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Keynote Talk 1

Game-based courses for learning – results of an online digital game-based course to build social and emotional skills in adolescents

Nandini Chatterjee Singh, UNESCO MGIEP


It is estimated that one in three individuals worldwide plays digital games. Play has been demonstrated to be an evolutionary feature that enables mammals to acquire new knowledge by exploration and experimentation. Why then are games not part of pedagogy and are disconnected from learning?

In this presentation, I will discuss how the power of storytelling offered by digital games can be harnessed to build social and emotional learning (SEL) in the classroom. Social and emotional skills are being increasingly being recognized as fundamental competencies necessary to build in children to ensure holistic development and build successful relationships.  We used a narrative-driven text messaging adventure commercial game entitled Bury me, My love, and designed an online interactive course around it. The game  centres around Nour, a Syrian refugee who undertakes a perilous journey to safety in Europe. The game-based course uses the life of a refugee, to introduce learners to concepts of migration, home, belonging and identity and also build social emotional skills like empathy, compassion and resilience.

To assess the impact of the game-based course, a research study was conducted with 201 participants between 13 and 16 years of age across United Arab Emirates and India. Knowledge on the theme of migration, and social and emotional skills of empathy and compassion were assessed through self-reports completed by participants before and after taking the course. Independent T-test analysis revealed significant cultural and gender differences in domains of compassion and empathy respectively. This study opens a new window in game-based learning. The design of a structured course with learning outcomes centered around a digital game establishes its potential to create engaging and accessible solutions to simultaneously build domain knowledge and social-emotional competencies in adolescents.

Bio sketch

Nandini Chatterjee Singh is a cognitive neuroscientist and currently Senior Project Office at UNESCO MGIEP (Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development, in New Delhi, India. Nandini works on learning, in the context of literacy, emotion and music. 

After receiving a PhD in physics from the University of Pune in India, she studied auditory learning mechanisms in songbirds at University of California Berkeley.  She returned to India 2002 and the first cognitive and neuroimaging laboratory in India at the National Brain Research Centre (NBRC) in India. Where she set up SALLY (Speech and Language Laboratory). Using behavioral and functional neuroimaging experiments, her laboratory sought to understand neurodiversity especially children with autism and dyslexia.  Her work in biliteracy led to the development of DALI (Dyslexia Assessment for Languages of India), the first tool standardized tool to screen and assess dyslexia in multiple Indian languages. Her research laboratory at NBRC also conducted research on how Indian ragas elicit distinct emotions.

Since 2017, she has been at UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP) where she uses neuroscience to design courses for social and emotional learning using digital pedagogies. She has led the development EMC2, a neuroscience based framework that builds SEL competencies of Empathy(E), Mindfulness (M), Compassion ( C) and Critical Inquiry (C). She is focused on designing new interactive curricula using innovative digital pedagogies like, digital games, digital dialogue to cultivate SEL and conducts cross-cultural research to assess their efficacy in school education systems.

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