Does Involving Girls as Designers Result in Girl-Friendly Science Education Software? Comparing processes and outcomes of same-sex 5 th and 8 th grade girl and boy design teams
This project is partially funded by a research grant from the National Science Foundation.
The complete proposal is available online. We are partway through the project, as of Summer 2004. Here are preliminary publications:
OBJECTIVES: Virtual environments are increasingly being called upon to advance science learning. With possibilities for interactive multimedia displays and learner customization, these environments hold great promise. But are these environments friendly to girls? Computer games, designed by young men for boys and young men, epitomize technology's exclusion of girls, their interests, and values. Less obvious but more devastating, this technological estrangement exacerbates girls' lack of interest and self confidence not just in computers but in science. Technology itself and even the design of technology-enhanced science experiences may disadvantage girls, turning them away from SMET instead of engaging them. Experts urge more women and girls to become involved in software and hardware design, to begin to transform computer culture. The “Involving Girls as Designers” (IGD) project will look at what can happen when girls design their own science learning game experiences. Do girls and boys approach the design process differently? If so, what are the characteristics of a girl-friendly design process? Do all-girl design teams create products that are more appealing to other girls than products designed by all boy teams? Are gender differences more strongly polarized by the end of middle school, or are they equally evident even in fifth grade?
INTELLECTUAL MERIT: IGD will test the assertion that involving girls as designers can impact design process and product and describe gender and age differences. IGD will contribute concrete understanding of girls' attitudes toward games as well as other diverse forms of technology-enhanced science learning.
Space Pioneer Game Design Camp. 40 boys and girls (5th and 8th graders) came together for two weeks to work in same gender, same grade 5 person teams (with a teacher facilitator) to learn about space exploration by playing digital games, watching video clips, and participating in diverse technology-mediated space learning activities. They participated in 6 guided brainstorms to invent a space related educational game which might motivate kids like themselves to want to become space scientists.
Data Collection and Research Questions. Two same-sex researcher observers for each of the 8 teams took notes throughout the camp. Observations have been painstakingly coded and the rich data is being analyzed to address many design process research questions. Surveys we administered and focus group discussions held after each learning activity. Gender and grade reactions to technology-mediated learning experiences are being compared. Based on the brainstorms, a producer-writer, space scientist, and media artists are developing game promos of hypothetical space learning games being as true to the kids' original visions as possible. Design outcomes (the game promos) are being analyzed, looking at gender and age differences. Reactions to the 8 promos be gathered from hundreds of middle school children, looking to see what impact the (undisclosed) gender and grade of the design team has on liking of the game by boys and girls.
Content Analysis -- The same sex, same grade teams generated 8 game concepts were adapted into short, approximately 3 minute digital video promos for hypothetical space learning games. These promos are being analyzed for gender differences.
Survey Research - - Reactions to the Promos. In spring 2004 145 middle school children were shown the 8 game promos to look at how boys and girls react to games envisioned by child teams of their same gender and opposite sex child teams. A larger sample of children will be surveyed in fall 2004.
Reactions to Technology-Mediated Learning Experiences (TLME) highlights
Girls are not at all averse to TLMEs. 14 the 19 TMLEs at camp were rated more fun by girls than by boys, seven of them significantly so. The five TLMEs boys liked better were not significantly different by gender. We say that games disadvantage females. This may refer more to commercial than academic games. Girls really had fun playing the academic space games – much more than boys did. The girls three most favorite games were rated significantly less fun by boys.
Design Process highlights
At the end of the camp we had 160 documents of field notes (10 days of camp, for 8 design teams, each with 2 observers). The coding was both top-down (i.e. based on our research questions and topics that were interested in finding out) and well as bottom up (i.e. based on themes and ideas that emerged from the actual transcripts). This semester students in a College of Education doctoral seminar are analyzing this data, working closely with Dr. Mishra to explore a series of important questions.
Children and technology
Understanding the process of design: Sociology
Evolution of ideas
Early Content Analysis Findings -- Design Outcome Gender Difference Highlights
GOALS. All of the boy games envision fighting aliens. They describe distinct opponents to beat and/or kill. The fifth grade girl games do have an evil force, but the girls don't seek to destroy or beat that entity, merely to solve the problem the entity caused. Neither 8th grade girl group mentions opponents. Unlike boys, girls focus on playing, not winning.
DANGEROUS FUN, SILLY FUN. Girls face life threatening circumstances but the obstacles most girl teams developed have a lighthearted element of silliness. The evil alien is named Dr. Evil Stinky, or the Mars resort runs out of nails for construction. Boys giggle about killing aliens -- but they also usually risk death themselves. In three of four boy games players die often, as part of play.
SOCIAL COMPLEXITY. It was striking that all four girl teams wanted a single player game. They included social interactions (negotiations with aliens for the 5th graders and socially complex interactions between you (the leader) and your crew for 8 th graders) but all "others" in the game are computer-generated. The boy teams all included the option of single or multiplayer. There was little game play related to negotiation or social interaction, but the player was always assumed to be part of a larger social-institutional mission and part of a small team.
ALIENS. Fifth grade girl game humans live on earth but travel freely in
space and aliens live on other planets and moons. The 8th grade girl game
humans are beginning to colonize space -- Mars in one case and searching
for new habitable worlds in the other. Two boy games envision human and
alien civilizations spread across the solar system. Two boy games take
place less far into the future, focusing on early search for life or colonizing
Copyright Michigan State University
Comm Tech Lab, 2004