Creative Solutions Using Educational Technology: NIH Grant Addressing Childhood Obesity

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I recently attended a preliminary discussion to brainstorm ideas for a federal grant proposal aimed at reducing obesity in young children, focusing on schools with lower socio-economic and refugee populations. The reason I was asked to share my knowledge is that the grant also needs to include an “innovative” technology component. Once presented with a challenge to include meaningful and engaging technology, I’m all over it. But I need to remember that not everyone else shares my unbridled enthusiasm and to come prepared with research to back up my proposals. Just saying, “this would be really fun for the kids,” is not enough.

My suggestions for using certain technology tools to facilitate and encourage communication among younger students and their parents were not received with unanimous endorsement. After proposing that these kids be provided with Nintendo DS systems, including relevant games such as “Personal Trainer: Walking,” and “Let’s Get Cooking: America’s Test Kitchen,” classrooms be equipped with a few Wii systems along with “Wii Sports Resort,” and parents be given an Internet-enabled mobile device to stay in touch with the teachers and schools, some eyes actually starting rolling!

This was meant to be a simple, short introduction to my ideas, but in retrospect, I should have brought the gaming systems with me, demonstrated the interactivity and fun these systems can generate about exercise and healthy eating, and how kids are naturally attracted to the size, touch screen, and interactivity. I should have shown them how these systems not only could address the goals of the grant, but also provide rich learning experiences for the students, such as listening to audio books, music, browsing the Internet, taking pictures, voice recording, and the multitude of games that could address learning goals.

I should have also had information about how Japanese schools are using Nintendo DS systems to teach English, how the devices are used in training, multimedia instruction, interactive tour guides, and a list of many other ideas. I could have talked about what the research says about gaming and learning and how this form of learning can be engaging and self-motivating, creating powerful and authentic learning. I could have talked about digital games as being a part of today’s culture, how the military is using gaming to teach concepts and engage learners. I could have provided a list of research articles that discuss gaming, how it enhances learning and is critical in today’s learning environment. (A few of these articles are listed below.)

Since the parents of these students may not speak English well, a very efficient way to communicate with them would be through SMS, with teachers sending timely updates, using Google Translate to put them in the parents’ native tongue. Research has shown that if parents are more actively involved in their child’s school, the child will do better. (Just do a search on Google Scholar using the phrase “parental involvement in school student achievement” and you’ll get oodles of studies.)

By drawing parents into the educational process (and having a browser-enabled mobile device would allow schools to easily communicate with the parent, through direct messaging, email, school and classroom websites, blogs, and other apps), student achievement improves. However, it’s highly likely that these parents would not have Internet access at home or a computer. A browser-enabled mobile device would allow instant communication, asynchronous communication, access to school resources and websites, and a host of mobile apps that could address the obesity issue. Being able to easily communicate with parents using translation tools would open up this line of communication, keep the parents involved in school, and enable them to learn how to use technology to access information, continue to learn, and become part of our technology-infused culture.

It’s a huge leap from where we are in schools today, in how we approach learning, and what we will entrust to our students. But if we don’t take the leap, how will these children and parents become an active, contributing, and vibrant part of our culture? Let’s stop rolling our eyes and come up with creative educational technology solutions that will engage children, involve parents, and bring people together in an evolving, progressive global community.


Boocock, S. S., Schild, E. O., & Coleman, J. S. (1973). Simulation games in learning. Simulation & Gaming, 4(2), 204.

Emery, E. D., & Enger, T. P. (1972). Computer gaming and learning in an introductory economics course. Journal of Economic Education, 3(2), 77–85.

Facerw, K., Joiner, R., Stanton, D., Reidz, J., Hullz, R., & Kirk, D. (2004). Savannah: mobile gaming and learning? Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 20, 399–409.

Garris, R., Ahlers, R., & Driskell, J. E. (2002). Games, motivation, and learning: A research and practice model. Simulation & Gaming, 33(4), 441.

Gee, J. P. (2003). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. Computers in Entertainment (CIE), 1(1), 20. 

Grubb, F. S. (1978). Games for Learning.

Hayes, E. (2005). Women, video gaming and learning: Beyond stereotypes. TechTrends, 49(5), 23–28.

Kirriemuir, J., & McFarlane, A. (2004). Literature review in games and learning.

Nelson, L. E. (1962). Games Motivate Learning. The Clearing House, 400–402.

Oblinger, D. G. (2006). Games and learning. Educause Quarterly, 29, 5–7.

Peirce, N., Conlan, O., & Wade, V. (2008). Adaptive educational games: Providing non-invasive personalised learning experiences. In Digital Games and Intelligent Toys Based Education, 2008 Second IEEE International Conference on (pp. 28–35).

Prensky, M. (2003). Digital game-based learning. Computers in Entertainment (CIE), 1(1), 21.

Prensky, M. (2006). Don’t bother me mom–I’m learning. Continuum.

Rieber, L. P. (1996). Seriously considering play: Designing interactive learning environments based on the blending of microworlds, simulations, and games. Educational technology research and development, 44(2), 43–58.

Sandford, R., & Williamson, B. (2005). Games and learning. NESTA Futurelab.

Setty, D. (2007). Games-based learning. Google Patents.

Shaffer, D. W., Squire, K. R., Halverson, R., & Gee, J. P. (2005). Video games and the future of learning. Phi delta kappan, 87(2), 104–111.

Steinkuehler, C. A. (2004). Learning in massively multiplayer online games. In Proceedings of the 6th international conference on Learning sciences (p. 528).

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