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Researcher Awarded $1 Million to Bring Video Games to the Classroom

Educational game in development will focus on science of drug addiction


While video games sometimes get a bad rap for enticing children and teens to spend hours in front of a glowing screen, one University of Missouri School of Medicine researcher has the chance to prove games can be beneficial in the classroom.

Joel Epstein, PhD, MU associate professor of psychiatry and researcher at the Missouri Institute of Mental Health in St. Louis, recently received a four-year $1 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health, to develop a video game focused on what happens in the brain and the body when a person uses drugs.

Epstein, the recipient of two previous NIDA grants for developing multimedia programs that educate children on the dangers of substance abuse, views this project as a progression of his 17 years of work with the MIMH. First there were videos, then interactive CD-ROMs that were distributed to 19,000 schools across the country, and now, a video game.

“We’ve always done something a bit different than kids are used to and they’ve responded really well to it,” Epstein said. “I think the more you can engage them in the learning process, the more likely it is that the information you’re trying to convey to them will be retained.”

KBIA

As someone who worked as a freelance computer programmer while earning his PhD in clinical psychology, Epstein is especially qualified to lead a creative team at MIMH in developing the video game software.

During the development phase, Epstein will work with St. Louis teachers to ensure that the game fits seamlessly into state curriculum standards and meets educational objectives. Focus groups with some important stakeholders – the fourth- and fifth-grade students who make up the target audience – will help developers determine how the game should look and function. The final result will be a single curriculum with two different versions of software, one competitive and one socially collaborative, to test how boys and girls respond to these different types of presentations.

Pretesting children to determine their knowledge about the science of addiction, their attitudes toward drug use and their attitudes toward science in general will help gauge the game’s success. Once the children have played the game, researchers will conduct several follow-up tests to see if playing time has had any impact on these variables.

“My hope is that we can create a unique, memorable and effective learning experience,” Epstein said. “The students will be so engaged in the storyline of the game that they’ll also be engaged in the content we’re trying to get across.”

To view and download Epstein’s previous multimedia programs that teach students about the science of addiction, visit http://www.heyneuron.com/.

Missouri Medical Review


Missouri Medical Review


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