2022 First-Year Engineering Experience

Work-In-Progress: Tackling DEI Issues in the Classroom Through Interactive Historical Fiction

Presented at Technical Session M1

The retro 80s game, Oregon Trail, taught and inspired a generation about a significant historical event in the United States - the beginning of westward expansion. The game has achieved almost cult-like status, but this does not exclude the game from flaws concerning the lack of representation and other Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) issues. Female representation has been and continues to be an issue within computing fields and computer gaming. Given that women are stakeholders in educational software and part of the audience, it is essential they see themselves being positively represented. Creating a version of the Oregon Trail game that presents a more realistic view of women’s contribution to westward expansion could help combat some of the negative gender stereotypes in existence.

The first-year aspiring software developers (of all genders) will create a historical-based interactive fiction gamification app. Specifically, the students will create a game exploring the nature of American Western Expansion through the lens of the women who undertook the dangerous journey along the Oregon Trail in the mid-1800s. The authors’ motivation is to combat negative stereotypes found in the original game and provide positive representation to current and future students. The primary goal of the project is to develop first-year programming students’ ability to use storytelling in software development. Additionally, will provide students with opportunities to exam diversity issues within a familiar context, help to develop social awareness, and appreciate different perspectives. This project is a springboard for a future special topics course on storytelling with the bonus of providing the current computer science majors with more experiences with major software development.

This paper will provide background on the project, lesson plans, details of the course assignments, and results of end survey results regarding the project. This paper will supply all interested audience members with materials developed “in-house” to add in adoption efforts by others. Accordingly, a “Card” - i.e., an information repository – will be created for this paper on the Engineering Unleashed website operated by KEEN. This card provides instructional materials mentioned in this paper and can be freely downloaded, reviewed, adopted, and if desired modified, by anyone for use in their courses under the Creative Commons CC BY-NC license.

  1. Dr. Stephany Coffman-Wolph Ohio Northern University [biography]
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