Learning in the digital age

Photo: Nattaya Maneekhot/

Photo: Nattaya Maneekhot/

Is digital technology encroaching too closely on our lives, or could it be the answer to reducing the number of early school leavers (ESLs) in Malta? One in five students in Malta are ESLs. Many feel demotivated, unengaged, and bored with education. With an EU goal to half this number by 2020, video games might offer an unexpected solution.

Games have been used as a teaching aid in schools for decades now, but their edutainment format has proved unpopular. “This thinly veiled attempt of masking education within a ‘game’ was about as popular as chocolate-covered broccoli,” says University of Malta researcher Dr Vanessa Camilleri. She argues that we need more engaging games where students don’t realise they are learning.

High-quality video games are immersive and exciting. They draw players into another world where they are constantly learning new skills. With this in mind, Camilleri and her team have built Game-Based Learning to Alleviate Early School Leaving (GBL4ESL), a project that is developing educational video games for ESLs.

Many students at risk of ESL fare poorly in academic subjects. With a startling 44 per cent of the world’s online population playing video games, the complex skills games can teach can be used to engage with, and reduce, the number of students leaving schools.

To teach and motivate students using technology one needs to consider their development. A study by Prof. Charles Mifsud and Rositsa Petrova from the University of Malta’s Faculty of Education, in collaboration with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, has set out to find answers to this question. While previous research has fo­cused on nine- to 16-year-olds, this study’s youngest participant was just four years old. Both parents and children were involved, but were interviewed separately so that the children were honest about their technology use.

Their research showed that devices attract children because of their touch functionality and instant responsiveness. Other potential benefits of technology was a contribution towards early awareness of reading and writing, and an ability to allow children to explore and engage. However, a major concern emerging from the study was the fact that children often quickly overtake their parents’ technolo­gical proficiency – leaving them out of the loop.

The GBL4ESL team has created a toolkit of digital games which can be easily translated into lesson plans by teachers. Feedback from educators who have used the toolkit has been overwhelmingly positive. Teacher Marion Evelyn Cassar said: “I can safely say that with my students, game-based learning has increased their participation and engagement.”

Bringing fun back into the classroom is key to keeping students engaged, and video games could be the answer. But in order to make the most of technology, parents must also be involved and educated.

Sound bites

• Researchers have found a new way of removing bacteria from infected blood. A nano-claw, inspired by the Venus flytrap plant, can trap the bacteria in a cage. It could offer an answer to antibiotic resistance.

• A pre-clinical trial has found a possible alternative to prescription opioids. Scientists have delivered a natural opioid directly to the brain using a nasal spray. It could reduce the risk of overdose. The team is now planning to take the spray into a clinical trial with humans.

For more science news, listen to Radio Mocha on Radju Malta every Saturday at 11.05am.

Did you know?

• In the 13th century, St Thomas Aquinas pronounced sugar a medicine!

• The world’s biggest Easter egg was made in Argentina in 2005. It was 8.5 metres tall and used 8,000kg of chocolate.

• Symbiotic ants manipulate aphid reproduction rates to achieve a specific mix of green and red aphids, because they like to eat the green ones.

• Swedish researchers have found a new language, Jedek, in the Malay Peninsula.

• Researchers in China have discovered how to read the whole genome of a fetus in the womb.

• Bombardier beetles can survive for hours in the stomach of a toad – and escape!

For more trivia see:

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