Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Computer Science and Games: Not Just for Boys!

I mentioned previously that I was planning to submit a proposal for an all-girls course about computer science and games for the Mini-Course Enrichment Program. The theory is that perhaps girls will feel more comfortable signing up for a course on technology if they knew there wouldn't be any boys (particularly the stereotypical nerdy gamer type). We may soon see, but first the course needs to be approved.

Here is the description:
Computer Science and Games: Not Just for Boys!

Are you a girl who's ever wondered what computer science was all about, but was too afraid to ask? Whether you are geeky or the opposite, this is your chance to find out! To learn about computer science, we're going to see how it is involved in the design and development of video games. After taking a quick look at the state of the industry and how women are involved, we will cover such topics as usability and design, graphics, audio, and artificial intelligence. Best of all, you will get to work on making your own game to take home at the end of the week! And don't worry, you won't need to do any programming all week.


Christian Muise said...

While good in principle, it sounds like it could create a divide, and possibly only further the problem.

This a 1 week course, or a 1 semester one? Either way the course outline looks way overly ambitious :p.

Gail Carmichael said...

Perhaps a bit more background is necessary :)

First, I should note that I chose this topic simply because games are such a nice way to see pretty much everything you learn in computer science applied. Also, there is going to be another open course on games proposed as well, ensuring there is no unfairness to the males that want a gaming course.

Second, what the enrichment mini-course program is all about. This is a week-long program for (usually gifted) grade 8 and high school students (though it tends to be mostly grade 8's) that take a week off of school and come to universities to learn a particular topic.

The idea is not to teach them the listed topics in any large amount of detail. No more than a day on each topic, providing some lecture but mostly hands on activities. I simply want to expose the girls to what computer science is all about by giving the flavor of several aspects. Again, the relation to games is largely to help them see it more concretely.

Does that help? Perhaps seems a bit less ambitious this way?

Christian Muise said...

Slightly...but be weary of definitions. Computer Science has very very little to do with most of Game Development ;).

Still, it sounds like a daunting task if they have little to work from - even if they are the most gifted of 8th graders, there's a lot of game dev concepts that are really cool but can't be grasped without a fair bit of background.

Gail Carmichael said...

Yes, I agree, and I'm not particularly trying to teach what game development is per se - that's what the other course is going to be about. I'm just using games as a jump point in order to relate ideas back to something concrete.

Let me give an example: For AI, I envision showing search trees in a very simple, bird's eye view kind of way. I believe it should be possible to even go through a couple of moves of a simple game like tic-tac-toe to see how the concept works. Other discussions would show what kinds of considerations one might have when looking at game AI using specific games as examples, but not defining or explaining the actual AI technique.

Another example: For graphics, issues like vector vs raster can be discussed. A way to explain how stuff created in 3D models gets projected into pixels that can be displayed is using that old classic drawing of a person's outline onto a piece of paper when they stand in front of a light (we used to do this with an overhead projector in grade school). Some of the basic geometry can be shown, but not the math behind it. You can just say, "you can rotate something, or skew it - this is what it would look like."

I have lots more ideas as well, of course, or else I wouldn't be proposing the course ;)

So you see, I'm simply taking concepts that can be demonstrated in games to show that computer science can be fun :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Gail! I just happen to stumble upon your blog while searching for a similar topic but I just wanted to wish the best of luck to you in getting the course approved. I'm glad that I'm almost done with my CS degree at the University of Toronto but, selfishly, it was unfortunate that I didn't meet more females during my stay since there is so few of them in the department.

Once the course does get approved, I'd love to see what kind of games the girls would create. There are too many games targeted for males on the market these days that it feels like regurgitation of each other.

Gail Carmichael said...

Hi Thuan! Thanks for dropping in :) I won't know if my course is selected for a while. I guess it depends on how much they like the idea of having two very similar courses. I sure do hope it goes through though! It really would be interesting to see what the girls come up with. Women over 30 actually make up more of the market for games than teenage males, so it's about time there were some more games targeted to them!

ryanlerch said...

FYI, you may want to check out this segment that aired on GoodGame on australian TV late last year...


Gail Carmichael said...

Thanks for the link Ryan, looks great!

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