Innovation Game – Food for thoughts
How can we use the playfulness and competition of e-games to enhance healthy behavior? This is the theme of the EIT Health Innovation Game summer school, attracting students from different countries to the Swedish island Gotland during two weeks in August.
It's a gloomy Tuesday in mid-August. In the city of Visby tourists still walk the streets, yet things are far less crowded than during last weeks renowned Middle Age-festival, attracting many thousands to the island. At Uppsala University’s Campus Gotland, things are also rather slow – except in the classroom being used as center for the EIT Health Innovation Game summer school.
"Our students work in four different groups, facing real challenges formulated by our partner organisation Region of Gotland," says course leader Erik Olsson.
This summers mutual theme is children's and youth's health, and how it can be promoted with game design and serious games created for a purpose larger than pure entertainment.
Today's guest is Per Ek, CEO of a Swedish company developing activity bracelets and games for children in the ages 6–12. His vision is to motivate children to move for at least an hour a day.
"We want to attract users with our games. Most training bracelets and apps aim at adults, but we want to add playfulness, turning physical exercise into fun”, says Per Ek.
After his presentation, the summer school students are encouraged to come up with suggestions and ideas. Perhaps schoolchildren can take active part in programming of the games? Can the bracelet interface be more distinct? Per listens with interest and explains the company’s thoughts.
During lunchbreak, Erik Olsson says he is more than pleased with the discussion.
"It's rather easy to get stuck in technical details, but together, these students have the range to dig into other vital aspects of the subject, for example, how to create motivation.”
One of the key collaborators in organizing Innovation Game is EIT Health, a European health initiative aiming to provide knowledge of innovative processes. To apply for the course, a bachelor's degree is required – in what subject is less important.
“Research shows that heterogeneous groups generate better ideas. But, of course, interdisciplinary groups face specific challenges that we approach through different exercises”, says Svante Axelsson, education developer and teacher.
Before students divide into groups, they discuss what different roles are needed in a group, as well as analyzing what role they usually take in a group.
"In doing this we build well-functioning teams based on skills. After that we provide the students with tools as well as support when needed.”
A group of students working with focus on sleep gather round a table. They began their process by producing ideas, writing them and are now building a structure based on their most innovative notions. In a few days it's time to present their results. Matthew Davis from Britain says:
"Our idea is to develop a platform for audio books. Many children use phones and other screens when they are going to sleep, but if they listen to adventure books instead, it's easier to fall asleep. We will also have a game mechanism making the character of the adventure affected by how much sleep the listener gets.
Matthew holds a degree in design technology and completed with the master's program in Industrial Management and Innovation before heading towards Visby and Innovation Game.
"Having always been interested in games, I assumed I had the right skills for the course and "gamefication" is something I really want to explore further in my future career. Also, it has been fun to experience the Middle Ages week.”
Aida de Heras sits at another table, born in Spain but currently living in Britain. Several years ago she studied biotechnology before adding science communication.
"As part of my master's degree, I wrote about game design and developed a game for schools about sexually transmitted infections," Aida says.
Here in Visby, she has been involved in the development of a board game clarifying the mechanisms behind false facts while promoting critical thinking. The players divide into "the good" and "the evil", playing with cards like fear, trust, distrust and other things affecting the spread of rumors.
What happens to all ideas after the course? One of the foundations of EIT Health is to support entrepreneurship and innovation, and some ideas may develop further after these intense summer weeks.
"I would like to work more with our idea, perhaps with support from UIC, the corporate incubator in Uppsala," says Matthew Davis.
For entrepreneur Per Ek this was the first visit to Campus Gotland, but likely not the last contact with Uppsala University. After the lecture he stays for lunch and exchanges business cards with the teachers.
"This experience has been very inspiring to me, and I hope that I was able to add some inspiration myself. Since this is a course that students apply for out of genuine interest there is also extra commitment. A bonus for me is that I will bring so many smart ideas with me back to office.”
Innovation Game is a course that provide knowledge of innovative processes and innovative thinking as tools to solve needs-based problems in interdisciplinary groups. The focus is on solutions that can promote changes in health care and stimulate healthy habits. Game design is used as an educational tool.
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