Archive for February 12, 2011

Does creating computer games impact girls attitudes toward computing?

This story came across ACM Technews, with the claim that “University of Alberta researchers have found that high school girls become more interested in computer science if video game creation is incorporated into the lesson plans.” That’s a strong and surprising claim, countering what other studies (including ours) have found.

A pre-print of the journal article is available.  The claim is a bit strong.  First, the researchers never asked the kids if they were interested in computer science or game development!  They asked the students to compare how much fun they had short story writing at school, to interactive story writing at the University on a field trip, to interactive story writing at school, and then to compare traditional writing to interactive writing at school.  Kids far preferred interactive story writing at the University to writing a traditional short story –everybody enjoyed the field trip.  However, for the girls, the difference at school was not significant, while it was for boys.  Girls did like the activity, but not as much as the boys, and we don’t know anything about how it influenced the girls’ attitudes towards computing.  To claim that creation of video games might then influence girls’ retention in CS (an explicit claim in the journal article) seems stronger than their evidence warrants.  It might — the evidence just isn’t in this study.

In their study, the researchers wanted to see whether girls would gain as much interest in game development as they boys in the class control group. To facilitate the experiment, they introduced a group of local Grade 10 students to a program called ScriptEase, a tool that allowed them to develop and design their own games. A key factor in the study was having male participants who had more experience than the females in gaming.

Szafron says that there is an inherent creative component to computing science, and that having a student design and construct something using the tool is one way to allow them to investigate that aspect of computing science. “We thought we should have female students create games and see if they are just as excited about making games as male students and see whether it’s an attractor to computing science that is independent of gender,” he said.

Their findings indicated that female students enjoyed creating games as much as their male counterparts; further, they preferred game construction to activities such as story writing. Further, he noted the female students gained and used practical skills that are crucial to understanding computing science.

via Computing science rewriting the program to get girls in the game – ExpressNews – University of Alberta.

February 12, 2011 at 9:43 am 1 comment


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