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Running Head: ENGAGING GIRLS IN P
ROGRAMMING WITH GAME DESIGN

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Engaging Girls in Computer Programming Using Video Game Design

A Review of Literature

Josie Kirkland

Saint Mary’s College of California








Running Head: ENGAGING GIRLS IN P
ROGRAMMING WITH GAME DESIGN

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Engaging Girls in Computer
Programming Using Video Game Design


This literature review will discuss the efficacy of using video game programming
as an attractor and entry point to engage middle
-

and high
-
school girls in a computer
science curriculum. The review begins by
exploring

historical trends of female
participation in the technology industry and in computer science programs at the high
-
school and collegiate levels, and the impact these trends have on women’s opportunities
.
For additional background context, t
he review will t
hen
review a number of empirical
studies regarding

girls’

attitudes
toward computer science, as well as environmental and
social influences that impact
their

participation in the field.

It will then identify
the
educational and social goals of increased fe
male participation in the computer science
curriculum and
briefly
discuss various potential attractors that have been under
investigation. Finally, the review will
describe

specific research studies

that explore

both
how effective the teaching of computer
game design is in attracting female students to a
computer science course of study, as well as its efficacy in teaching important computer
science concepts.

Trends in Female Participation in Computer Science


The
U.S. Department of Labor
predicts

that
,

despite the burst of the dot
-
com
bubble in 2000
-
2001, information technology is still one of our fastest growing economic
sectors

(C
arbonaro
, Szafron, Cutumisu, and Schaeffer
, 2010
)
.

It is projected that from
2008 to 2016 there will be a 29%
-

38% increas
e demand for computer system analysts
and software engineers in the United States workforce,
yet

even while demand is
increasing
, women continue to be underrepresented in computing
industries



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(Bu
z
zetto
-
More
, Ukoha, and Rustagi
, 2010
).
Even though wome
n comprised
almost

half
of the total U.S. workforce in 2000, they constituted less than 30% of the information
technology wor
kforce (Pap
astergiou
, 2008
)
.

Female
participation in many

other

science
and engineering fields has gradually increased

over time
,
y
et
the percentage of women in
information technology has

on the contrary

decreased: as of 2010, women comprise only
20.9% of computer software engineers
(
Dentith
, 2008
)
.

This persistent shortage of
women in the field of information technology has obvious i
mpact on the employment
opportunities available to women, but also has a negative
impact on the industry itself,


depriving the information technology industry of potentially intelligent and
competent workers as well as of a more diverse range of
experience, creativity,
and expertise […] it is imperative that both men and women participate in the
design and development of information systems so that these syst
ems cover the
needs of everyone

(P
apastergio
, 2008
, p. 595
)
.



The
shortage of female
inv
olvement

in the
computing
industry is predicted by a
corollary underrepresentation of girls in the field during middle school and high school,
with women accounting for only 17% of the high school students who take advanced
placement exams in computer scie
nce (de Palma
, 2001
)
.

At the college level, female
enrollment in computer s
cience departments has de
clined sharply

si
nce 1985, despite the
increasingly promising
career prospects of that period

(
de Palma
, 2001
)
.

As of 2009, less
than 20% of undergraduate d
egrees in computer science were granted to women
, and
enroll
ment continues to decline at a significant rate (Cheryan
, Meltzoff, & Kim
, 2010
).

Girls
, at all levels of schooling, are less likely than
boys

to choose courses related to
Running Head: ENGAGING GIRLS IN P
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computer science, and th
is gender difference becomes increasingly pronounced at higher
levels of education (
C
rombie
, 1999
). But in our increasingly technological society,
computer literacy is emerging as a requirement for entry and success in many
occupations beyond the realm of
computer science itself, joinin
g mathematics as a new
filter
restricting
the
educational and career choices of secondary and university students
(
Campbell

& Williams
, 1990
).


Causes of Low Female Participation


In spite of the increasing importanc
e of dev
eloping computer skills,

girls choose
not to enroll in high school computer classes, thus not only continuing to be
underrepresented in the computer science field after graduation, but also finding
themselves restricted from many other new careers which re
quire a high level of
technological fluency.
In order to address the declining rates of female enrollment in
computer science classes, it is necessary to identify the
root
causes of this low
level of
participation.

