Games, Girls, Tech & Teaching at #UMTTC

Using Social Media to Teach Engineering Process:

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Last week at Enriching Scholarship, one of the sessions I took was called Using Social Media to Teach Engineering Process. The project was led by Bruce Maxim with Margaret Turton and Wassim Nahle. I was multitasking, so I took lousy notes, and then tweeted a little but not much. I want to blog this one before I forget what it was that excited me about it so much, since I can’t count on coming back and figuring it out from my nonexistent notes.

From the title, I thought the session would be about using blogs, wikis, Twitter and similar social media tools to enrich engineering education and expand the audience. I could not have been more wrong, and the session was far more interesting and engaging than I originally expected. Remember, that I was interested in the topic I thought was being presented, but this was just plain BETTER! The focus was instead on a strong argument for the need to have more women in the engineering professions (as well as STEM in general). Dr. Maxim (Bruce) described the process by which his team conceived, designed, and constructed a proof of concept for a game with Facebook integration which is intended to reach a gender neutral audience. The subtext is that if you can interest women and girls in playing games that include engineering concept and processes, perhaps, just maybe, you might be able to interest them in engineering as a possible profession.

I find it absolutely appropriate that I am multitasking writing this post while I watch the webcast of Secretary of State Clinton’s Summit on Strategic Dialog with Civil Society, part of her Digital Diplomacy channel. If you go look at the the map (PDF) of the strategic plan and targeted initiatives, you’ll immediately notice that Women’s Empowerment is one of the five foci for this initiative.

State Department map for Strategic Dialog with Civil Society

Indeed, this has been a focus of Hilary Clinton’s entire tenure as Secretary of State. So discovering that Bruce’s presentation was rooted in the need for women in science and engineering, special qualities and skills that women can bring to STEM, and creative strategies for addressing the relative lack of women in engineering, especially software engineering and game development, … powerful. Good stuff. The slides hint at it, but the content presented was more interesting than the slides, or the title, or the abstract.

It was fascinating listening to the rich thought Bruce has given to these issues and how the research behind women’s interests and personal dialogs shaped the structure of the project, which was to design an online game targeting teens (both men and women) to engage them in gaming and discovering engineering process management skills. It is actually quite an interesting game, despite being developed by a small team on a shoestring primarily as a proof of concept.

The other unexpected delight I took away from the presentation were insights into the game design and development process. Bruce presented this as rather matter of fact background information, but the process, background research, evolution of thought, justification of game elements, risks of decision points along the stream, the thought process behind game play choices, and mid-design corrections was all completely a revelation to me. Wow, it takes a lot of time and effort to come up with a game, even a small one. There is a huge intellectual process behind the game, and it is impressive. I was particularly fascinated in the research behind how women and men engage very differently with their avatars or game personas, and how these different styles impact on game design choices.

The game design was developed around the idea of “Let’s build a spacecraft.” What sort of skills and equipment do you need? What sort of team? How do you develop the necessary team, recruit the skills, learn the skills, acquire the components, etc, etc, etc. That sounds kind of dry, and I’m not doing it justice, but I’m not a gamer. I’m struggling to describe it better. I “play” Tweenk, which is a great game for me because I don’t have to do anything different from my usual workflows. But things I do generate skill levels and new skills, new collaborations and partnerships with other gamers in my guild. So with building the spacecraft, as you play the game, you earn various skills or the money to buy equipment and components in the gamestore. There are strategic decisions in the path you negotiate. You see? It really is a game.

Why build a spacecraft? Bruce had conversations with several of his women friends and colleagues about things that interested them and gaming women friends of theirs. I was one of the people he talked with, I was surprised to find out (but I now remember that conversation, and how prominently EVEonline loomed in my thoughts then). Space was one of the themes that came out, so they focused on that.

At that time, spacecraft probably was a good hook to catch the interest of the sort of young women you might want to recruit. I am thinking now, it might be something different. Perhaps something related to wearable computing, like these.

