Online Games Can Reduce Post-Secondary Risks for Students with Learning Disabilities | New


There are coping skills for easily distracted minds, but how do you teach complex lessons in self-management to someone who has trouble concentrating?

Two UCalgary researchers say the solution can be found in video games — and by gamifying lessons in post-secondary survival skills, Dr. Meadow Schroeder, PhD’10, and Dr. Richard Zhao, PhD, hope they can help college adolescents with ADHD and learning disabilities.

“We wanted to introduce elements of play to make it entertaining for kids, to hold their attention,” says Schroeder, associate professor of school and applied child psychology (SACP) at the Werklund School of Education and director of the program. graduate studies in educational psychology.

“It’s designed as a one-stop-shop for high school students, where we take them through a module explaining what they need to plan for college, and once you’re there, how can you be a successful learner.”

Post-secondary, a challenge for students with ADHD and learning disabilities

Through a series of games, prospective post-secondary students discover their own unique challenges, the best approach to college learning, the stigma they may face, and how to stand up for themselves.

The need for such preparation comes as thousands of students with ADHD and learning disabilities turn to higher education for their career paths and then struggle to keep up.

With support and financial backing from the LD/ADHD Network and in collaboration with the Foothills Academy, the researchers hope to change that.

“High school students with learning disabilities make the transition to college, and they tend not to do very well,” says Schroeder.

“Fewer of them actually attend post-secondary, and once they are there, they are more at risk of dropping out.

Online games can reduce post-secondary risks for students with learning difficulties.

Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Find a way to focus distracted minds

Knowing that pre-college preparation can make a huge difference for these learners, and that ADHD minds often do very well when they are interested in a subject, Schroeder realized that playful learning could provide the solution.

Together with Zhao, an assistant professor of computer science at the Faculty of Science specializing in games and game technology, the two researchers are currently working on a pilot prototype for testing starting this fall.

In the end, the training modules gamified by Zhao and a cross-disciplinary team (including computer science student David Garcia, drama student Jason Cabueños, SACP graduate student Riley Morrell, and Tanya Keto, a licensed psychologist at Foothills Academy) will be made available to schools across Alberta.

Choose your own adventure

It is hoped that the “choose your own adventure” style of learning will captivate future scholars.

“We use story-based elements, turning a boring learning module into an interesting and engaging story,” Zhao explains. “As students work through the story, they eventually learn the intended content.”

Unlike the famous Choose Your Own Adventure books that gave all readers the same choices, games designed in Zhao’s labs are customized for each individual user – and the more you play, the more interesting the game becomes.

“We can integrate artificial intelligence to learn student preferences and then tailor the story and learning to each student,” Zhao says.

“Each student has different learning styles and abilities, and as they go through the modules we can adapt to them.”

Online games can reduce post-secondary risks for students with learning difficulties

From left to right: David Garcia, Tanya Keto, Richard Zhao, Meadow Schroeder and Jason Cabueños.

Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

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