Numerous studies internationally have exp
lored the perc
eptions and
attitudes that seem

to be in play here. The

following are a small selection of those
research projects.

Perception of computing as boring, repellent, irrelevant


In one study, researchers collected quantitative survey data from 1
453 junior and
senior girls in 26 public and private high schools throughout Queensland, Australia;
approximately 10% of participants were enrol
led in computer science courses

(Anderson,

Lankshear, Timms, and Courtney,

2008).

When citing reasons that they had opted not to
enroll in computer classes,
participants who chose not to take computer science
did not
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seem to be influenced by pressure from friends, counselors, or family, nor did they admit
any mathematics
-
related intimi
dation, and most said they had access to a computer at
home. The study did, however, identify three important factors which correlated with the
non
-
takers’ avoidance of computer classes: an opinion that computer science was boring,
a strong aversion to com
puters in general, and a perception that computers would not be
relevant to their chosen career paths (Anderson

et al.
, 2008).

Perception of computing as a masculine field


Durin
g the 2005
-
2006 school year, Marina
Papastergiou

(2008)

performed a study
of 3
58
senior high school
students (177 boys and 181 girls) from five randomly selected
public schools
in Central Greece, eliciting both quantitative and qualitative data via a
questionnaire. This survey investigated students’ participation in computer science

courses at school, their intentions and motivations toward pursuing computer science at
an advanced level, potential family and scholastic influences on their career choices, their
perceptions of the CS and IT professions, computer use in the home, self
-
e
fficacy beliefs
regarding computers, and any gender differences with regard to these issues. Of those
studied, boys were three times more likely to intend to study CS at an advanced level
.
Boys were

more likely to view computer science as a human
-

and appl
ication
-

oriented
realm, considering it prestigious, creative, competitive, and multi
-
faceted, while girls
tended to view computer science as a challenging, machine
-

and programming
-

oriented
discipline, with less positive views of the IT profession.
Girls

who indicated intent to
study computer science

overwhelmingly (80%) cited employment opportunities as their
primary motivation, whereas boys were evenly split between employment opportunities
Running Head: ENGAGING GIRLS IN P
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(54%) and a strong personal interest in computers as a hobby si
nce childhood (52%).
While students did not, as a whole, believe that CS was more appropriate a profession for
men than for women,
b
oys tended to hold more sex
-
stereotypical views of IT and CS as
masculine fields

and felt a personal connection to the mater
ial which girls

seemed to lack.
Papastergiou

suggest
s

that this
, along with a dearth of female teachers serving as role
models in the field,

could

be a factor inhibiting girls who may feel embarrassed to enter a
territory that boys consider more their own
(Papastergiou, 2008).


Learning environment

and “nerd” stereotypes


Female r
e
sponse

to the stereotypical depiction of computing
was further explored
in a 2009 behavioral experiment at the University of Washington (Cheryan

et al.
, 2011).
In the study, 63
non
-
computer science majors were exposed to three different “virtual
learning environments” and then questioned about their subsequent interest in enrolling
in that online computer science course. The classrooms were identical except for
nonfunctional deco
rative objects contained within them. One contained objects
stereotypically a
ssociated with computer science, such as

science fiction books, computer
parts, electronics, technology magazines, video games, and Star Wars and Star Trek items
,
while another cl
assroom was decorated

with non
-
stereotypical objects, including

water
bottles, a coffee maker, art and nature pictures, lamps, pens, and plants. A final control
classroom was left empty except for furniture.
After being invited to visit the classrooms
in a

randomly selected order, participants were asked how interested they were in taking
each of the classes, as well as how well they expected to perform in the classes, and
whether they considered each of the classrooms masculine or feminine.

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Cheryan et al.

(2011) found that b
oth male and female participants significantly
identified

the stereotypical room as more masculine, and the non
-
stereotypical class was
identified as feminine. When asked which class they
would be

more interested in
attending, men expre
ssed equal preference

in both the stereotypical and non
-
stereotypical
classrooms
, while women
expressed considerably less interest

in the stereotypical
class
room
. Women also felt less “ambient belonging” in the stereotypical classroom,
which significantly
predicted anticipated success as well: women expected
that they
would

perform less successfully

in the class with the stereotypical
environment,

while
men expected t
hat they would

perform equally
well in both the stereotypical and non
-
stereotypical
classrooms (Cheryan

et al.
, 2011).