The gal’s POV:
Limelight, a Student Designer’s First Wearable Technology Garment

The guy’s POV:
Fashion Startup Betabrand Pairs Quality with Quirky

With wearable tech, you see people like Diana Eng:

Diana Eng

Diana Eng, Fairytale Fashion / Eyebeam Open Studios photo by See-ming Lee from New York, NY, USA

making incredible outfits like this:
One of Diana Eng's designs at the Fairytale Fashion show with EL wire sewn into the dress

One of Diana Eng’s designs at the Fairytale Fashion show with EL wire sewn into the dress from Wikimedia Commons

with tech like this (the Arduino Lilypad):
Wikimedia Commons: File:Lilypad Arduino with fading LEDs.jpg

Wikimedia Commons: File:Lilypad Arduino with fading LEDs.jpg

Now, I would LOVE to play a game that helped me learn how to do this!

Wearable tech is such a fascinating area, and I could see this being a really effective hook to interest teens. Gals making dynamite gowns and guys making superhero costumes or headgear?

It is probably almost impossible to stay ahead of the curve of what will be interesting to teens at the end of the game design process. Last year, a great idea would have been a team approach to developing technologies to keep your community safe from vampires or zombies. This year, that is SO last year! 😉 So now I am thinking, how to come up with an idea that stays ahead of that curve? I am sure I don’t have the answer, but I am pondering the potential future roles of women in settling Mars (per Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy) or in addressing the social and technological issues of responding to the Singularity (per Ballantyne’s Recursion trilogy or Sawyer’s Wake, Watch, Wonder trilogy or Gibson’s Neuromancer trilogy). Or maybe something about nanotech and its integration in cosmetics and skin care products?


pfanderson @ Preso on #socmed in #engineering #education > Kids usually come into computer science & programming through coding #umttc

pfanderson Need more WOMEN in game design > #umttc

pfanderson Game design now largely team based, project oriented. The cool part of engineering is doing cool things that matter in real life #umttc

pfanderson “Why is CompSci a good field for women? That’s where jobs are, and for another, pay is better, easier to combine career & family” #umttc

pfanderson Toby Saulnier of 1st Playable Productions how to change game design for girls #umttc

pfanderson Girls: customize avatars, don’t destroy them; relatable dilemmas; no sequels; RL variations; social issues. Look at books girls read #umttc

pfanderson Gaming girls like: accomplishments, overcome obstacles, solve real probs, independence, friendship probs, pesky sibs, boys as friends #umttc

pfanderson Bruce Maxim observes: Boy scouts teaches leadership; Girl scouts teaches service. Ahem. #umttc

pfanderson Game mechanics are rules, user actions designed to produce gameplay. Compare a museum trip to a scavenger hunt as VW vs games. #umttc

pfanderson Immersiveness in simulated environments increase leaning speed & retension. Stdts play games for hours, class attention = 15 minutes #umttc

pfanderson Game Motivation: competition, challenge, social, diversion, fantasy, knowledge, control, skills, motor skills #umttc

lavika RT @pfanderson: Bruce Maxim observes: Boy scouts teaches leadership; Girl scouts teaches service. Ahem. #umttc

pfanderson Collect analytics during game play to find out what is most interesting to people #umttc

pfanderson Engineering as game, collaboration: creativity, vision, leadership, teamwork, planning, management, design process #umttc USEFUL Artifacts

pfanderson Game: trading, auctions, customization, FB integration, persistent data, team mgmt, time mgmt, budget mgmt, marketplace, design/test #umttc

pfanderson Girl engineering game: level up, build colony, increase STEM knowledge, complete projects under budget/time #umttc

pfanderson AI players allow single player, focus> multiplayer gameplay. Space colony, space ships. Economy. (reputation, experience, leadership) #umttc

pfanderson Core engineering concepts in game: storyboard, salvage, rework, training, skilled upgrade, inventory. Online friend actions visible #umttc

pfanderson Session on game to recruit girls to engineering #umttc (@ Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library w/ 2 others) [pic]:

alalibraryval RT @pfanderson: Need more WOMEN in game design > #umttc

navi RT @pfanderson: Need more WOMEN in game design > #umttc

HealthyNJ_UMDNJ RT @pfanderson: Need more WOMEN in game design > #umttc

seekimafone RT @pfanderson: Need more WOMEN in game design > #umttc

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