Interview with WV Public Schools About the DDR Initiative (Part 2)

This is the second part of our DDR in West Virginia Public Schools coverage. Click the "Read More" button to read this interview with Melanie Purkey, the Director of the Office of Healthy Schools.

Inform8n: The first phase of the program involves distribution of the Dance Dance Revolution game from Konami to all of West Virginia's Public Schools. The first year it is going to be implemented in middle schools and junior highs.
Melanie Purkey: Correct.

Inform8n: In the next two years is that going into elementary schools and high schools?
Melanie Purkey: High schools first, then elementary.

Inform8n: In the subsequent years, year number two would be high schools and year number three would be elementary?
Melanie Purkey: Yes... And more so determined by how quickly we can raise the funds from various contributors. If we can raise the money faster, it (the distribution of the program) will go faster.

Inform8n: I had talked to Clara Gilbert at Konami previously and I had thought that they had possibly come to West Virginia Public Schools about this program but I learned that you actually came to them after the “Games for Health" study. Can you go into what went into that study?
Melanie Purkey: Yes, actually the whole project was initiated by the public employees' insurance agency here in WV. They did a project that they partnered with West Virginia University on and they allowed students/children ages 8 - 12 who were children of their PEIA members to participate. Any state employee or public school employee or county municipality employee that has PEIA Insurance if they had a child between the ages of 8 - 12 who were considered, by body-mass index measures, to be in an at-risk of being overweight or overweight category with a BMI of 85 or above could participate in the project.

What participation in the project meant was the child went to the WVU Med School and went through a set of tests to gather data before they started. Then the child then received the game platform, the game, and the dance pad to take home with a 12 week regiment prescribing how often they had to use it on a daily basis and what programs they had to use and they received weekly phone coaching, telephone calls to see how they were doing. At the end of 12 weeks they went back to Morgantown for a post-test of the same tests they did at the start of the program regarding their cardiovascular fitness levels, muscular fitness levels... and just a battery of clinical tests. They found very promising data.

They then went home for a second 12 weeks where they didn't have the phone coaching and a few of the other aspects were lightened up and that portion of their studies has not yet been released. But they did find very positive results. Based on that study they said, ‘it would be wonderful if more kids could participate in this.' That's when PEIA decided to approach the Department of Education to look at whether or not they could place this in schools. We thought it was a viable thing to be placed in schools... that was last spring. They (PEIA) offered to provide 20 setups, so if we could find 20 schools that were willing to take this on as a pilot they would provide the 20 setups. That was pretty easy. We quickly came up with 20 PE teachers who were more than happy to try this out and they came back with very positive input that students liked it. In particular it was attractive to the student who is not your traditional student who exceeds in physical education classes... but the students who normally want to not dress and sit out on the bleachers. It attracted that student to PE class and to being physically active.

Part of the requirement for that pilot was that introduce it in Physical Education class but then that they make it available through before and after school programs and also that they make those available to the staff of the school... which was part of PEIA's justification for the expenditure because the staff members are their health plan members. We spun off of that experience last spring and then we tried to figure out how we could move this to more schools. Obviously PEIA could not justify a statewide expenditure of that size. So we started contacting people and initially the project with WVU they had gotten some national press and we contacted Konami and said, ‘We're getting some national press that's attached to your game. We really would like to expand this project... could we partner with you to do that?' Those discussions took place during the summer of 2005. Through the fall we nailed down a figure and Konami has provided some support for the project... and we've actually brought in Mountain State Blue Cross Blue Shield as a partner as well. So now we have in the Games for Health Project, PEIA, Mountain State Blue Cross Blue Shield, the West Virginia Department of Education, West Virginia University and Konami.

Inform8n: Speaking of Konami, they have mentioned that this program is going to be put in place at some other schools but that no push was as large as West Virginia's. Have you seen any of the other schools they're referring to or are most of the other schools at the same point in their development of this program as West Virginia Public Schools?
Melanie Purkey: We've had quite a bit of press here recently in the last month about this but most other schools are at the same point. They're introducing using it in physical education class but you certainly can't build a whole physical education course around doing DDR everyday.