Self
-
perception, self
-
efficacy, and self
-
confidence


In another quantitative study

(Campbell & Williams, 1990)
, 160 students in
gr
a
des 10
-
12 at a high school in a large American city were
questioned using an
instrument de
signed to determine their perceptions of cause in various hypothetical
events, to see whether success or failure in the posited events would be attributed to
ability, effort, difficulty of the task,
or

the
work
environment. These perceptions were
then mapp
ed against self
-
reported measures of personal proficiency, coursework taken,
stereotyping of computers as a male domain, and pe
rceived usefulness of computers

(Campbell

& Williams
, 1990).

The results of the
Campbell and Williams
study
(1990)
suggest that v
ariability in
enrollment in computer courses can be partially explained by an attitude of anxiety and
students’ perception of their own proficiencies
.
Students who expressed less confidence
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with computers were also more likel
y

to interpret negative outcome
s as personal failures

or an innate lack of talent
, while more confident students would more likely attribute
those failures to external circumstances
.

In addition, confidence with computers seemed
positively related to the
extent

of
students’ prior
experi
ence with computers. The
researchers conclude with a recommendation that computer coursework should take place
in an environment providing a high probability of success, to increase students’ levels of
confidence, and should stress the enjoyment and utilit
y which on
e may experience with
computers.
I
nterestingly,
though,
anxiety level also had a positive contribution to
perceived computer proficiency; students felt more proficient if they believed that their
own efforts and talents contributed to the success of a task,
rather than

the task merely
being easy
(Campbell & Wil
liams, 1990).

Increased Participation

through

Video Game Programming


With the need for increased female participation in computer science programs
having been well
-
established, researchers and educators have considered a number of
different strategies for

both attracting girls to computer courses, as well as various ways
to retain girls and provide them with positive learning experiences to assure that they
thrive in those programs. Attractors under investigation include service
-
learning projects
(Dahlberg
,
Barnes, Buch, and Beane,
2010), collaborative and team
-

and partner
-
programming projects

(Cunningham, 2011)
, and story
-
telling projects in which students
use a programming environment to develop and present a narrative

(Baytak

& Land
,
2011
)
.

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One attract
or that has been
recently generating a great deal of

interest, but has not
yet been widely explored
,

is that of video game design and programming.

At first blush,
it may seem counter
-
intuitive that gaming would be under consideration as an attractor
for gi
rls: females are underrepresented within the video game industry, accounting for
only 38% of the total game market, and only 12% of game designers are women
(Cunningham, 2011).
Most

current
research focuses on
girls’ roles as video game
consumers rather th
an their participation as video game designers (Cunningham, 2011).
However, some studies have suggested that, while girls are not enthusiastic about the

video game market, they enjoy and benefit

from the design and construction of
their own

original
games
(Denner,
Werner, Beane, and Campe,

2005).

Theory and terminology

Constructivist learning theory posits that knowledge is built by the learner, often
in a social context (Vygotsky, 1978). Constructionism

further argues that the process of
building knowledge can be promoted by creative acts and construction of things, such as
stories, programs, machines, toys, and so on. Constructing a video game is a considerably
different process than playing with the ga
me, and even though boys typically play video
games for considerably more hours than girls do, there is no difference in their ability to
successfully construct games, and research suggests that girls greatly prefer creating
games to actually playing those

available on the market (Carbonaro

et al.
, 2010).


For the purposes of this review, video game design refers to the act of using one
of several available computer programming environments to design and implement an
interactive game, in which an end user “plays” the game to achieve some goal. Tasks
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involved

in design and implementation range from story
-
boarding and creation of graphic
elements, through the use of programming structures to satisfy mechanical and interactive
needs (collision detection, event loops, response to input, etc.), on to testing,
trou
ble
-
shooting, debugging, and receiving feedback from users

.
The resulting games
, while
creative,

typically fit

commonly
classic

“arcade game” archetypes
.

