Two Boys Playing With Game Console

A project, investigating whether the uncertainty inherent in games can increase the rate at which children learn science is under way after a £650,000 award.

Academics from the University of Bristol will work with schools in the area to build on existing knowledge of how games, including video games, engage the brain’s reward system. It’s one of six new projects funded by the Wellcome Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation to investigate a variety of ways neuroscience might improve teaching and learning in the UK. Teachers often encourage their students by giving rewards, such as gold stars, in return for good answers. In this project, the rewards for good answers are decided by chance.

Dr Paul Howard-Jones, from the Graduate School of Education at the University of Bristol, who is leading researchers at Bristol and Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “Previous research has shown that not knowing whether a reward will materialise can add to the excitement and motivation around learning. “We’re gaining a better understanding of how uncertainty can increase the rate at which we learn, thanks to new insights that have arisen from neuroscience. We’re really looking forward to working with teachers to develop a novel game-based approach to whole-class teaching that applies these insights.” Working with students in Year 8 science lessons, classes will collaborate in teams to accumulate points by answering questions, with the option of doubling or losing points for correct answers on the spin of a wheel of fortune.

Free web-based technology will be used to connect the class up and allow all students to participate at once. The technology will also randomly select teams for special challenges, and provide occasional pay-outs of points based purely on luck. Researchers are initially looking to work with six schools in the South West, starting in January 2015, to help develop the gaming experience. The project will then be rolled out more widely to include 35 schools in the area. Researchers are especially keen to work with schools who have an above-average intake of disadvantaged students.

Postgraduates are honoured

Six Bristol University postgraduates have been awarded prizes for the exceptional quality of their research degree theses in the academic year 2012/13. They included in the medical and biosciences field William Razzell in the School of Biochemistry for his study of wound inflammation and Dr Neil Uptal Barua in the School of Clinical Sciences for his work into drug delivery for Alzheimer’s Disease.

Stigma ‘hampers research’

The  stigma surrounding dementia is a barrier to early diagnosis, care and research into the disease, according to a report. It says that people over 55 fear being diagnosed with dementia more than any other condition and at least one in four hide their diagnosis, citing stigma. The report has been published by think tank International Longevity Centre UK with the  Medical Research Council, Alzheimer’s Research UK and the Alzheimer’s Society, supported by the drug company Pfizer.

Funding boost for research

A partnership led by the Medical Research Council will invest more than £230 million in technologies aimed at identifying the causes of diseases such as cancer and dementia. The technologies will  examine how differences in the cellular and molecular make-up of people affect how they respond to diseases. The Clinical Research Infrastructure Initiative brings together funding from the UK Government, devolved administrations, Arthritis Research UK, British Heart Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK for 23 projects.