Government Helps Design Tech to Improve Children’s Focus Amid Pandemic

WORAWOOT.S/Shutterstock.com

Remote learning is more than just forcing your child to sit up and stare at the screen during online classes.

With no end in sight for the COVID-19 pandemic, distance learning or some form of hybrid education is likely going to be the norm for both young children and older students for many more months, if not longer. And while some children are doing well with online classes and interactions, many more students struggle to get a good education in that environment. Physical classrooms are designed to help students focus on the lessons at hand, free from distractions. But when looking at a computer screen, it’s a lot more difficult to focus. There are also probably lots of other activities, many of them within easy reach, that the child would rather be doing.

One of the most frequently cited reasons why children struggle with online learning is their inability to pay attention to lessons in that format. But it’s more than just forcing your child to sit up and stare at the screen during online classes. According to an article in the National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, attention skills involve self-control, working memory and cognitive flexibility, all of which are known collectively as executive function skills. And it can be hard to practice those skills, though one company working with the government may have found a way using video games.

BrainLeap Technologies has been working with the National Institute of Mental Health to develop a way to improve a child’s focus using eye movements. Their idea was to design games that could be played using eye movements as the controller. It works because eye movements use the same system in your brain that controls both focus and attention. It’s not just about what you are looking at, but what you are planning to look at next that controls your attention. So while using your eyes to play games, it actually helps to strengthen both attention and focus.

Attention issues were becoming a growing challenge in the United States even before the pandemic. “Weak attention skills are a growing problem in the U.S. and around the world,” said CEO of BrainLeap Technologies Jeff Coleman. “One school principal I spoke with recently estimates that 25% of his students have attention challenges that impact their schoolwork, and at least 10% are severe.” The pandemic only exasperated that problem by forcing children into less than ideal learning environments that are ripe with distractions.

The Attention Arcade was developed with that problem in mind. It’s a suite of nine games that challenges children to grow their ability to focus and pay attention in a fun and rewarding way that ties eye movement and control to strengthening focus. The first step in getting the arcade made was to get both universities and the government involved in helping to fund, research and develop the platform.

“The research behind the Attention Arcade started at the University of California, San Diego. My co-founders, Dr. Leanne Chukoskie and Dr. Jeanne Townsend, were both interested in whether an invention could be created to train skills in children that had atypical attention skills,” Coleman said. “Together, they submitted a proposal to NIH that had scientific merit and was deemed worthy of funding. Video games can provide a closed-loop feedback system that is very powerful in training different skills.” More funding was provided by the National Science Foundation through a Small Business Innovation Research grant.

By all accounts, the study went very well.

“Focus was measured as part of a parent survey, and participants saw an average 30% improvement in reported focus. Inhibitory control, as measured by an anti-saccade task, improved by 55% on average. Fast attention shifts improved by an average of 68% for participants,” Coleman said. “However, the most notable result was that every participant that completed the training saw measurable improvements in their attention skills.”

Armed with that information, the Attention Arcade was fully developed and is now ready for either school systems or individual families to use. With the pandemic forcing more on distance learning, the skills that the games strengthen could be even more valuable.


“As anyone who has spent significant time on video calls can tell, it is exhausting. And that is largely driven by the attention requirements of a call that is not the same as being in-person. So yes, attention skills are even more important with distance learning than in-person classes,” Coleman said. “Plus, the research is pretty clear that children who are under stress have greater attention challenges. With so much upheaval in their lives, many kids could particularly benefit from attention training at this time.”

The arcade is still very new, but there are already several testimonials from children who used the arcade and found themselves doing better at their schoolwork and their online classes. They include one 13-year-old named Ella who would not have known that she was performing an educational activity if her parents hadn’t told her. She says that playing those games has helped her in measurable ways.

Coleman recommends children play the games for at least 20 minutes per day, with most noticeable results occurring after four to eight weeks of training. The Attention Arcade is available as a monthly subscription service, and the company will ship users a Toobii Eye Tracker bar to drive the games. Users can also purchase the Toobii Tracker from Amazon, and then pay less per month for the games.

However, the Toobii Tracker is expensive at $299, and the games aren’t cheap either. It’s $39 per month if the family owns the eye tracking hardware, or $49 per month if families are renting the tracker. Coleman says because of the pandemic, that might be a tough price for some families. This is why they are working with any interested school systems or groups to install the arcade  with them, and then have it offered to students directly from their schools.

“When school becomes easier, maintaining focus comes more naturally, and there is less struggle. We think that the $39 per month is a fair price. However, we do recognize that is not within reach for a lot of families,” he said. “That is why we are focused on reaching children through schools as well. Some of our earliest schools to adopt the technology serve children whose families may not be able to afford the Attention Arcade. Schools have a big incentive to help their students succeed, so we have found that they really understand the value that attention training brings.”

John Breeden II is an award-winning journalist and reviewer with over 20 years of experience covering technology. He is the CEO of the Tech Writers Bureau, a group that creates technological thought leadership content for organizations of all sizes. Twitter: @LabGuys

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.