Social and pedagogical g
oals

Goals for the use of game design in computer science instruction are bot
h social
and pedagogical
. Soci
al goals include the desires to include more girls in classes,

expose
girls t
o computing in a positive light, and promote a sense of confidence and
self
-
efficacy,
as well as promote

enjoyment of computers

and facilitate collab
oration and
socialization
.
A broader social goal is to

instill
a sense of belonging within
the
greater
computer
community
, dispelling stereotypes of the masculine computer geek and allowing girls to
comfortably appropriate computer fluency into their own
identities
.

These
ambitions
toward inclusiveness and community

cannot, of course, be emphasized to the detriment
of pedagogical goals
, which include

promotion
of higher
-
order thinking skills,

acquisition
and practiced application of
abstract

programming co
ncepts
(
including sequential code
execution, loops, conditional statements, variables, user interaction, threading, broadcast
and synchronization e
vents, Boolean logic, and so on),

problem s
olving and debugging
strategies,

and
exposure to

technological ind
ustry

skills

such as documentation,
collaboration, and asset and workflow management.

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Research

and results


In one quantitative research study, fifty 10
th

grade students from two English
classes used a selected programming environment to author interactiv
e adventure games

(Carbonaro

et al
.
, 2009)
. There were 24 female and 26 male participants; 14 were fluent
in at least one language other than English. Each class was from a different high school in
a suburban middle class neighborhood of Edmonton, Canada,
and most of the students
had no previous formal experience with programming.

Over the course of twelve hours of
tutorials and construction, participants created an interactive adventure game, and then
filled out exit surveys about their enjoyment of the ac
tivity, as well as a rubric of
computer science and higher
-
order thinking skills involved in the authorship
and
playability of their games (Carbonaro et al., 2009).

Results
of this study
suggest that the game authoring activity stimulates higher
-
order thin
king skills, with games written by females scoring significantly higher on this
scale; both groups demonstrated the acquisition of several programming abstractions as
well. 72% of the students indicated that they enjoyed writing an adventure game

at the
le
vel of “some”, “quite a bit”, or “a huge amount,” with both males and females enjoying
the activity, and a majority of students preferring the adventure game activity more than
traditional story
-
writing activities. The researchers conclude that their resul
ts seem to
support the contention that computer game construction is a viable activity for teaching
higher
-
order thinking, computer science abstraction skills, as well as enjoyable for both
girls and boys (Carbonaro et al
.
, 2009
)
.


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In a 2011
quantitative
s
tudy

exploring whether game design supported the
learning of computer science concepts
,
the participants were
59
sixth
-

to eighth
-

grade
girls
enrolled in

a
n informal,

voluntary after
-
school program focused on computer game
programming

(
Denner et al., 2012
.)

The

study took place in California,

with 72% of
participants self
-
identifying

as Latina and 22% as white
. During the course of the
program, the girls each created between one and five games corresponding to four
different game genres, with
few specific
technical requirements
; most games were
programmed by a pair of students in collaboration. A total of 108 games were analyzed
according to a coding scheme within the categories of programming, documenting and
understanding software, and usability design.
The researchers found great variation in
the extent to which participants incorporated computer science constructs in their games,
and con
cl
ude that, while game
design can certainly provide the opportunity to learn and
measure understan
ding of computer sci
ence concepts,
the process requires more
extensive instructional support and more strict requirements than were provided in the
casual environment of this study (Denn
er et al., 2012
)
.


In another quantitative study of a voluntary after
-
school program, midd
le school
girls worked in pairs on the design and construction of interactive narrative computer
games (Werner
, Campe, and Denner,

2005.) A total of 33 games from three
implementation cycles were examined according to an IT fluency domain map
. The
research
ers report that all of the girls acquired the fundamental concepts of algorithmic
thinking, and many additionally demonstrated understanding of information organization,
collaboration, navigating workflows and assessing quality of information, and modeling

and abstraction.

(Werner 2005.)

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As previously mentioned, the goals of motivating girls into participating in a
computer science curriculum needs to be mediated though tools that make the subject
matter accessible to students who do not have the same intim
ate personal history with
computers as has traditionally been expected.
In a recent case study, a class of 5
th

grade
boys and girls were introduced to programming using the

Scratch


visual programming
interface
, one of several new environments designed to

make programming less
syntactically
-
demanding and allowing easier access to the underlying logical structures.

