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Researchers at Heriot-Watt are looking for schools to help them test pioneering software that enables children to design their own computer games.

They say that using Adventure Author could signficantly improve the teaching of literacy, design and ICT skills in schools.

The team of computer scientists, an educational consultant and a software developer have been given pound;210,000 funding by the Engineering and Phsyical Sciences Research Council to produce the software. It will allow 10 to 14-year-olds to design and build 3-D, interactive fantasy-based computer games, which will involve developing characters, writing dialogue, plot structuring and design, as well as dealing with technical programming issues and testingevaluating the games.

The software is based on foundations provided by Neverwinter Nights 2, a commercially available fantasy computer game that includes a toolset allowing users to develop their own adventures. Adventure Author will include an integrated "designer's notebook" to help children develop their ideas, and a "teacher's notebook" providing lesson plans, classroom materials and so on.

"Because they see games as 'play' not 'work', many children are more receptive to the idea of designing computer games than to conventional schoolwork," said Judy Robertson, who is leading the project.

Schools interested in taking part in trials, contact Dr Robertson, School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences, Heriot-Watt University. E judy.robertson@hw.ac.uk; www.macs.hw.ac.ukAdventureAuthorindex.html

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