Kinems: Personalized Kinect-based Learning Games for Children with Learning Disabilities

Oct 3, 2014   |   Aimee Sprung and Lauren Metter

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One of the coolest technologies that Microsoft has on the market is the Kinect.  Most people know of the Kinect as it works with the Xbox to enable your body to become the controller.  That is, if you are playing Kinect Sports on an Xbox One (where Kinect is built into the device), simply swing your arm to represent a racket, bat or bowling a ball.  If you haven’t tried it, swing by a local Microsoft Store to give it a try – it is a lot of fun and keeps your body very active while playing video games!

A few years ago, Kinect for Windows was developed, and recently version 2 was released. The applications for Kinect beyond gaming are endless – in healthcare, retail and especially for education.  Through my work with MassChallenge I recently met Kinems.  Kinems offers engaging games to help students with learning disabilities such as ADHD and autism.

As more and more children are diagnosed with autism and other learning disabilities, there is an opportunity for technology to help serve these students better and ensure they remain engaged in school.  I sat down with Michael Boloudakis, Co-Founder and CEO of Kinems, to learn more about the solution.

Michael is looking for pilot schools now; if you are interested in giving Kinems a try, please contact him at michalis@kinems.com.

MSNE: What is Kinems and how does it help schools / students?

MB: Kinems addresses the significant challenge of how to best help children with learning disabilities. According to World Health Organization, 10% of children worldwide have learning disabilities, i.e. 70 million children. According to the US Department of Health, 6 million children have some type of problem with learning and receive special education services35% of children with learning disabilities drop out of school with serious implications for social stability and economic development.

Kinems tries to tackle this challenge by offering effective and engaging learning experiences to these children. It develops personalized Kinect-based learning games for children with learning disabilities such as autism, dyspraxia and ADHD. It transforms traditional therapeutic and learning exercises into engaging and highly configurable Kinect games that children 4-11 years old play naturally with their hands, feet or body movements, without the need of keyboard or mouse.

The games help children improve executive functions (motor planning, concentration, memory, time management, etc.) as well as cognitive skills (maths, linguistic development, pre-writing skills). They can be used at mainstream or special schools that offer IEPs (individualized education programs) as well as child care centers and children hospitals. The student/child is in the middle of the game-based learning process.

All the school needs is a PC/laptop with Windows 7 or Windows 8 with Internet Access, a projector or TV (or even an interactive board) and the Kinect for Windows sensor. It is a simple, plug and play solution for empowering children with learning disabilities to reach their full potential.

MSNE: What do you think the role of technology is in education?

MB: Educational technologies offer new affordances. Learners and teachers can do things easier, faster, safer and in more engaging and effective ways than before. Modern technologies with the appropriate educational scenarios and associated learning resources can effectively help children acquire 21st century skills in a stimulating way. Particularly in the field of special education, it is strongly believed that education technological advances, especially in the field of educational games, can lead to more effective treatment strategies and enhance quality of life for children with learning disabilities.

MSNE: Are there specific advances in technology that you think are game changers for education?  

MB: Kinems learning games follow the major trend in human-computer interaction around natural user “embodied” interactions via the Kinect sensor, where the body is at the center of the interactive experience. Kinect games are considered among the most efficient and effective means with which children generate positive feelings while performing learning tasks. They can lead to improved mood and increase in children’s positive emotions.

Moreover, in Kinect-based games accuracy in movement plays crucial role. This requires a great deal of concentration and focus, which is very important for children with learning disabilities such as autism, dyspraxia and ADHD. Children using hand and body gestures feel a better sense of control over their actions which leads to significant immersion. It has been found out that children enjoy playing and are so concentrated on such games, that they are not aware of the great efforts and hard work they are putting into the activity.

MSNE: How can games help students with disabilities learn?

MB: Kinems’ solution has been effectively applied to authentic school environments and children’s hospitals with great success. Research studies have shown that Kinems is an effective solution. Pilot studies of two months interventions, showed that children with learning disabilities improve in average of 10% their eye-hand coordination, motor planning & execution, fluid intelligence, attention, concentration, audio-visual short-term memory, as well as pre-writing and math skills.

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