(Baytak
& Land,

2011). None of the girls
in the study
had any prior exposure to
programming, yet all students were able to program a functional
game after the tenth
design session. The games were then quantitatively analyzed for frequency counts of
programming concepts evident in their design. Based on the

researchers’

analysis, girls
used more programming concepts than boys, as well as more sprit
es, statements, Boolean
expressions, conditionals, broadcast commands, and loops in their games. The girls
demonstrated obvious improvement in their computer skills, and all the girls’ games
performed according to specifications designated in the assignme
nt. Qualitative
observations were made as well: positive social practices related to programming were
observed: girls collaborated and shared knowledge and strategies, and performed
informal design review. The researchers conclude that this case study prov
ides some
exploratory support for the potential of using game design
in Scratch
as a vehicle to
engage and support girls in learning computer programming (Baytak
& Land,

2011).

Additional studies have explored the efficacy of specific programming
environme
nts conducive to game development in exposing older students to computer
science concepts.
During an experimental deployment at Harvard Summer School, the
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Scratch

programming environment was used to expose non
-
majors to computer
programming and assess whet
her it improved their experiences later, when
moving on

to
the increased rigors
of Java

(Malan & Leitner, 2007
)
.

Students were introduced to
Scratch for the duration of two lectures and two problem sets, and then transitioned to
Java for the remainder of
the course. At the end of the program, 76% of the 25
participants indicated that Scratch had a positive influence on their subsequent experience
with Java; the students who had a neutral reaction, interestingly, admitted to prior
programming experience, w
hile the two negative respondents said that Scratch was very
enjoyable and made Java less enjoyable in co
ntrast

(Malan & Leitner, 2007.)

Another study looked at the use of Scratch in a casual after
-
school technology
center catering to youth of color from

ages 8
-
18 (Maloney
, Peppler, Kafai, Resnick, and
Rusk
, 2008). In this quantitative study,
374 completed

programming projects were
collected from 80 evenly
-
mixed boys and girls over the course of two years, and then
analyzed to quantify the use of various
programming concepts.

The majority of projects
were game
-
like. All of the projects made use of sequential execution and most showed
use of multiple threads. User interaction, loops, conditional statements, and
synchronization commands were also frequently

employed, with more sophisticated
structure being utilized more often as time progressed. The researchers found the
participants’ use of the less easily discovered concepts surprising since the participants
lacked any formal background or instruction in p
ro
gramming, and conclude that Scratch
and similar multi
-
media and game
-
oriented languages have potential as entry points to
more sophisticated computer science concepts

(Maloney et al., 2008).

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Conclusion

As our society becomes more technologically demanding, computer knowledge
and skills are increasingly important for secondary students, especially girls, who have
historically found themselves limited in their educational and career choices due to lack
of
exposure. To increase female engagement with computers, it is important to provide
entry points that attract and engage girls, as well as expose them to the fundamental
computer skills and technological fluency they need to thrive at higher level studies a
nd
in the technology sector. An introduction to computer programming through video game
design is one such attractor which, while new and inadequately explored, shows great
promise both in effectively introducing important programming concepts in a way tha
t is
appealing and enjoyable, with gender
-
neutral appeal.

Meanwhile, several new programming environments are currently being
introduced which hold great promise for increased accessibility.
Much

re
search has yet

to
be done

regarding the efficacy of
these

new languages and game design projects

in
attracting and retaining girls and other traditionally underrepresented student populations
,
esp
ecially at the secondary level. A
s
high school
computer science courses become more
widesp
read,
the need for strategi
cally
designed and u
niversally accessible curricula
will
increase
.

Gender disparity in computer science negatively impacts the economy,
opportunities available to women, technological innovation, and scientific progress in
general. Any movement toward incr
easing diversity in the computer science field will
benefit all of society, according to Microsoft senior research program manager Jane Prey
(2009): “what works for women works for society.”

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rombie, G. (1999).
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Running Head: ENGAGING GIRLS IN P
ROGRAMMING WITH GAME DESIGN

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