Developing Playable Case Studies to Improve STEM Career Pathways
This project aims to serve the national interest by implementing educational simulations to improve career preparation among STEM students. There is a shortage of qualified workers in many STEM careers, including cybersecurity and data science. Although undergraduate education is a key step along the career pipeline, in-depth experiences such as internships often come too late and are challenging to scale up to large numbers of students whose skills are still developing. There is a need for authentic, scalable learning experiences that expose undergraduates to professional STEM practices. This project will examine how educational simulations can help undergraduate students understand and engage with STEM careers in a realistic and interdisciplinary context. The project aims to enhance the career awareness and skills of students in two areas of national interest: cybersecurity and crisis response. The project also aims to generate knowledge about how simulations can be used synergistically with traditional courses. The outcomes of the project have potential impact across the higher education spectrum and the K-12 environment.
This project will use a new form of educational simulation called a Playable Case Study (PCS). In a PCS, players collaborate with each other and fictional characters in an authentic scenario using a multimedia interface supported by chatbots, videoconferencing, and interactive STEM tools. Players' actions and decisions influence the unfolding narrative. The PCS will spawn in-class discussions to help students reflect on and gain more disciplinary understanding from their experience. Like other educational simulations, PCSs provide undergraduate students with a low-risk opportunity to experience professional STEM work that can be scaled up through technology to reach more students. The project will create and evaluate two PCSs focused on human-centered cybersecurity and crisis response. It will use a socio-cognitive approach, called expansive framing. Students will have the opportunity take ownership of their learning by framing problems in their own words. The project will combine design-based research and quasi-experimentation to answer three research questions: 1) How do PCSs support STEM learning, engagement, career awareness, and career intent; and how does this vary for different kinds of students? 2) How can a situated learning simulation (e.g., PCSs) be augmented by expansive framing to increase near and far transfer of STEM knowledge? 3) How can a simulation with an analytics engine and embedded assessments present meaningful student feedback about their interdisciplinary, team-based STEM work? The results of this project have the potential to improve STEM career pathways and will enhance understanding of how simulation can be effectively used in educational environments. This Engaged Student Learning project is supported by the NSF Improving Undergraduate STEM Education Program: Education and Human Resources (IUSE: EHR), which supports research and development projects to improve the effectiveness of STEM education for all undergraduate students. Through the Engaged Student Learning track, the program supports the creation, exploration, and implementation of promising practices and tools.