UC Berkeley professor crowd-funds to develop learning programs

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A UC Berkeley psychology professor kicked off a challenge Tuesday to develop game-based learning programs that will enhance logic skills through a new crowd funding platform called BigLeap.

Silvia Bunge, a campus associate professor of psychology, partnered with Bill Ritchie, a leader in the puzzle, logic and game industry, looking to lessen educational inequality across the United States and, eventually, throughout the world. They are currently raising prize money to host an open competition aimed at developing these learning programs.

The teams have been challenged to create programs with instructions that can be easily disseminated and that only utilize materials found for free, such as household items, art materials or even objects found in nature.

“You could always sit a child down and try to teach them the principles of deductive logic and all that, but the thing is that the brain is wired up to learn when it is motivated,” Bunge said. “When you are interested, when you are having fun, that is when you learn the most.”

After years of research into the relationship between the use of games and cognitive development, Bunge found that children who played reasoning and logic games in a social setting for two to three hours a week were able to boost their IQ scores by 10 or more points. Bunge believes much of this has to do with the amount of engagement children are able to invest in games.

After developing the BigLeap crowd funding platform, co-founder Victor Cho began to search for the first “champion” — a person who poses a problem through the platform to a larger community. When his wife read a book that highlighted Bunge’s research about the impact of games on kids, Cho contacted the professor to see if she would be the first champion.

“(My wife) said there could be a really cool challenge around the games given how broad of an impact they could have, and I thought it was brilliant,” Cho said.

The mission of BigLeap, Cho says, is to solve important social problems by posing them to a broader community.

“One of the visions of the platform is to turn people into social champions, who otherwise may not have been thinking about a certain problem or cause to participate in,” Cho said. “These are busy people deep in their careers or research, or starting businesses, but they have a passion around some area, and our platform fills a void by providing a place to connect people.”

Deborah Stipek, a professor of education at Stanford University, says there is a lot of potential in the use of games as a way of educating children, but much more needs to be understood about them.

“I think we’re in a kind of infancy in learning about the quality of games that produce good outcomes,” Stipek said. “The people who are actually studying what effects they have are playing catch up and also trying to identify what are the qualities of games that seem to be effective for kids.”

As of Sunday, the challenge had raised $1,815 of the $25,000 needed by Oct. 20 to host the competition, according to the BigLeap website. If successful, the best game-based learning program developer will take home $15,000. Second place and runners-up will share another $8,000.

Contact Chase Schweitzer at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ChaseSchweitz.