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The Pros and Cons of Using Gaming to Teach CS

I have just returned from the Game Development in Computer Science Education (GDCSE) conference. I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of the 10 Electronic Arts Scholars. The conference was sponsored by Microsoft and Electronic Arts in cooperation with ACM and SIGCSE. It was an intense conference and I did learn some interesting things.

* The game industry is now larger than the music industry. It became larger than the movie industry about 4 years ago.
* Making a game can cost 30 million dollars and many years of development.
* There are many different types of games from 2D arcade-style games, to role playing games, to first person shooters, to web-based games, to movement games (like the Wii), to serious games that try to help people change their behavior.
* Game developers need to know about networking, artificial intelligence, machine learning, physics, parallel programming, and more. Games also need artistic and creative people who can create compelling and fun experiences.
* I was glad to see more women and minorities than I had expected, but still the majority of the attendees were white males.

Some of the ways people are using games in CS education:

* as a few assignments in introductory computing courses. Kelvin Sung
* as a context for early computing courses or AI courses. Wanda Dann, Alice Project, Douglas Blank
* as a platform for learning computing concepts by having the students play games Tiffany Barnes
* as a course on game design for non-majors to try to draw them into computing Dianna Xu, Jim Whitehead
* as a degree program centered on games Michael Zyda and DigiPen
* using the flight simulator 3D world as the basis to improve global STEM education David Gibson

Overall, many of the talks were about fairly new initiatives with little evaluation. Many of the talks expect to offer more results in the following year. Some of the results that I found interesting were:

* Students didn't like doing just the hard back-end of a game Kelvin Sung. They want to be creative and not just program. Kevin Bierre
* Some students were discouraged because creating games is much harder, time consuming, and more tedious than they thought. Women are much less likely to want to make first person shooter games than men. Dianna Xu
* Some students are highly motivated by the context and come early and have to be thrown out to make room for the next class. This context appeals more to men (80%) than to women (20%). Jim Whitehead

In summary, it seems that games can serve as a context for some computing courses. Games courses and degree programs can attract more students to computing courses. But, one concern is that women are not as attracted to this context as men. There was a call for the creation of a game platform that was easier to use for computing education purposes.

For more information on this conference see https://www.msadgd08.net/Main.aspx.

Barb Ericson
CSTA Board Member

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