By JESSICA KIM COHEN
In an effort to develop new teaching methods, an initiative of the University of Chicago (U. of C.) is hosting more than 70 teenagers from local high schools for a free summer gaming program, titled “Project S.E.E.D.,” through Aug. 7.
Project S.E.E.D., which stands for Story Engineering and Enabling Device, is a project of the U. of C.’s Game Changer Chicago (GCC) Design Lab, a lab that uses games to teach youth about health and social issues. GCC was co-founded by the U. of C.’s Dr. Patrick Jagoda, Assistant Professor of English and an affiliate of Cinema and New Media Studies, and Dr. Melissa Gilliam, Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Pediatrics, Chief of the Section of Family Planning & Contraceptive Research, Director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry and Innovation in Sexual and Reproductive Health and Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion in the Biological Sciences Division.
Project S.E.E.D. uses storytelling and game design to bring STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and the humanities together, according to Jagoda. Students take part in an alternate-reality and transmedia game – meaning they connect with the game’s story in a variety of ways, including live-action interactions with actors, listening to radio transmissions and following Facebook pages of different characters.
After three weeks of playing Project S.E.E.D., participants will study game design and development, creating either a board game or a transmedia game focused around issues like social and emotional health, civic responsibility or social justice.
“It’s definitely a very different environment than a school-focused, sit down, serious, academic environment,” said Leslie Gailloud, GCC undergraduate fellow. “When we had a debate last week, it was very standard debate rules and very standard debate format, which you often might encounter in schools – but this time we prefaced it with this overarch of debating over the end of the world.”
The program is part of GCC’s ongoing research about educational strategies – using surveys, focus groups, interviews and observations, GCC aims to identify new ways to engage and motivate students in STEM fields. With this research, Jagoda said similar games may one day be distributed to different cities, or even integrated into mainstream education.
“Through the S.E.E.D. program, we hope to expose youth to STEM careers that many of them might not otherwise consider or go into,” Jagoda said, noting that women and people of color are especially underrepresented. “Our hope is that a narrative-based game like this can absorb these youth and give them a way into these fields.”