Recap: Exploring Collaborations Conference and GAMES Initiative Breakout Sessions

On Wednesday, December 4th The National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP) hosted their conference Exploring Collaborations: Successful Strategies for Increasing Equity and Access to STEM (PNW Collaborates). Here is a summary and some take away points from the day: 

  • There was an incredible breath and depth of education leadership, common experience, and commitment to STEM learning and engaging girls.
  • Diversity was a persistent topic; one key point made was that people from diverse backgrounds must be making the decisions, not just presented with them at the end to review.
  • The conference was a great networking opportunity and we met many leaders in the STEM and girls advocacy world.
  • Our GAMES Initiative break sessions were interesting especially because of the amount of non-gamers that really got what we were trying to do. Gamification is a know technique for accomplishing the GAMES Initiative and NGCP goals.
  • We significantly grew the GAMES Initiative network with girls, gaming, and STEM expertise to refine our thought strategies and heard many additional, unique perspectives.

For a more in depth play-by-play review, read on:

The NGCP brings together organizations throughout the United States that are committed to informing and encouraging girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). PNW Collaborates was a full-day conference of inspiring panels and thought-provoking sessions. We explored new research, learned about new initiatives, shared vital resources, and connected with community partners. Over 125 people from regional non-profit groups and school made for exciting opportunities to network and discuss joining forces on initiatives to increase girls’ advocacy and interest in STEM.

Girls Perspective Pannel
Girls Perspective Pannel

To start off the day Karen Peterson, Principal Investigator of The NGCP gave opening remarks and welcomed the participants to the conference. Then Jenny Lay-Furrie, Senior Director, Accessibly & Customer Partner Advocacy of Microsoft gave the opening welcome remarks regarding accessibility and advocacy. Next we heard from the “Girl Perspective” panel, a group of young ladies that talked about their interest and involvement in STEM at. One woman, Mayukha Vadari, a sophomore at Redmond HS said this, “In 4th grade the math club was half girls, by 8th grade I was the only girl.” Her and others comments made us laugh and think.

The next panel was “Girls and Gaming in Today’s World”, moderated by Dana Riley Black, Director for the Center for Inquiry Science at the Institute for Systems Biology. During the panel four experts in the gaming and STEM advocacy areas discussed their views on what the medium of gaming can do to improve girls’ access and interest in STEM. Megan Gaiser, Founder, Firelit Games and former CEO of Her Interactive, which produced the acclaimed Nancy Drew video games, was on the panel. Gaiser brought up unique points about the lack of women’s influence in the gaming industry and specifically in the educational gaming field, “We need to work with educators…the female perspective is just not there”. Trish Millines Dziko, Founder and CEO, Technology Access Foundation, made points about increasing the amount of women of color in STEM; she said to put diversity first when designing games, get people of color in at the design process not after the product is complete. Ellen Beeman, notable game developer, brought up points about using game analytics to improve access to STEM, “When designing games for education: what questions do you want to

Gaming and Girls Panel

answer? Keep them in mind for analytics”. Gaiser brought up another important point to increasing engagement of educational games, “We need games that are entertaining with an education aspect and not the other way around”.

After lunch we broke into two sets of three different breakout sessions. They included Afterschool Matters Fellowship Roundtables, Strategies for Engaging Diverse Girls, and The GAMES Initiative Working Session. The first GAMES Initiative Working Session focused on giving the overview, strategy development, and looking at research questions and how to provide outreach to girls. Tayloe Washburn, Dean and CEO of Northeastern University – Seattle led the session. We started with a review of the problem we are trying to address. The research demonstrates that by grade 9, over 80% of girls have turned away from an interest in STEM careers. The mission of The GAMES Initiative is develop one or more really fun and engrossing games that will, along with other STEM strategies, make a real impact in helping influence more girls to pursue STEM careers. We discussed the timetable and key steps to accomplishing this mission.

