Yes, A Game Can Bridge The Connection Between Technology And Emotional Learning



This post was written by guest columnist, Barbara DiGangi, a Licensed Master Social Worker and co-founder of Project Bond. You can follow her on Twitter @BarbaraDiGangi.

With incredible advancements in technology and social media at the forefront of daily interaction, the next generation has the world at their fingertips (literally). They’re connected more than ever. The ability to communicate or express oneself is instantaneous. However, if we take a closer look, we soon realize that as a society as much as we’re in touch, we’re losing touch. Children no longer play outside with the neighbors; they’re tweeting them or playing each other online. Our kids are flooded with content, status updates and 30 second videos. Concerns over bullying, suicide, and school violence have peaked. Technology is often the messenger leaving attunement, social skills, self-awareness, and the key components of relationships shortchanged.

Luckily, If You Can Company, headed by Trip Hawkins, is utilizing gaming and technology to address this gap. Their game, If…, aims to improve Emotional Intelligence through the use of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). According to Casel, SEL involves the ways in which children and adults acquire and apply the ability to understand and manage emotions, make healthy choices, establish and maintain healthy relationships, set and reach positive goals, and feel and show empathy for others. With over 200,000 downloads within the first two weeks If… is teaching kids healthy skills while engaging them right where they are – in front of their iPads. 

Jessica Berlinski, Co-founder and Chief Learning Officer explains, “Technology is stripping kids of their natural ability to recognize emotional cues… and [have] natural social competencies. We have to go back to that technology and say, ‘How do we intentionally look at building these skills?’”

The game helps to build these skills by presenting SEL in a fun way; a story accompanied by an adventure of getting the cats and dogs of Greenberry to get along again. If… is also unique in the way it approaches learning. It takes into account that true learning is not only about cognition, but it is also about the child’s experience and emotions while being taught. We know that in order for a child to learn he or she needs to feel connected to the teacher and feel safe and supported.

One example of this takes place when the player is prompted to engage in a breathing exercise with the purpose of building healthy coping skills. Berlinski says that this is a “mechanism in which we are very intentionally seeking to build the transfer [of skills] by taking the child out of the virtual world and.. [considering] ‘What does it feel like in your body?’”

The games also gets parents on board and engages them as their children play. Berlinski notes, “[the game is] about skill building but it’s also about building a safe, supportive climate where those skills can thrive and be nurtured. With technology and with a game, the question becomes, ‘How can we possibly think of building a climate via technology?’ How we are looking at achieving that is through this parent app. We are giving the parent a window through the child’s experience in the game so they can engage with the child and communicate with the child. We want to give the parent very easy, light-touch fun ways to support the child.” 

The game essentially creates a way for technology to bridge connection between parent and child. Not only will the child be building these skills, but they could be potentially cultivating these skills within the context of their relationship with their parent. At the same time, If.. is also aiming to ultimately educate the parent and build the parent’s competency in these areas. 

As If You Can Company takes data on their players and new features are added, If… has the potential to become a vehicle for impact in both the educational and social arenas.

“We want to look at not suspending children… and look at how we can build competencies in this time," said Berlinski. "It’s fascinating to think of video games they’re completely engaged with, yet at the same time given strategies for managing their emotions." 

Most importantly, If… highlights the importance of Emotional Intelligence within education and how strengthening Emotional Intelligence can help children build the capacity to lead fulfilling lives – the ultimate goal of teachers and parents alike.

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