Exergames for the Brain – Collaboration between the Ontario Science Centre and Ontario Brain Institute to bring Exergaming to the public

by Jordan Antflick, Senior Outreach Lead, Ontario Brain Institute

This is the KT Core-ner’s first guest blog – we welcome this post from Jordan Antflick from the Ontario Brain Institute writing about the weekend of December 6 & 7, 2014 when a collaboration between the Ontario Science Centre and the Ontario Brain Institute brought NeuroDevNet/GRAND NCE’s Exergame technology to the public.  This was a great opportunity for KT, the research teams brought research-based information about how exercise affects the brain, especially for youth living with Cerebral Palsy.

Kids visiting the Ontario Science Centre try out the Exergame bike developed by Drs. Fehlings and Graham

Kids visiting the Ontario Science Centre try out the Exergame bike developed by Drs. Fehlings and Graham

This time it was going to be a photo finish. The last obstacle, a thick patch of mud, appeared but this only made their legs pump the pedals harder and their gecko on screen slither faster. With one well-placed shot, Happy the gecko was able to slow down Sneezy the gecko enough to edge past and claim victory in this- the tie-breaking contest.

This scene comes from a recent event at the Ontario Science Centre called Brain Games (December 6 & 7, 2014) which allowed visitors to test out interactive technologies where body and brain meet through gameplay. As a member of the team at the Ontario Brain Institute which helped to co-organize the event, I got to experience first-hand the latest developments taking place in Ontario and see how neuroscience is revolutionizing the gaming experience for entertainment, health, education and wellness.

One of the most popular games on display was the one described above- the exergames, which blends physical activity with gameplay through a customized recumbent bicycle.
The exergame project is a collaboration between Dr. Darcy Fehlings from the Bloorview Research Institute at Holland-Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital (funded in part by NeuroDevNet NCE) and Dr. Nicholas Graham from the EQUIS Lab at Queen’s University (funded in part by GRAND NCE) in Kingston Ontario. It combines the clinical and research expertise of Dr. Fehlings’ team (present at the event were: Samantha D’Souza, Alex MacIntosh, Karizma Mawjee) with respect to cerebral palsy, and expertise in digital gaming design and development brought by Dr. Nick Graham and his team (present at the event were: Hamilton Hernandez Alvaro and Daniel Moran).

Research teams from NeuroDevNet and GRAND NCEs assist kids visiting the Ontario Science Centre's Brain Games, so they can try out the Exergame technology

Research teams from NeuroDevNet and GRAND NCEs assist kids visiting the Ontario Science Centre’s Brain Games, so they can try out the Exergame technology

Their collaboration extended to the Brain Games event requiring representatives from both teams to setup and run the exergames, but also to tell the two sides of the story behind this project. Created to help teens with cerebral palsy become more physically active and improve their fitness, the exergames also features built-in social interaction by allowing kids to compete head-to-head against their friends each in their own homes, and communicate using a head-set with live chat.

Although the exergame system is currently a prototype designed for research and rehabilitation purposes, it was a huge hit with all families and children who stopped by for its ‘public debut’ at the Ontario Science Centre. In clinical trials, the bike was only used by about 10 kids at a time, but over the Brain Games weekend it withstood the vigorous pedaling of over 200 children.

Kids were drawn to the game but it was their parents who were the most curious. The most common question asked was ‘what does this have to do with brain?’ which provided a great lead-in to have a conversation about cerebral palsy, and the research into the benefits of physical activity for rehabilitation and for the brain. Two videos about the exergame program also looped in the background to give a broader explanation about the exergame and its impact, one of the videos was produced by NeuroDevNet’s KT Core.

Parents often commented on the value of having something like this in their own home to sneak some exercise into their kids existing gaming habits. While the exergame bike was designed specifically for teens with cerebral palsy, it was interesting to see that it resonated with all types of kids.

For now, the exergames will stay in the lab where it will continue to help kids with cerebral palsy improve their fitness and limb movement and hopefully one day soon it will be available for kids of all abilities to be able to play and exercise together in a fun and social way!

