An interview with: MyCognition

Education Technology sat down with MyCognition’s Chairman Keiron Sparrowhawk, and Education Director Sarah Marks

Q. Can you tell us a little bit more about MyCognition’s assessment and development games?

A. Sarah Marks: We have two parts of our programme which includes two cognitive assessment tools; AquaSnap Assess and MyCQ. AquaSnap Assess is actually our training game which assesses students cognition from the age of four years old. We’ve also got our main assessment MyCQ. This looks at the underlying skills that allow children to access the curriculum. So skills like your working memory, your long-term memory, your attention, how quickly and accurately you can answer questions, all key skills in education. Students get scored in each of those areas so we can see where their strengths are, and what could be impeding their learning. It’s based on 200 years of neuroscience research, and it only takes 15 minutes to do.

A. Kieran Sparrowhawk: The great thing about AquaSnap Assess is that, traditionally, studies could only measure cognition from about eight years onwards, as you needed an IQ of about 80, and so there was this gap for people with a mental age younger than that. Working with a drug company, we’ve developed this simple linear game, which assesses how the person is playing the game and measures their cognition. That’s opening up a whole range of new interventions for children of that age, and for adults who have a mental age of between four and eight. We’re filling a real gap there and taking the science all the way through children, into adulthood. 

Q. Why is good cognition crucial to learning?

A. Kieran Sparrowhawk: Cognition underpins everything that we do. All your mental processes, your thinking, learning, memory, responding, it’s all underpinned by cognitive health. Your emotions, whether you’re stressed, whether you’re happy, whether you’re sad, that’s underpinned by your cognitive health. So not only is it important in school work and in business, it’s important in all functions of life. To have a healthy cognition sets you up to reach your life’s goals, it sets you up to achieve the most from your life. Under those circumstances, it could be argued it’s even more important than our physical health. We think about physical health all the time. We ask ourselves, should I exercise? Should I eat this? Should I eat that? We should be asking the same things about our cognitive health as well.

Q. How do the games establish cognitive weaknesses and how do they improve student’s cognition?

A. Sarah Marks: We use MyCQ or AquaSnap Assess as a diagnostic tool, so that tells us where students strengths are and what areas actually need to be improved because they could be impeding either their learning or their performance. Based on that score we can then set up the training, which is through our video games. The games have cognitive training built into them but the clever part is that the MyCQ actually sets up the training so it’s all personalised, it caters for the specific needs of that particular child.

Q. What are benefits of online educational games to students and teachers?

A. Kieran Sparrowhawk: What we have with computers is a fantastic vehicle, either as an individual playing against the computer or playing online socially. We’re using technology as a means by which we can be very sophisticated about the types of games that we’re using. Back in the early 2000s, MRI scans were taken of people while they were playing computers, they showed certain areas of the brain. You’re playing a game, yes, but it’s taking you through loops of tasks which are embedding habits in the brain. These lead to you being able to do a whole host of brilliant things. We’re shining a light on this area and it’s very exciting. We’re just making tentative steps now, but I’m sure big strides will come from it.

Q. Any tips on how to integrate online educational games into schools?

A. Kieran Sparrowhawk: Schools are actually already implementing them in a variety of ways. They can already see the educational value in them. Cognitive health is an important aspect of kids’ lives – it sets them up for the rest of their lives and, it’s the innovative schools that are thinking a little bit more openly about these things and saying ‘Yes, we should do this.’ They’re leading the way and we hope others will soon follow.