They're looking at how to make it available, before school particularly... in West Virginia we have many consolidated schools that kids travel and the bus schedule is such that some kids get to school and they have to wait a half an hour or 45 minutes before their first period. This (Dance Dance Revolution) will give them something physically active to do during that time. One of the plans nationally and in WV is to develop some clubs so students can have competitions from school-to-school... that's in the long-range plan and I think that's happening in other places as well.

Inform8n: Obviously this plan is very forward thinking. In your opinion, do you think that this is the beginning of using other types of game-type software in public schools as learning tools?
Melanie Purkey: ABSOLUTELY! Our physical education coordinator here at the department saw DDR a year or so ago at a national conference, came back, and started investigating the variety of virtual software that has a physical activitiy mode to it... where kids aren't just sitting moving their thumbs

Related to instruction across the board in public schools we're moving into a much more digital world of instructional materials.

Inform8n: Do you think there will be an easier learning curve as far as teachers go with a game system since they are so widespread now? How do you think it will compare to when computers were put in the classroom?
Melanie Purkey: I think that the teachers in the pilot site, if they haven't already experienced hooking up and playing through a Playstation or an Xbox game they will find it pretty easy. The big plus to that is that most of them can allow their students *laughs* to do that for them and they said their students knew more about it than they did as far as getting the connections to work and those sorts of things. Now we did find in the pilot that one of the big issues for schools is having a high-grade pad. Some of the teachers have gone out and bought pads that are a home use type of pad and it just doesn't last as long with the kind of use it gets class period after class period. So those are some of the things our teachers have found frustration in troubleshooting. We're trying to fix that through trying to get them high grade pads.

Inform8n: Speaking of hardware... I was curious why the Xbox was chosen as the platform of choice for the project?
Melanie Purkey: The teachers basically made that choice for us after using both. That was primarily based on the fact that they could hook 4 pads into an Xbox. That was the main selling point to them was that they could get more use out of the console.

Inform8n: The reasons I asked that is because one of things that crossed my mind (between the pluses and minuses between both consoles) was why something like the Playstation 2 EyeToy was not considered for getting students to participate also.
Melanie Purkey: The pilot that was actually done last year was with the Playstation 2 and some student got involved in the hardware part also. The teachers said that they had some students bring in their Xbox version and we found we could plug more game pads into it. So with the larger scale project they decided to go with the Xbox so they can get more gamepads hooked up at once.

One teacher said that they had a student bring in their EyeToy and they loved it... it added a whole new dimension to what the students were doing with the game. When Konami put in the fitness mode where the students can track their calories burned, they can track over time how many minutes they've played, what levels they've played so they can do more of a ‘fitness plan.' When using the game the teachers have really liked that mode as well.

Inform8n: Is there anything else that hasn't been out there in the associated press releases that you'd really like to convey about this program that you feel has been overlooked?
Melanie Purkey: I think, and you hit on this, that this is the BEGINNING... it's a statewide attempt to implement the use of technology in physical education which I think might be the first of its type. We do know that if it takes us three years to get this out there that the technology that is out there at the end of this project will be much different than the technology we're putting out there right now. We intend that as the game improves, as the hardware improves, we will always be putting out the improved versions and that is the way we're going to have to evolve with the use of technology in classrooms across all content areas.

Some people have questioned us and said, ‘How will you keep up with the growth of the technology?' We're just going to have to do the best that we can as the resources present themselves but we're excited that this is a partnership with Konami. We're talking to them about ‘What are you looking at in the future with developments in this kind of gaming?' ... and giving them some ideas on things we'd like to see. We're open to new ideas and the growth of this physical gaming industry and being able to use it.

Inform8n: I really appreciate your time. Thank you very much again.
Melanie Purkey: Thank you Jack.