contributing $1.5 million over three years to the effort. NYU and a group of other universities are matching Microsoft's funding.

The organizers of the Games for Learning Institute (G4LI) envision a multi-disciplinary approach to a problem facing students who have grown up with technology. "This generation, though well-versed in using technology for social networking and Internet research, is continuing a decline in proficiency and interest in the math and sciences -- the very skills needed to prepare them for the new demands and requirements of the 21st century," according to a press release from Microsoft.

Researchers will study what makes particular games "compelling and playable" and effective for education. That information will help game developers and educators produce better educational games. The Institute will also test prototype games and associated curricula with students in New York City schools.

For background on teenagers and video games, check out this summary of a Pew Internet & American Life Project report released last month, which found that nearly all American kids play games and that "some particular qualities of game play have a strong and consistent positive relationship to a range of civic outcomes." Presumably, the G4LI researchers will be looking to identify these sorts of qualities.

Meanwhile, more authors and publishers are pairing video games and books to entice younger readers who are drifting away from traditional books, as this New York Times story explained Sunday. Local author Clyde Ford is taking a similar approach with an interactive online companion to his latest novel, as we reported last month.

Anyone up for a round of Math Blaster?

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