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

Project: Research project

Project Details


AISL Pathways: The Role of Story in Games to Teach Computer Science Concepts to Middle School Girls AISL Pathways: The Role of Story in Games to Teach Computer Science Concepts to Middle School Girls AISL Pathways: The Role of Story in Games to Teach Computer Science Concepts to Middle School Girls Overview. The proposed Pathways project will address the following questions: (1) What are appropriate designs for educational games that aim to foster understanding of computer science concepts and engagement in learning among middle school girls, and how might story and a fictional setting contribute to these designs? and (2) To what extent are story-embedded educational games aimed at middle school girls more effective in teaching computer science concepts and promoting engagement in learning than educational games without story or with a fictional setting alone? To address the first question, the project team will design nondigital games to teach three computer science concepts, when possible drawing on existing instructional activities such as those in the widely used CS Unplugged collection. With the assistance of an experienced story author, the team will create a fictional setting and story for each game. The games, settings and stories will be reviewed by an expert panel of educational and commercial game designers as well as computer science teachers who will assess the quality of the games design and educational content. The games in each condition will be prototyped and tested with small numbers of middle school girls to assess their playability and content appeal for this gender and age group. To address the second question, 90-100 middle school age girls (20 for a pilot study and 70- 80 for the full study) will be recruited to participate in after-school sessions held at a participating university campus. Participants will be randomly assigned to one of three groups. Each group will be exposed to one instructional condition - game alone, game with fictional setting and game with story - for three CS concepts. One-way multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) will be conducted to determine the effects of game condition as the independent variable on the two dependent variables: change in computational thinking scores and participant engagement. Additional statistical analyses will be used as appropriate to identify differences in the impact of each game condition; qualitative data will be used to better understand the implementation process and the impact of each individual games. The project findings will inform further efforts to design games that can engage female students in learning computer science concepts, by suggesting the relative importance of different game features (mechanics, setting, story) and will yield several concrete examples that can be used in informal learning environments without a need for computer technology. Intellectual Merit. A growing number of educational efforts are aimed at increasing young peoples interest in and ability to succeed in computer science by using game design as a means of introducing them to basic programming skills (Hayes& Games, 2008). Often such approaches are geared towards involving girls and boys from currently underrepresented groups in computer science (ibid). These efforts, while valuable, take a rather narrow view of the potential of games to facilitate computerscience related learning, tending to treat games more as an appealing goal for learning programming rather than, for example, leveraging the affordances of games for supporting CS understanding and skills. In addition, with few exceptions, these approaches focus on game mechanics and overlook the potential importance of how game mechanics might be situated in potentially powerful settings or storylines that can relate to students prior interests and showcase how computing can be used to solve important problems. The proposed study will contribute to our understanding of how game mechanics might be most fruitfully integrated with story and setting as well as how this integration might affect students engagement and learning, and lay a foundation for further exploration of these design issues in other educational games. Broader Impacts. The intended impacts of this project on informal STEM learning are several. First, the project will offer insight into different game design features that might have an impact on STEM learning. While the focus in this project will be CS concepts, the findings can be a starting point for further exploration of the role of story in the effectiveness of educational games in other STEM areas. Second, the use of games to teach CS concepts rather than programming represents a significant shift in emphasis, and will contribute to other efforts to reconceptualize how CS is introduced to younger learners in informal and formal settings (e.g., Goode& Chapman, 2013). Third, the findings of this study will be used to guide the development of a more comprehensive digital game, Grams House, that is intended to introduce learners, particularly girls, to multiple CS concepts. Prototypes of Grams House, consisting primarily of mini-games and puzzles, have been effective in engaging girls and improving their perceptions of computer science (Carmichael& Stewart-Gardiner, 2013). Findings from this project will guide the further development of this game by suggesting the relative importance of story or fictional setting to engagement and learning.
Effective start/end date9/1/148/31/17


  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $219,200.00


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