What are some of the ways the KT Core is supporting “family engagement” in research?

by Anneliese Poetz, KT Manager, NeuroDevNet

Diverse stakeholders participate in CanChild's 25th anniversary Family Engagement Day

Diverse stakeholders participate in CanChild’s 25th anniversary Family Engagement Day

On November 22nd, 2014 CanChild celebrated its 25th anniversary with a day-long stakeholder meeting located in the student centre at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. There were 65 professionals, 69 family members (adults) and 33 children/youth.  NeuroDevNet’s KT Core was invited to participate by attending the event and staffing a NeuroDevNet booth. CanChild is part of NeuroDevNet’s Community for Brain Development and NeuroDevNet was one of the sponsors of this event.


Director of CanChild, Dr. Jan Willem Gorter says:

“It is only through true partnership and engagement of children, youth and families, health care providers, and anyone else in the lives  of children with disabilities that we can make meaningful progress in the field of neurodevelopmental disabilities.  NeuroDevNet sponsored the live streaming of the event with a world-wide reach. The day has been recorded and will posted on the CanChild website.”

During the event, participants contributed to inform research by posting thoughts and ideas on large pink sticky notes on the wall, active discussion in small break out groups, and finally a large report-back discussion.

Stakeholders had the opportunity to share ideas about how to improve family engagement in research

Stakeholders had the opportunity to share ideas about how to improve family engagement in research

Anneliese Poetz, Isaac Coplan NeuroDevNet's KT Core participate in CanChild's Family Engagement Day

Anneliese Poetz, Isaac Coplan NeuroDevNet’s KT Core participate in CanChild’s Family Engagement Day

The small break out groups each had a focus question based on some aspect of research or knowledge translation and a graduate student volunteer note-taker who recorded the main points of the discussion.

Afterwards, participants were treated to a live-band performance by Justin Hines (vocals) and Ash & Bloom (guitar and backup vocals).

Poster Session set up near booth displays

Poster Session set up near booth displays

Isaac Coplan engaging with stakeholders at NeuroDevNet booth

Isaac Coplan engaging with stakeholders at NeuroDevNet booth

Finally, the poster- and booth-display session ended the day.  Isaac Coplan and Anneliese Poetz were visited by approximately 25 parents, practitioners and self-advocates at the NeuroDevNet booth.



Visitors to the NeuroDevNet booth scan QR code to retrieve .pdf of ResearchSnapshot

Visitors to the NeuroDevNet booth scan QR code to retrieve .pdf of ResearchSnapshot

The ResearchSnapshots were popular, and the laminated copies we brought for the booth included a QR code that linked to the original .pdf online as well as a bitly link that takes you to the webpage containing all the ResearchSnapshots in a particular category (such as CP, ASD, etc.). One visitor to the booth said that if she had had a ResearchSnapshot of the peer-reviewed papers she had to read in her college program called “Autism and Behavioural Science” it would have motivated her to read the entire 30 page paper that the ResearchSnapshot was based on. Others said it was great to see just the important information about current research. One person who stopped by the booth said she was a psychiatrist and would bring some NeuroDevNet brains (stamped with the NeuroDevNet website url) back to her class that she teaches at her university’s medical school.

We got some good ideas for engaging families in research from a participant from Bloorview, such as the suggestion that we should consider having a section on our website listing all current NeuroDevNet studies the way Bloorview does on its “Participate in Research” tab. Overall, the booth was successful at raising awareness among current and future practitioners about NeuroDevNet and its research.

The KT Core also coordinated and facilitated a tweetchat in collaboration with CanChild on November 18th, 2014 as a way to generate online family engagement prior to the in-person event. There were 17 participants, 268 tweets and 71,894 impressions (possible reach based on size of networks of tweetchat participants).  Some participants were parents and we had some good discussion about family engagement in research.

Questions for the 1-hour tweetchat included:

1) What does it mean to families to be ‘engaged’ in research?

2) How can we (researchers) do a better job of engaging families?

3) What strategies would you recommend to engage youth in research?

4) What supports/platforms/methods can facilitate family or youth engagement?

5) How does one measure the impact of family engagement?

6) What are your experiences of being engaged (or engaging) in research?

The entire transcript is available online as well as additional statistics.

The KT Core can set up and staff a NeuroDevNet booth at your KT event, and can help you set up and facilitate a tweetchat for stakeholder engagement to obtain input/feedback on your research. If you’d like to know more about how we can help you, contact the KT Core.