Technology is the draw but facilitation is key to effectiveness of Caribbean Quest videogame

June 25, 2014

CTV News Winnipeg ran a story on use of Caribbean Quest, a facilitated videogame created by NeuroDevNet researchers to improve working memory and focus in children with FASD at the David Livingstone School in Winnipeg.

Livingstone is home to the Bridges Program, which offers a renowned combination of classrooms and curriculum tailored to the needs of elementary school children with prenatal exposure to alcohol. CTV's coverage portrays Marnie Hutchison, a graduate student working with University of Alberta researcher Jacqueline Pei, and focuses on use of Caribbean Quest to teach patience, planning, and other executive functioning skills often impaired in FASD. 

"They designed the game to specifically start slow, and start small, so that the children experience success, and then challenge them to be doing longer and longer sequences," says Marnie Hutchison, of her mentors, Dr. Pei, and University of Victoria researcher Dr. Kim Kerns.

Monique, an 11 year old student at David Livingstone interviewed by CTV says Caribbean Quest is fun, but she can become frustrated while playing. "I try my best, and I tell myself, ‘Don't give up on this game, just keep on going.’"

Facilitator support is crucial for developing that capacity to persist, and finding ways to express frustration that don't escalate, according to Dr. Kerns. Media often focus on the game, she says, "but metacognitive strategies, that make the student aware of what they're doing, what they can do differently, and promote self-monitoring and problem solving are a huge part of what we do."

In early pilot studies, one little boy threw himself beneath his desk whenever he made a mistake in the classroom, learned through one-on-one support and use of Caribbean Quest to say, "oops," and to let the frustration go, Kerns says. This kind of change doesn't show up in measures that are currently taken in studying the intervention, but she and Pei both believe they are significant. Kerns and Pei are very interested in monitoring students' ability to generalize what they learn to other life situations, and whether the children are able to build capacity on the initial groundwork laid by the strategies they learn.

Pilot projects with one-on-one student scaffolding have been successful with students with FASD as well as Autism Spectrum Disorder. A project underway in Winnipeg that will serve as the basis of Hutchison's thesis, is evaluating the effectiveness of using the videogame in small groups of up to four children, with a single facilitator.

Contemplating potential next steps, Kerns says "we'd love to get younger kids trying out [the intervention] as well. It would be great to provide support at an earlier age, when there is huge growth in executive functioning."