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Using Social Media to Teach Engineering Process


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Talk given May 11, 2012 at Enriching Scholarship 2012, University of Michigan.
This session will focus on leveraging social media and online gaming to attract more women and other underrepresented groups to engineering professions. The slides contains examples from a Facebook game underdevelopment to illustrate how engineering educators can expose new audiences of potential students to professional engineering skills like leadership, teamwork, and project management.

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Using Social Media to Teach Engineering Process

  1. 1. Using Social Media to Teach Engineering ProcessBruce R. Maxim, Margaret Turton & Wassim M. Nahle 1
  2. 2. Background• We need more young people to consider studying engineering in college• Boys interested in games often pursue other computing activities including programming• Computer game playing can provide girls with positive problem-solving experiences that may result in better computer science grades• Of course there are some concerns that game playing can promote aggression and gender stereotyping 2
  3. 3. Background (Madeline Kunin – Huffington Post)• If more video games were created by women violence and violence against women in video games might be reduced• Computer science is one avenue for women to enter the game field, yet enrollment seems to be falling• Boys are introduced to games by playing them, when women create games girls may be more likely to be attracted to games and computer science 3
  4. 4. Background• Problem-based and project-based learning methods are conducive to acquiring social and interpersonal skills which are valuable in the work place• Project-based learning may also be helpful in increasing gender diversity in engineering programs• Diverse teams which solicit viewpoints from its members may be able to create products for broader markets than those that do not 4
  5. 5. Background• Females enjoy computing activities that are both social an collaborative• Engineering provides many design and creative elements, often not recognised by people outside of the field• 55% of all social gamers in the United States are female• While only 6% of all social gamers are under the age of 21, that is still a substantial number of potential players (Zynga games have 5M users each month) 5
  6. 6. Girls and Commercial Games (Tobi Saulnier 1st Playable Productions)• Girls like to customize their avatars and do not to see them destroyed• Girls like relatable dilemmas in games• Girls do not like sequels• Girls are buying games that variations of traditional real life play• It is impossible to ignore societal pressure (nurturance, family, friends)• Might be good to look at themes present in the books girls read 6
  7. 7. Girls’ Literature Themes (Tobi Saulnier 1st Playable Productions)• Earning accomplishments• Overcoming obstacles• Solving real problems• Becoming independent• Friendship dilemmas• Pesky siblings• Boys as friends 7
  8. 8. Serious Games• Serious games make use of the artistic medium of games, to deliver a message, teach a lesson, or provide an experience• Games (unlike virtual worlds) have stated objectives and rules for attaining the objectives• Game mechanics are rules and user actions designed to produce the gameplay 8
  9. 9. Immersion• Immersion in simulated environments can increase learning speed and retention for some tasks• Computer games can engage students for hours, while classroom activities may only hold their attention for 15 minutes• Of course some people feel game playing can become additictive 9
  10. 10. Game Playing Motivations• Competition• Challenge• Social Interaction (professional skills, social outcomes)• Diversion (passing time, relieving boredom)• Fantasy (escaping reality by immersion)• Knowledge application (sports)• Sense of Control (over environment and players)• Acquiring motor skills (gesture –based game play) 10
  11. 11. Attitudes• There has been some research that students attitudes toward learning can affect their cognitive development• It is our belief that changing student attitudes towards the field of engineering is essential to pursuing it as a career• Preliminary data collected from high school students attending CIS events suggest that it may be possible to improve student attitudes towards considering computing as a career 11
  12. 12. Approach• Our general approach is to have UM-Dearborn students create an engineering process game• The goal of the game is to expose a large number of technologically savvy young adults to this game on Facebook• Our vision is to build a community of virtual engineers who can make and collaborate with friends around the globe• Analytics collected during game play may provide us with insights into what types of engineering activities that are attractive to young people 12
  13. 13. Game Concept• We want people to experience the richness the engineering profession by participating in a game experience.• A major goal of this game is to expose players to the engineering design process by introducing concepts such as design, leadership, teamwork, planning, and management.• We want to emphasize engineering as a collaborative profession where practitioners use their creativity to helping people by designing useful artifacts
  14. 14. Game Premise• Strategy-based Facebook game aimed at young adults.• Goal of this game is to expose players to the engineering design process by introducing concepts such as design, leadership, teamwork, planning, and management.• The task at hand for player is to take the reigns as a project manager.
