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- THE CREATION OF STEM ROLE MODELS : AN EXPLORATORY STUDY ON THE DESIGN OF MENTORING CHARACTERS FOR A STEM GAMING WEBSITE
- Cherchiglia, Leticia Lana
- Electronic Theses & Dissertations
The use of interactive activities in classrooms (e.g., digital games) has been linked to a boost in students’ motivation, interest, and learning. Such mediated environments usually include visual representations of the user (e.g., avatars) and/or mentoring characters (e.g., virtual mentors). It has been suggested that the psychological connection between users and their avatar (or virtual mentors) can potentially increase the effects of positive educational outcomes. When considering the...
Show moreThe use of interactive activities in classrooms (e.g., digital games) has been linked to a boost in students’ motivation, interest, and learning. Such mediated environments usually include visual representations of the user (e.g., avatars) and/or mentoring characters (e.g., virtual mentors). It has been suggested that the psychological connection between users and their avatar (or virtual mentors) can potentially increase the effects of positive educational outcomes. When considering the context of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education, the lack of effective STEM role models has been connected with the reinforcement of stereotypes in STEM, which in turn have negative psychological and academic effects in students - such as lower performance and lower interest in STEM subjects, as well as feelings of unbelonging to STEM fields. Negative outcomes are stronger among minority groups in STEM (i.e., women and non-white men) and can affect students even at a young age, undermining their interest in pursuing STEM careers in the future.The current research project aims to explore if virtual mentors can be used as STEM role models for middle school students in a STEM gaming website. This project aims to contribute to the broad field of Human Computer Interaction (HCI) by investigating how different designs for virtual mentors (i.e., STEM-looking or non-STEM looking) in a STEM gaming website can affect 1) middle schoolers’ perceptions of virtual mentors as STEM role models and 2) middle schoolers’ Growth Mindset behavior, interest in STEM skills, and self-efficacy related to learning STEM topics (STEM learning self-efficacy) and being successful in STEM subjects (STEM academic self-efficacy). User Experience (UX) principles guided the design of the virtual mentors and the STEM gaming website; the psychological connection between students and their virtual mentors was drawn from previous literature focused mainly in learning theories (e.g., Social Cognitive Theory, Growth Mindset), stereotypes (e.g., Stereotype Threat), and avatars (e.g., Proteus effect).Results suggest that girls and boys perceive and interact with the STEM gaming website in similar ways, but differences exist when considering pre-to-post change in STEM metrics. While all participants showed an overall increase in Growth Mindset and STEM learning self-efficacy after website use, when compared to boys, girls showed a greater increase in STEM learning self-efficacy. Regarding STEM skill interest, girls and boys demonstrated an opposite behavior: girls showed an increase in STEM skill interest, while boys showed a decrease. Regarding the design of the virtual mentors, during interviews all participants were more inclined to choose a STEM virtual mentor and to perceive STEM virtual mentors as better role models (i.e., more successful and better in facilitating learning) than non-STEM virtual mentors. However, when considering STEM metrics, it seems that boys would benefit more positively from having STEM virtual mentors while for girls it would be better to have non-STEM virtual mentors. Finally, there are reasons to believe that identification with the virtual mentor can indeed impact middle schoolers’ STEM metrics and such impact is different for girls and boys; thus, future research should consider the effects of choosing and/or customizing a virtual mentor - both features were suggested by participants as improvements for the website.This exploratory study is a first step towards the understanding of the psychological connection between users and their virtual mentors in a STEM gaming website through the lenses of both learning and avatar theories.