Many people today point to the “screen culture” of Australia’s young people as the source of our childhood obesity crisis. But creative thinkers see it as its possible solution.
The government authorities, health experts and educators who urge parents to get their screen-head kids away from the electronic surfing, chatting and gaming, and replace it with “real” activity instead, may be missing something.
Today’s children are encouraged to participate in basically the same activities that older generations took part in when they were young: playing in the park, riding bikes, or joining organised sport.
But why should 21st century children have the same interest in these conventional activities when they view them from a technology-charged world?
Modern life is lived within the context of computers, and even more so for children. While “digital immigrant” parents adapt to new technologies in much the same way as an adult learning a second language, their “digital native” offspring have taken up and mastered new technologies with ease.
Rather than convincing young people of the merits of conventional exercise and sports, it may be worth promoting fitness and health in, and through, the computer worlds they inhabit.
But let’s think beyond the latest wave of interactive computer games that offer virtual bowling, boxing, dancing and martial arts.
The challenge is to shift computer gaming from merely “entertainment” to a medium for education, where all children can access the benefits. Computer-simulations have found their way into building design, air-flight training, medicine, real estate and tourism. So why not let our schools play a prominent role in integrating physically interactive computer games and sports into their physical education curriculum to promote fitness and health? Better yet, why not add interactive electronic learning into conventional subjects, such as geography, biology or history?
With the emergence of high quality 3D graphics and animation, interactive tele-immersive virtual environments, and wireless technologies, a classroom in the not-too-distant future may include a laboratory with 30 or 40 stationary bicycles and treadmills, each connected to a computer.
A simulated geography excursion, for example, could be projected on a huge screen in front of the class. As with any geography excursion, there would be landforms, vegetation and land use to observe and analyse. However, in order to move through the virtual landscape, students would have to cycle on a stationary bike or walk on a treadmill.
Similarly, in biology, students could pedal their way through the blood vessels of a virtual human body, while in history, students could walk their way along a virtual Kokoda Track, complete with the inclines of its rugged hills.
In addition to knowledge about geography, biology or history, students would also learn to monitor their heart rates and energy output during each session to ensure they are exercising at an appropriate intensity and duration, as well as tracking their fitness progress over the course of the school term.
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