  15. 15. About the Game• The primary game audience is students in high school and the first two years of college• We are working to make this game a female friendly game that will be attractive to all students• We want to expose game players to activities in fields like Software Engineering and Mechanical Engineering, but also Math, and Science.
  16. 16. Game Features• Engineering Design Process• Trading with other Players via Auctions• Avatar Customization• Facebook Integration• Persistent Data• Team Management• Time Management• Budget Management• Designing, Testing, Managing Projects• Marketplace to buy parts and services
  17. 17. Gameplay Objectives• Increase player Character’s Level to unlock more artifact construction projects.• Build up your colony by completing artifacts.• Increase your knowledge of STEM content by completing mathematics and science challenges.• Develop your personal project management skills (people, budget, time).
  18. 18. Story and Narrative• Back story • The player is asked to manage several projects involving building a rocket ship to travel from Earth to colonize another planet. Once on the planet several engineering projects will need to be completed to survive on the planet.• Plot Elements • Guide the player along in the tutorial level. Provide suggestions on projects and tasks to undertake.• Game Progression • Like many Facebook games. Increase your level, finish tasks, complete projects, etc.
  19. 19. Characters• Player Avatars • Unique to each player (multiplayer game play possible)• Non-Player Characters • AI players to allow one person play• Teacher • Guides you through the tutorial level and introduces features added to new levels
  20. 20. Player Role• Player serves as a project manager during the tutorial level and leads a team to test and repair a rocket.• Once the rocket is completed players set off to their new colony to lead teams and manage projects that produce a successful colony.• Players can focus on their own colonies or try and help other player’s with their colonies by selling, trading, or working for/with them.
  21. 21. Game Mechanics• Genre: Strategy Social Network Game • simulation, educational, role play game• Movement• Point and click.• Path adjusted at time of click using A* algorithm.• Automatic collision avoidance.• Economy• Player will have a base income per day.• Different artifacts will increase money in different ways.• Player can supplement income by selling items and by working on other players projects.• Ideally project completion will be more important to students than dollars earned (affects reputation, experience, leadership, etc.)
  22. 22. Development Tools
  23. 23. User Interface Elements• Graphical User Interface• Player Information• Chat System • Join / leave text-based chat • Private messaging• View Inventory• View Market• View Projects• Tutorial Training Level• Adaptive Help System
  24. 24. Game Architecture• The game is extensible in nature with the idea that other features and levels can be added at a later time.• The game will be created for and playable on Facebook.• The primary language used to create this game will be Actionscript 3.0 utilizing the Flixel Engine.• Playerio will handle much of the interaction between players and any persistent data needed to be saved.
  25. 25. Screen Flow
  26. 26. Game Subsystems• Avatar Creation – name, gender, ethnicity, clothing, job family• Project Management – the main user screen allows players to select and manage projects• Team Management – team members hired based on skill set, cost, availability• Communication – allows players to hire or fire team members, as well as barter for goods• Marketplace – interfaces with player inventory, items or NPC’s can be purchased 26
  27. 27. Starting the GameCreate an avatar of eithergender. You can set thecharacters appearance and jobfamily.
  28. 28. Welcome Team Member
  29. 29. RocketAll major components need to be to tested, repaired, andassembled to launch your working rocket.
  30. 30. Project Underway
  31. 31. Project Management ScreenView current projectsSwitch between active projectsCreate new projectManage current team
  32. 32. Completing Any ProjectHire a team of engineersSalvage , trade, or buy the components
  33. 33. Project Selection
  34. 34. Staff Selection
  35. 35. Hiring StaffCreate skilled (and affordable) staff based upon theiravailability, training, and level of experience (determinessalary) 
  36. 36. Team Complete
  37. 37. Inventory ScreenView / manage items
  38. 38. Parts Required
  39. 39. Marketplace ScreenPurchase / trade items
  40. 40. Parts Marketplace
  41. 41. Artifact Finished
  42. 42. Component Assembled
  43. 43. Assembling Artifact
  44. 44. Completed Artifact TestingWhen all four components are built and ready to go to the next phase testing
  45. 45. Troubleshooting
  46. 46. Rework or Salvage on Failure
  47. 47. Successful Test
  48. 48. Completed Projects
  49. 49. Current Status• We have created a first playable game prototype• The game has tutorial construction task, two artifact construction tasks, and two mini games to allow skill upgrades• The game is undergoing internal testing on Facebook• We are planning to begin the next iteration January 2013 49
  50. 50. Next Steps• Create math and science content modules• Richer set of artifacts to address need for broader gender appeal• Make the AI characters active participants in the project builds• Make actions of online friends visible in the game environment• Make use of younger guide, perhaps keyed to the gender of the player avatar or allow choice of guide from list 50
  51. 51. Next Steps• Create project authoring system to allow addition of focused sequences of engineering products by non-programmers• Switch to Unity 3D or as a game engine and look at tablet delivery options• Use Facebook (or another social media product) to promote the game and develop the community 51
  52. 52. Contact Information• Email: or or• Web Site:• Software Developers: Elizabeth Beddow, Devon Modlin, Eric Tucker, Ben Catt 52