York U. prof. develops video games that teachers won’t confiscate


Game called ‘Contagion’ teaches kids how to avoid infectious diseases

TORONTO, September 23, 2004 -- Ask any kid: get caught playing with a video game in class and the teacher will take it away. But that may change if York University professor Jennifer Jenson gets her way. Jenson believes that video games have a place in the classroom as potentially powerful learning tools.

“We are developing a prototype game called ‘Contagion,’” says Jenson, professor of pedagogy and technology in the Faculty of Education, “It is aimed at teaching nine- to 13-year-olds how to self-manage themselves to avoid contracting such infectious diseases as the new strains of flu, SARS, West Nile virus and, eventually, HIV/AIDS.” The game is designed to show its young players how diseases can morph when the individual is not in control.


‘Contagion’ will be ready for testing in April 2005, and will run making use of existing web-based technologies, making it playable in any classroom with an Internet connection.


Jenson believes that teachers will welcome the games in their classrooms. “As educators we have to ask ourselves what are children already learning from video games, and how can we use the video game format to provide them with an engaging way of learning,” she says.


Jenson thinks computer-based educational resources are great tools, but feels a major shortcoming is that they are not usually designed by and for educators. She believes that the development of computer-based educational resources by technology specialists alone has been a significant barrier to making those resources student-friendly.


Jenson has built a studio dedicated to the research, design and development of play-based multimedia learning environments and tools, which educators will be able to use. The studio, operating in partnership with the Institute for Research on Learning Technologies at York, is housed in the new $88-million Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) building, the most technologically advanced teaching facility in Ontario.


An active proponent of incorporating "play" into learning experiences both ‘Contagion’ and ‘Ludus Vitae,’ co-developed with Suzanne de Castell at Simon Fraser University, build on entertainment-oriented computer games to provide educators with strong models for the design of educationally rich play-based learning activities.


Using broadband networks already in place in most schools across Canada, and working directly with teachers and students, this project seeks to create an on-line educational gaming environment for junior secondary students that supports content learning across the curriculum. The project is developed in cooperation with Seneca College and is funded by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and is led by Professor David Kaufman at Simon Fraser University.


York University is the leading interdisciplinary teaching and research university in Canada. York offers a modern, academic experience at the undergraduate and graduate level in Toronto, Canada’s most international city.  The third largest university in the country, York is host to a dynamic academic community of 50,000 students and 7,000 faculty and staff, as well as 180,000 alumni worldwide. York’s 10 faculties and 21 research centres conduct ambitious, groundbreaking research that is interdisciplinary, cutting across traditional academic boundaries.  This distinctive and collaborative approach is preparing students for the future and bringing fresh insights and solutions to real-world challenges.



For further information or to arrange interviews, please contact:

George McNeillie, Assistant Director, York University Media Relations, 416-736-2100, x22091 / gmcneil@yorku.ca