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Exploring the possibilities of creating educational computer games

Dr. Wolmet Barendregt’s main interest as a researcher is on pedagogical games, especially those that are meant for very young children – and also to evaluate how the games are perceived by the users. How do you create a computer game that is proved educational and at the same time really fun to play?

Games for young children

“My research background is primarily within interaction design”, says Wolmet Barendregt, “but recently I have been focusing on educational games. It might be games with new types of interfaces, but also ordinary computer games”.

“I am very interested in games for the youngest children, and I also evaluate the games with the children, says Wolmet. A problem with young children is that they usually don’t say that much. You have to watch them when they are playing. I have constructed some cards that will help them explain what they think about the computer game. The children choose the cards that they think correspond to their own experiences with the game and the idea is that the cards will help them to formulate what problems they experience when playing.

“Educational games” is often a selling point

“I have started to look at pedagogical games since I discovered that the description “pedagogical” many times was used mainly as a selling point”, says Wolmet Barendregt. “Parents often prefer to buy a game that is described as educational to their children, than just buying a game that is described as fun. There is also a risk that your child learns things in a way that is not adjusted to its age, I have seen examples of that.”

“I found it very interesting to see how you actually develop a game with an educational function that is so enjoying that children want to continue to play it” says Wolmet. “I visited a game play company in Holland where I come from, and realized that the people working there don’t have much theoretical knowledge about learning processes. Their ideas on how to make an educational game play were based on experience on what they thought had been working well so far. One person in the company had taken a few courses within pedagogy, but that was it.”

Project to develop a new educational game

Wolmet Barendregt is part of the CoDAC project with Berner Lindström and Elisabeth Rietz-Leppanen from the Faculty of Education at the University of Gothenburg, and two researchers from Kristianstad University.

The project aims to study how children come to terms with basic math skills with the help of a new educational computer game. The project is funded by the Swedish Research Council. To make the game both look professional and fun for the children, the group collaborates with the computer game company ”Image & Form”. The math game is based on the way young children are using their fingers when counting. The idea is to give the children a perception of small numbers without counting, much the way you do when you have learned to read and can perceive an entire word image without having to read each letter separately.

EMOTE – Creating an empathic robot

In the collaborative research project EMOTE, Wolmet Barendregt and colleagues from other parts of Europe will investigate how robots may be used in educational environment to effectively facilitate learning in children. Six European institutions and companies collaborate on the project and the countries represented among the collaborators include Sweden, Germany, Portugal and England.

At the University of Gothenburg, the project is headed by Dr. Wolmet Barendregt and Sofia Serholt, PhD candidate of the Department of Applied IT. The two of them are responsible for development and assessment as pertains to the performance of the robot and its interaction with students. This includes determining what abilities the robot needs to possess to allow for the greatest possible utility in the classroom; for example, what should it be able to do, say, and understand. They will are also responsible for evaluating the robot’s potential as a pedagogical resource.

EMOTE is an abbreviation of “EMbOdied-perceptive Tutors for Empathy-based learning.” The purpose of the project is to evaluate if it is possible to enhance learning through the use of empathic robots. Although the goal may be straight-forward, its execution is somewhat more complicated. In addition to developing the programs that will enable the robot to register and act on the emotions of individuals in its environment, the project team must also determine what emotions are relevant in the given situation and how the children express these. Furthermore, they must also establish if and how these functions can be of practical use in the classroom.

Started with usability and interaction design in Holland

Wolmet Barendregt is originally from Holland and her undergraduate degree is in Informatics.

“I worked five years as a usability expert and interaction designer in Holland”, says Wolmet. “In 2002 I got a doctoral position in user-centered design. This was in the middle of the big IT-crisis. During my last year as a graduate student, my husband and I started to look for opportunities abroad. My husband found a job in Sweden and after a while I got a position as a guest teacher in Borås. In 2007, I got a postdoc position here at the Department of Applied IT, and since 2010 I have a permanent position here.”


Text: Catharina Jerkbrant/Dan Degerman
Photo: Johan Wingborg


Contact information:

Dr. Wolmet Barendregt
Department of Applied IT

Wolmet Barendregt

Wolmet BarendregtDr. Wolmet Barendregt is exploring different ways of creating educational computer games. One project is about studying how young children come to terms with basic math skills.

Page Manager: Catharina Jerkbrant|Last update: 4/30/2013

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