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Designing video games can promote intergenerational collaboration and skill development, research shows

A new Concordia study uses basic prototype creation to foster empathy
May 30, 2018

What will the workplace of tomorrow look like? No one knows for certain, but it is very likely that it will be much more diverse than it is today.

And while that diversity brings its own sets of advantages in terms of multiple perspectives and experiences, it can also lead to clashes resulting from a lack of empathy — of not understanding or appreciating a colleague’s point of view.

In order to prepare students for an ever-changing workplace, a research project at Concordia University is looking at the dynamics observed in groups composed of individuals from different backgrounds, of different ages and with different skills and competencies. The challenge: to create their very own video game prototype in just a few hours.

The paper, “Intergenerational Learning Through A Participatory Video Game Design Workshop”, by Giuliana Cucinelli, assistant professor in the Educational Technology Program, and Ann-Louise Davidson, associate professor of Education and the Concordia University Research Chair in Maker Culture, was published in the Journal of Intergenerational Relationships.

The researchers were able to examine the behaviour of participants both before and after the challenge, and note how they self-evaluated themselves on six different skills. As well, by getting the groups to design and code a game prototype, they have been able to study the interplay of participant perceptions and see how non-homogenous individuals work in a team setting.

The Socratic Wheel

To form the groups, Cucinelli and Davidson used a Socratic Wheel, a participatory action research method developed by The Wheel is made up of a number of masking tape lines emanating from a shared point on the floor like bicycle spokes that the participants would use to evaluate their proficiency at a the following skills: Collaboration, Creativity, Computer Programming, Storytelling, Teamwork and Understanding Game Rules.

The further along from the centre a participant put a post-it note, the more confidence they had in their abilities in that given concept.

The researchers tried to separate the skills evenly between groups as much as possible. If half a dozen participants claimed they were strong programmers, they would be distributed among the groups. Using Scratch, an educational coding language developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the groups would then have several hours to design and program a basic, functioning video game.

The concepts were all Montreal-based and touched on issues of memory and nostalgia. “Belmont Park, the former amusement park, was one,” says Cucinelli. “Others were Montreal’s subway system, the Jacques-Cartier Bridge, the St. Lawrence Seaway.”

The human side of it came out nicely

Giuliana Cucinelli

By comparing the self-evaluation averages at the beginning of the daylong exercise to those at the end, it was observed that confidence across all concepts grew. During the workshop, three skills improved: Storytelling, Collaborating and Computer Programming.

Confidence grew with the doing. Participants reported feeling fulfilled at the end of the day, because of the wealth of discussions that happened while working with intergenerational groups on a multi-faceted challenge that required the development of skills that not everyone possessed.

As well, over the course of the day, the participants would come to value what each individual brought to the table, says Cucinelli.

“The idea that there is a label of ‘digital immigrants’ and ‘digital natives,’ that younger participants know everything and the seniors know nothing [began to break down],” she says.

“We noticed that the younger participants began to realize that the seniors they were collaborating with offered valuable insight and you could see conversations coming together because of that. There was an appreciation from both the younger participants and seniors when they realized what they could offer one another. The human side of it came out nicely.”

There were challenges as well. Over the course of the three years they have been running these workshops, the researchers observed that people who do not have computer programming skills tend to stay away from the computers, which limits their input. These people are often seniors or females. Other challenges included overbearing personalities, or reported difficulties in getting respect from more mature team members.

Still, Cucinelli and Davidson believe that these experiences will inform and ultimately improve students’ abilities to navigate a workforce in transition.

“What we’re looking at in terms of 21st Century employability skills are not just technical skills,” says Davidson. “We’re interested in the skills that are broader rather than simply technical. We’re looking at collaboration skills, creativity, problem-solving or, in this case, understanding game dynamics and story-telling.”


Read the cited study: “Intergenerational Learning Through A Participatory Video Game Design Workshop”.


Patrick Lejtenyi
Public Affairs
514-848-2424, ext. 5068


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