Applying Game Design Principles for Supporting Computational Literacy Experiences in Museum Exhibits

Friday, September 1, 2017 to Monday, August 31, 2020
Resource Type:
Project Descriptions | Projects
Environment Type: 
Media and Technology, Games, Simulations, and Interactives, Exhibitions, Museum and Science Center Exhibits
Middle School Children (11-13) | Youth/Teen (up to 17) | Museum/ISE Professionals | Scientists | Evaluators | Learning Researchers
Computing and information science
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Becoming computationally literate is increasingly crucial to everyday life and to expanding workforce capacity. Research suggests that computational literacy--knowing what, when, how, and why to use the ideas of computer science, in combination with the capacity to view problems and potential solutions through the lens of computational structures and procedures--can be supported through digital game play. This project aims to develop a social and creative exhibit game that foregrounds aspects of computer science, specifically artificial intelligence (AI) and computer programming, in ways that enable youth to explore, construct, and share computational complex systems content with one another and other museum visitors. To play the game, pairs of youth visitors will use code cards to program the behavior of AI animals in a virtual forest. As they do so, youth will engage with computational literacy practices, such as basic computer programming, describing their computational ideas, and doing computational problem solving with their friends. Their activity will be projected on a large screen as a strategy for enabling youth to test, rehearse, and communicate their computational ideas and to also interest other visitors into computational problem solving.

Using multi-perspective and iterative design-based research, university learning scientists, museum practitioners, and game developers will pursue research questions around how science museums can better engage youth who are traditionally underrepresented in computer science in complex computational practices. Data sources will include interactive-log data, observations of visitor interactions with the game, visitor interviews, and visitor surveys. A multimodal and mixed methods approach that searches for convergences between qualitative analysis, quantitative analysis, and learning analytics will be used to generate research findings. Changes in computational literacy will be assessed by evaluating what problems visitors choose to solve with programming, how they frame those problems, and their selections from among possible solutions, what they program, how they program, and how they describe programming ideas. The results of this project will include: 1) a social, interactive gameplay experience that supports the development of computational literacy; 2) design principles for game-based exhibits that facilitate development of computational literacy; and 3) new knowledge of variations in design and gameplay across diverse gameplay users, including those from underrepresented groups in computer science. It is anticipated that 1,000 museum youth visitors will directly participate in the study.

This project is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants.

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Team Members

Matthew BerlandMatthew BerlandPrincipal Investigator
Leilah LyonsCo-Principal Investigator
Matthew CannadyMatthew CannadyCo-Principal Investigator

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