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New game making cognitive testing fun for kids

Tuesday, 08 June 2021

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Edith Cowan University (ECU) researchers have developed a child-friendly and engaging online game to assess primary school aged students’ cognitive skills and help teachers to tailor their learning.

The app eFun, developed in conjunction with education technology provider Cinglevue, offers a series of games that measure cognitive functions and problem-solving skills, in an engaging way on an iPad.

Lead researcher ECU PhD Candidate Valeska Berg said while there was an increasing demand for cognitive assessment tools for children, finding child friendly tests that are enjoyable and psychologically valid can be challenging.

“Traditional testing can be extensive, tiring and stressful for kids. Children are usually assessed in a private room with one or more assessors which can be anxiety-inducing, especially for children who are unfamiliar with these types of situations,” Ms Berg said.

Why measure cognitive skills?

Ms Berg said the games provide key information to help primary school teachers to develop individualised learning plans by highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the children.

“The app measures three core ‘executive functions’ of the brain which, when working together, enable more complex cognitive processes, such as problem-solving,” Ms Berg said.

“Executive functions are like the control centre of the brain and are related to quality of life. They help us to successfully manage daily challenges like navigating school, having successful careers, and are also related to academic outcomes.

“eFun measures three core executive functions; the ability to manipulate and store the information we receive (working memory), the ability to withhold an intuitive response (inhibition control), and the ability to flexibly adapt behaviour to the right context (cognitive flexibility). In addition to these three games we recently also developed a game to measure problem solving ability.”

Proof is in the pudding

The app has already been trialled in three Western Australian schools with students in years 1 – 3.

“The teachers definitely saw the value in the app, they wanted to know about their students results and were able to integrate that information into their learning plans and investigate further where students scored very high or low,” Ms Berg said.

“And importantly the kids enjoyed playing it, they saw it as fun iPad time so they were quite excited.”

Ms Berg said executive functions are foundational learning skills, therefore accurate measurement of them is important.

“I hope that this tool will give teachers the information they need to support their students and their foundation for learning.”

The game is in the final stage of development and will be available for schools to implement as part of their learning management next year.

The paper ‘A game-based online tool to measure cognitive functions in students’ is published in the International Journal of Serious Games and ‘A novel approach to measure executive functions in students: An evaluation of two child-friendly apps’ is published in Frontiers in Psychology.

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