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Last Updated: Friday, 12 January 2007, 14:05 GMT
Computer game to boost key skills
Screen from Altered Learning game
The game was rebuilt by computer science teachers
Modified computer games aimed at disaffected learners could help win the war against poor basic skills.

Computer science teachers at West Nottinghamshire College were struggling to get their teenage students into literacy and numeracy classes.

So they took apart Atari's popular computer game Neverwinter Nights and rebuilt it with educational challenges the player must meet to progress.

Success rates in key skills at the Mansfield college has trebled to 94%.

The new game, aimed at disaffected learners, was launched at this week's Bett show on educational technology at London's Olympia.

Nigel Oldman, who helped transform the game into a learning tool fitting in with the national curriculum, said the college needed to take drastic measures to tackle their "disaffected students".

They would come knocking on the staff room door and wouldn't let us go until we had taught them how to calculate area
Nigel Oldman

He said: "The little Herberts had realised that not attending their literacy and numeracy key skills classes was not going to affect their vocational qualifications."

"We would be flushing them out of the canteen, chasing them all over the place and they would just say: 'we did literacy and numeracy at school and we've never had to use it since'.

"We were struggling and we had had enough - so we decided we needed something that would attract them."

So his team set about modifying a popular computer game published by Atari and produced by Bioware. Both firms were very supportive of the project.

'Ripped apart'

"We ripped the game apart and rebuilt it to deliver educational content," he added.

Players are invited to pick a character and go on a quest in which they have to make decisions about what to take and how to progress using mathematics and their literacy skills.

Mr Oldman explained: "For example, before they set off in their galleon they have to fill it with the things they are going to need. This requires them to work out the area of the ship and how much they can manage to bring.

"Some students managed it, others sank on the way and never progressed to the next level.

"They would come knocking on the staff room door and wouldn't let us go until we had taught them how to calculate area."

94% success rate

The Institute of Education concluded in recent research that computer games could find a valid position in a classroom and some are already being used.

But Mr Oldman says most games on the market have been designed by educationalists on a tight budget and the graphics can therefore "look a bit iffy."

"This game has had $25 million spent on it and the graphics are absolutely superb," he added.

In the two years since the project began, about 700 learners have played the game at West Nottinghamshire College in Mansfield, England, achievement of key skills has trebled to 94%.

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