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AISL Pathways: The Role of Story in Games to Teach Computer Science Concepts to Middle School Girls: 1421806

Principal Investigator: Elisabeth Gee
CoPrincipal Investigator(s): Carolee Stewart-Gardiner
Organization: Arizona State University

As part of its overall strategy to enhance learning in informal environments, the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program funds innovative resources for use in a variety of settings. Nationally, the US has a shortage of computer scientists; a big part of this problem is that girls are discouraged from learning computer science at a very young age. This project tries to address this problem by creating a videogame specifically oriented towards getting middle school girls interested in learning computer science concepts outside traditional programming classes. Based on evidence that stories provide a compelling way to present complicated technical subjects and that girls in particular respond to technology careers as a way to help others, the project is building a videogame called “Gram’s House” in which social workers intend to move a fictional grandmother to a retirement home unless the player can outfit her home with sufficient technology for her to remain independent. Solving puzzles in the game requires learning core computer science concepts. Research studies will be conducted to determine whether the videogame is effective at getting girls interested in computer science, at teaching computer science concepts, and whether using stories makes videogames more effective for learning.

This project based on an earlier successful prototype uses an iterative research-based design process including paper prototyping, playtesting, and focus groups (N=20) to create age appropriate activities, based on the CS Unplugged series, that support learning concepts from the Data, Internet, Algorithms, and Abstraction sections of the high-school level CS Principles curriculum. A quantitative, quasi-experimental design will be used to determine the overall effectiveness of teaching CS concepts under three types of game conditions: (a) games alone, (b) games with fictional settings, and (c) games with stories. A novel assessment instrument will be developed to assess content learning and qualitative observation using a standard observation protocol will be used to gauge interest and engagement. 70-80 middle school girls will be recruited for afterschool participation in the study in two states. As part of the dissemination efforts, a facilitator’s guide, rule book, and materials such as maps and storyboards will be created and shared with the game. In addition, a workshop for computer science and other teachers who are interested in using games to teach CS concepts will be conducted.

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