We then dove into the strategy of how The GAMES Initiative will accomplish its mission, using our five working groups. The first step is people; we have and will continue to build a regional and national network of skilled experts committed to The GAMES Initiative, which we call our Networking Working Group. The next step involves research and assessment. It is essential to understand the challenges, analyze the relevant data points, and craft a data-

The GAMES Initiative Strategy Session

driven approach to the design and implementation of The GAMES Initiative, our Research Working Group. The next step is bringing in gaming expertise, this will involve gaming leaders in decisions of strategy and the Game Jam process, vetting, and production and distribution of our final games, the Gamers Working Group. The next step is acquiring the required financial resources and to develop the funding base needed to carry out the research, production, and distribution of the GAMES Initiative projects, the Funding Working Group. The final and a very critical step is involving middle school-aged girls in every step of the process. Along with girls themselves we will involve experts on girls advocacy, making up our Girls Expertise and Advocacy Working Group.

After laying out the individual group mission for each groups we asked specific questions related to advancing the goals set forth. The areas that resulted in the most exciting conversations were related to research. Some questions included:

  • What can we learn from past efforts to develop games to promote girls interest in STEM?
  • How do we most effectively approach gaming companies to look at the their research data on girls + gaming?

We were thrilled at the amount of involvement and ideas that were brought up by the 40 participants at the strategy sessions.  One participant had the idea of including gaming companies in the process by having them write a part of the business plan to establish their own stake in the development of the Initiative. Another participant suggested we use market analysis to target specific mindsets and aspirations of girls. Yet another participant stated that we need to game to target girls but have it still appeal to boys as well.

Another set of questions that engaged the participants were ones related to the Girls Expertise and Advocacy Working Group. A couple of the questions phrased include:

  • How do we best ensure that The GAMES Initiative keeps a laser like focus on girls and STEM careers?
  • How do we most effectively engage girls from diverse backgrounds?

The participants delved into conversations about ways to keep girls involved and keep the focus on helping them. One participant said it was important to work with girls in schools with diverse communities. Another stated that by having girls involved from diverse background they would be willing to accept a variety of diverse outcomes. One point that was repeatedly brought up was how to get the final products in front of girls who do not have access to computers, tablets, and smart phones. Some responses to this subject involved creating a board game, either in hard copy or a PDF file that could be printed out and assembled. You can see the full presentation here.

After an hour of intense conversation we took a short break and returned for the second GAMES Initiative working session. The second session focused specifically on the Game Jam and design process and how to create access for girls of diverse backgrounds. John Williamson, experienced game designer and co-chair of the Gamers Working Groupgave background and an overview of the Game Jam process. A game jam is a gathering of game developers for the purpose of planning, designing, and creating one or more games within a short span of time, usually ranging between 24 to 48 hours. For our Game Jam we plan to involve many middle school-aged girls, the first step will be plot and strategy design. We are planning a Game Jam event for the spring that will accomplish this goal. We then dove into a series of questions including:

  • How do we best stimulate great ideas for our 2-3 games during the Game Jam phase?
  • How do we develop and grow a GAMES Initiative Community?

These questions also stimulated great conversations. Some points brought up included involving girls in voting for their favorite ideas. Polls are good tools at increasing engagement. An important point was that we must get girls involved in developing the plots if we want the plots to reach girls. One participant made a point that the way girls are playing games has changed so drastically in just three years and that we shouldn’t be afraid to throw out everything we know now because by the time we have created our end product the gaming landscape will be drastically different. You can view the full presentation here.

Dean Washburn presenting The GAMES Initiative to the Conference

After the breakout sessions Dean Washburn gave a presentation and overview of The GAMES Initiative to the entire conference. He focused on the strategy and how participants of the conference can get involved. His full presentation can be viewed here.

The day ended with closing remarks by Jacinda R. Chislum, Global Diversity & Inclusion Outreach Manager at Microsoft. She talked about ways to increase diversity and inclusion for girl from diverse backgrounds and Microsoft’s Digigirlz program.

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