Metatuning game construction learning: underrepresented youths’ designing for cultural and social transformations

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Cooke, Laquana
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Communication and rhetoric
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While K-12 STEM education (STEM Ed) test scores have been steadily improving over the past decade in the United States, achievement gaps remain among minorities and women in STEM courses and careers. Numerous factors contribute to these disparities that impede learning, such as poverty, low socio-economic status, and other cultural factors. Difficulties in STEM Ed engagement and participation are often due to decontextualization, that is, the incongruity between the educational context and the students' individual learning processes. Various existing game-based learning methods provide youth with extrinsically motivating knowledge frameworks for learning STEM Ed; however, research has demonstrated that even these approaches often are disconnected from students’ social and cultural realities. For instance, game-based learning approaches that seek to address the STEM Ed disparities tend to address problems of access in limited ways.
This contradiction is central to this dissertation and the conceptualization of Game Construction Learning, a school of thought that is concerned with personal, spatial, and social transformations of learning through game-design practices. GCL is facilitated through metatuning—a game-based learning approach that aims to empower underrepresented youth to discover their identities as agents of social change. Based on a designed multi-site research study, this dissertation describes how metatuning was used to foster intrinsically motivated learning environments, where 34 underrepresented youths collaboratively and iteratively designed social justice-themed games that empowered them as game designers, programmers, and critical citizens. This research argues that the failures and successes of metatuning construct a critical framework that can be employed for future research and games design as educational programming developments.
Although youth are given access to media that allow them to interface with STEM and STEM professionals, these approaches are still situated outside of the contextual issues of games culture, games development culture, and the disparities that abound in both: there is a very little chance that underrepresented youth will navigate computational worlds with protagonists that culturally and ethnically represent them. There is even less chance that these youths reflect the demographics of the developers that created the games. Underrepresented youth lack the undergirding STEM knowledge of the games they engage with on a daily basis. In addition, games lack the social and ethical standards needed to generate more socially aware approaches to these STEM and sociocultural disparities.
August 2016
School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences
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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY
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