CCT conducted a two-year study to research features of games that affirm and support 8-to-14-year-old girls' positive notions of IT professions. The study drew on CCT's fifteen years of gender research, which suggests that the metaphors, types of activities, and strategies of gaming environments can play a critical role in promoting or inhibiting girls' engagement with technology. This body of research includes previous NSF-funded projects that have resulted in the creation of electronic environments that go beyond traditional boy or girl game paradigms and focus on construction, design, interactivity and troubleshooting skills - skills essential to higher-end information technology careers (e.g., networking and software design).
The study posited that electronic games afford opportunities for children to develop new relationships to technology. While much is known about general characteristics of games that appeal to girls and boys, there is little information about the specific game design features, characteristics, and problems that might successfully attract different children into information technology. We systematically studied how different metaphors, strategies, and activities for posing IT-related problems in electronic games may affect children's perceptions of IT careers and their willingness to engage in IT-related problems, with particular attention to the role of gender and class. Our hypothesis was that prevailing IT metaphors focus on the machines rather than on the problems to be solved, and that this emphasis contributes to girls' negative perceptions of the field. We believe that electronic gaming environments, with appropriate contexts and activities, can be powerful vehicles for building girls' IT interests. We further speculate that the career expectations of students may vary with class and may interact with gender; thus this study focused on girls and boys of varied socioeconomic groups. To gain this knowledge, the study consisted of two strands of research:
- Exploratory Research: Given the scarcity of research on children's perceptions of information technology, we conducted exploratory research with students who have elected to take IT courses and those who have not to identify girls' and boys' preconceptions of information technology, the kinds of skills they think they need to succeed in this field, and the prevailing metaphors they use to describe IT work they find compelling.
- Quasi-Experimental Game Research: Based on data gathered from phase one,we set up quasi-experimental game sessions to expose girls and boys from varied backgrounds to two game environments modified to include different types of metaphors and problem sets. We determined the impact of different designs on girls' and boys' perceptions of IT before and after participation in the game sessions.
This study informed our understanding of specific design criteria for game designers and practical guidance for educators interested in using games to foster children's IT skills and interests.