At the University of Oregon, researchers are studying how the brain functions affected by video games in turn can affect learning.

Helen Neville, director of the university’s Brain Development Lab, is using MRI and electrophysiological techniques to study the brain’s development and plasticity.

Specifically, Neville and her colleagues have a program of research on the effects of different types of training on brain development and cognition in typically-developing children of different ages.

In one series of studies, Neville is targeting the most changeable and vulnerable brain systems in three- to five-year-old Head Start preschoolers whom she studies before and after eight weeks of daily attention training, or eight weeks during which their parents receive training in parenting skills, or a combination of the two types of training.

“These studies can contribute information of practical significance in the design and implementation of educational programs,” Neville said.

Where to go from here?

As researchers begin to build the pieces of what makes a good educational game, and why and how gaming affects learning, the Joan Ganz Cooney report has a set of recommendations to jump-start a national “game-changing” action plan that addresses gaming in education.

According to the report, research on digital media needs to be coordinated, and research and development needs to be initiated at federal and state levels. Innovative partnerships also should be created to help fund and stimulate creative networks that have varying levels of expertise. Support and guidance for children’s digital activities must be encouraged, and public media should be modernized to fit the needs and interests of kids living in the digital age. Finally, a broad public dialog about digital media and games should be started.

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