It is tempting to presume our younger generation is instilled with a passion for tech by virtue of the digital golden era into which they have been born. However, as a computer science teacher, I have seen firsthand how high schoolers can sometimes be disengaged — or worse, feel alienated — from the world of computer science and technology. I have found that students can hold many misconceptions about computer science and the kinds of people who work in the sector and as a result, have a closed-off attitude toward the subject before they even enter the computer lab.
The transformative moment came when I decided to develop a project for my students to design and build their own video game, which they would then present at a tech-fair style expo — “NEXT,” or the Newington Expo of Technology. Harnessing something tangible that young people are already drawn to has proven to be the ideal tactic.
The project encourages students to think differently about the digital sector, inspires new understandings of inclusivity and adaptation, and ultimately helps them develop their digital and soft skillsets. Given the increasing employment opportunities in the tech sector, each of these lessons taught by the project seems indispensable to our students as they prepare to enter the workforce.
The project begins with a lesson on Universal Design, teaching students to think about how games can be made accessible to players of all demographics and abilities. The design phase shows the students the importance of considering consumer needs; not only what might be of interest to prospective players but also ensuring games are playable by a diverse array of people.
For instance, avoiding the use of certain color combinations to make the game accessible to those with visual impairments. However, this lesson also holds a deeper message for the students about how the tech world can and should adapt to accommodate all kinds of people and perspectives. Part of showing them that they, too, can work in this field has been showing them the future of technology lies in making sure everyone has a seat at the table.
The next step is to get groups of students working collaboratively to brainstorm a game concept, designing characters, settings and controls. As ever with group work, this entails communication, cooperation and compromise — skills no young person should leave school without. The coding begins in earnest as the students use Construct 3, a browser-based game design platform they can access from anywhere.
Following rounds of ‘beta-testing’ — troubleshooting and iterations for different solutions — the students are ready to present their games to the audience at NEXT. Giving young people the opportunity to learn how to present and speak publicly is an often-overlooked component of education, and the resulting boost to their confidence is invaluable.
NEXT creates a ripple effect throughout the school, as students who have not taken the class get to learn from their peers about their coding projects — opening their eyes to computer science and inspiring them to take an interest in the subject themselves.
The project has been a resounding success in developing students’ skills — technical and holistic — but it has also been instrumental in helping them to change their view on coding and computer science as prospective career paths. Not only do they now understand the range of interconnected careers open to them, from graphic design to pure coding, but they can also envisage themselves as the tech innovators of the future.