I am Reynold Redekopp from the University of Manitoba where I work in the Faculty of Education – my teaching involves mainly a course called Teacher and Technology, but also a graduate course called Internet Pedagogy.
Glenn asked me write about the Girls In Gaming project that I have been involved with for the past 4 years – and I gladly do so!
Girls in Gaming is the brainchild Norm Lee through his work with MindSet – a part of the Manitoba Department of Innovation, Energy and Mines. He approached me in September of 2006 to assist him in identifying and organizing some schools in Winnipeg to participate in a program to promote female interest in technology careers. We wanted to show them that there are great career opportunities in the industry that do not involve sitting and typing in code all day. There is art, story, sound, design, production and more!
Getting girls involved in IT careers has always been a challenge and we sought to provide girls with a fun and interesting way to learn about and experience these opportunities. In so doing we hoped to help develop the pool of skilled employees for our IT industries in Manitoba. The program has run in Winnipeg since 2006, and we added a rural program in southern Manitoba in 2008 and this year we have added another section a bit further north in Swan River.
What do we do? For the most part our sessions are a combination of teaching the girls some aspect of game design as well as bringing in presenters from the gaming, video, or design fields. They talk about their career paths and what they love about their careers, and how our girls can get involved. There is always plenty of Q&A and our presenters have been very enthusiastic about participating and allowing the girls to contact them. We have even had a couple of girls arrange internships.
For the most part we use Flash and GameMaker for the game development part. We have learned that the girls are quite willing to learn the programming part (and are sometimes ahead of us), but that the frustration of ‘missing semicolons’ or ‘mismatched variable names’ was a real hindrance. GameMaker reduces some of this frustration at the beginner level, but you soon run into some complex problems there too.
So in addition to GameMaker we now come in with our own Flash game templates (developed by Robin and Sandy Debreuil) that the girls can modify easily and with reckless abandon, because they can always re-load the template. By the time they have made their adaptations it is often hard to recognize the original template.
The program has been successful in terms of maintaining the girls interest and in making them aware of the possibilities in the industry. There are also some interesting unintended effects – the development of small communities of girls with common interests. The comments that the girls post to the blog are quite different from boys! They are much more oriented toward the social aspect of the program and do not get into many technical details. This is significant in terms of how we want to show girls about the industry – that it is highly interactive, social environment and for the most part not an isolated “sit at the computer all day” way of work.
We average 15 – 20 girls per session along with 3 or 4 teachers (who are learning like crazy alongside the girls) and this year will run eight sessions. The organizers, presenters, the teachers and the girls have been very excited about the program since the beginning (and yes we get many complaints from the boys!!).
Questions and comments are welcome: rredekopp at gmail.com (you have to type the @ yourself. I get enough spam as it is J .)