CALRG Conf: Digital Games, Gender and Learning in Engineering

Richard Joiner, Jo et al – Digital Games, Gender, and Learning in Engineering – do females benefits as much as males?

Work on Racing Academy.

UK context – STEM focus, interest in using video games to support learning of STEM, especially in the US (NSF committees). Reasons: video games part of kids’ lives; can be powerful learning; simulations give authentic, open-ended challenges;  research confirms benefits for situated learning. But some students don’t like or have access to games, concern that this particularly means girls. Early research (1980s) supported that boys more likely to have access, played for longer, preferred them more. But more recent research suggests female game playing is increasing. Lenhart et al (2008) found boys 99% played vs 94% girls. Evidence that females play casual games more than males. However, there are differences in amount of experience and type of playing – Heeter & Winn (2008) found male student logged thousands more hours of play than female student – so concern around video games in STEM education.

So question: are there differences?

Racing Academy – racing simulator. Players design cars to go as fast as they can and race against an AI car. Design process is intended to teach engineering – apply it to make it work better.

Study: Undergraduate engineering course, 143 males 15 females, 18.5-year-old. Pre/post test. Worked in teams of 3 and 4, project lasted 2 weeks. Grand prix at the end with a race-off.

Findings: Gender differences found – males more likely to play games, for longer, and different games. No differences in self-reported use of Racing Academy (no logging, alas); no gender differences in learning outcome; both improved. No gender differences in engineering identification – motivation towards study engineering (no improvement, but a ceiling effect). Only gender difference found: Female students thought Racing Academy was more useful to studies than male.

Conclusion: No evidence that video games detrimental to female students; appear to benefit as much as males; found it more motivating.

Big caveat: this is a group who’ve already chosen to do engineering. Hope to do an Open Day study – with females & males not yet committed to study engineering.

Didn’t find a big link between time spent playing and learning.


Jeff: Has electrical engineering background, engineers are fundamentally weird. Don’t know if this would transfer to other majors. Women engineers at Georgia Tech are very small percentage. Engineering students less social, those who stay work that way. Others who didn’t like the atmosphere have left – and those women (and perhaps some men) are a group who may be missing out.

Richard: Agree. This was a group of self-selecting engineering students. Would be interesting to explore:

Jo: Was done in the first year, as part of the induction exercise, so may have had people who were considering dropping out – might have included some ‘normal’ people.

Richard: Is an interesting question. Games are not universally seen as positive.

Anne: Maths, gaming have been connected. Interesting to bring in the design aspect, more creativity. Thought about comparing results between engineering and more creative design – e.g. fashion. Discipline difference might be stronger than gender?

Richard: Yes, would be interesting. Could do it in developmental psychology, designing children (!). Could use principles in other disciplines. Hard to do direct comparison since the games would be so different. Have done same task on different versions of a game, get very strong gender effects. So would expect strong difference.

Martin: Analogy to Pokemon, wouldn’t expect it to be racist, but racial inequality in terms of outcome. Biological model of gender, categories of difference. There are certain things it’s Ok for women to be seen doing; it’s dangerous to assume that a certain category of people can’t do it. But to choose to do it, and be seen to do it, is a different thing. So this group, where they opted-in, is different. Outside that to keep structural model of gender separate. Could find women capable of playing games but not saying they are, talk, justification might be gendered in a way that performance on the game might not be. Not saying biographies have no impact.

Someone: When ask people how much time they spend on games, it’s a self-description, and that’s gendered, so it’s not pure experience, it’s reports of experience. Sense of time might be highly gendered. If you ask game players what games they play they answer in generic categories. But new-to-games people or girls tend to mention titles. May be exactly the same games but represent the experience differently.

Richard: Literature says boys play more than girls:

Someone: A question of how you find out.

Richard: All show the same finding.

Someone: Self-reports are problematic.

Anne: Could be Ok, need to compare log analysis and self-reports.

Richard: Think log analysis would show the effect. Consistently shown in responses from his students. Not sure he’s asking in a way whereby they’d pretend not to be. Can you trust self-reports? Log record might show something different.

Someone: Solution isn’t logging, it’s interesting to see ..

Richard: Is interesting to explore why it’s Ok for males to say they play games in ways it isn’t for females.

Daisy: Had more male participants, wonder why? Isn’t the sample biased?

Richard: Was undergraduate engineering course composition. There is a gender bias. Arguable whether 15 women was enough. Is unbalanced. Had to work with evaluating a real course, but is a methodological problem.

Patrick: Has a daughter and a son, a balanced sample. Changes interesting – son skilled Xbox murderer, but daughter good at games in on the Wii, Club Penguin/online games that she’s spending time on. The marketing/producer people have realised they’ve been under-serving a market. So situation is changing. May have to do it all again.

Richard: Agree. Games important in learning roles. Girls and boys if playing different games will have impact on development, opportunities different. Is interesting.

Someone: Perceived game-playing experience compared with actual game-playing experience. Can collect data on student spending certain number of hours. Players may spend 8h/day, but don’t think so. Need to clarify. May think 8h/day not long because someone else plays much more. Showing off as a factor.

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Author: dougclow

Academic in the Institute of Educational Technology, the Open University, UK. Interested in technology-enhanced learning and learning analytics.