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The Sims as a catalyst for girls’ IT learning by Hayes


by Elisabeth Hayes, Arizona State University, U.S.

APA: Hayes, E.. (2011) The Sims as a Catalyst for Girls’ IT learning. International Journal of Gender, Science and Technology, North America,  Vol. 317  No. 03 .

How & What (keywords): originally entered some keywords on Google Scholar, such as ‘Virtual Worlds’, ‘Second Life’, and registered for search alerts. This way, whenever a recent research article is published, I get alerts in my mailbox. A more like mountain coming to Mohammed…This way, I can receive up to date research papers without having to spend hours searching in the related field.

What type of paper is it?  Journal article  

The reasons why it’s academic/credible: 

  • the title – is informative and engaging
  • the authors (usually with an email address and affiliation) – there’s an option to email the author, once the registration to the site is complete
  • the abstract – is clearly structured, identifying the outline of the overall paper.”ABSTRACT This paper describes how the computer game The Sims and the virtual world Teen Second Life were used as starting points for developing girls’ interests in and capabilities with information technology. One girl’s learning trajectory is used to illustrate how gaming served as a catalyst for fostering her passion for computing, engaged her in sustained, proactive learning, and changed her view of computing as a potential career choice. The role of public recognition, fan communities, and changing family ecologies for IT learning are discussed. The paper ends with identification of strategies and issues related to the further use of games for girls’ IT learning.”
  • the introduction – has a strong statement, which is backed up with relevant references. There’s a description of the research and the methods used, along with acknowledgement of the fact that the subject of this particular research does not represent all the participants. The author also acknowledges her bias.

“INTRODUCTION Video games are receiving considerable attention as a means of introducing girls to computer science and technical skills in what is presumed to be a more engaging and motivating manner than traditional computer science instruction. In the United States, for example, the Federation of American Scientists (2006) issued a white paper calling for further investigation into the use of video game software for a variety of STEM-related educational goals, including learning about information technology (IT), and the National Science Foundation is exploring a new funding initiative devoted to games and virtual worlds (El Zarki & Scacchi, 2010). In this paper, I describe an approach to engaging girls in IT-related learning that uses as a starting point the computer game The Sims and the virtual world Teen Second Life1. This approach has been developed and studied in several formats in the United States: as an afterschool club for middle-school age girls in a rural Midwest town; in weekly sessions at a Boys and Girls Club in an suburban neighborhood in the Southwest; and as part of an afterschool program for high school age girls from several Southwest urban high schools. Aspects of this work have been described elsewhere (e.g., Hayes & King, 2009 ; Gee & Hayes, 2010). Here my goal is to describe one girl’s learning trajectory as a means of illustrating an ‘interest-driven’ approach to using The Sims and Teen Second Life to engage girls in computer-related learning. Key features of this approach include building on girls’ existing experiences and interests; transforming these interests into passions; encouraging proactive, sustained learning; providing opportunities for public recognition; using fan communities as resources for learning; changing family learning ecologies, and facilitating transitions across contexts for future learning. I will use one participant as the focus for my discussion. While she is not representative of all girls who participated at each site, her story is particularly useful in illustrating these features.”

  • a review of other papers relevant to the topic ( a literature review) – is comprehensive, with a full list of bibliography at the end of the article.
  • a description of what the research was and what the researchers did – is clearly stated,

“This paper focuses on data from the initial 18 month program involving four participants. The number of participants was deliberately small to permit the collection of extensive data on individual girls’ participation and practices. The girls were identified through preliminary focus group sessions conducted by the research team with local young people about their gaming practices. They were all friends at the time of the study, they attended 8th grade at the same middle school, and were approximately the same age (13 or 14 years old). They were invited to participate because of their interest in the project and their parents’ support for their participation. While data on family income  was not collected, the girls all lived in the same rural community and their parents’ educational levels ranged from a high school diploma to a four year college degree. The group met weekly or biweekly during the school year for 18 months, primarily at participants’ homes, as well as attended monthly meetings at a university game laboratory. The girls also played games and engaged in other game-related activities independently. Attendance at group meetings varied, but typically all girls participated.”

  • the results of what they did – are also given, under different headings.
  • a discussion about what the results mean – is given

“This story shows us one way in which learning for Jade began to change how people related to her and she related to them, including the central relationship she had to her father. Her family learning ecology for computing was enhanced as she obtained better material resources and increased emotional support from her parents. Jade’s experience with TSG, the encouragement she was getting from peers and Sims fans online, and her father’s support began to change her attitudes to school. Now she saw a need for school, and she had specific goals she hoped to achieve. She wanted to take courses in computer programming and delve deeper into computers. In this way, her learning ecology at school would change to become more supportive of computer-related learning. This, however, is where Jade’s story – and potentially that of other girls like her – becomes derailed.”

  • a conclusion – is extensive but is summed up with the following note:

“I conclude with an admission. We began our work with TSG with somewhat of a ‘deficit perspective’ in regard to what girls and women are currently doing with games. Our ongoing explorations of what Sims fans (the majority of whom are women) are learning and creating, along with our work with girls, suggests that they have much to teach us about new ways of enhancing IT skills and interests through gaming.”

  • a list of references – is given at the end, about 5 pages long
Citations – couldn’t locate them 😦
The url –
I’d read the whole article because it is interesting, intriguing, informative and educational. Those are significant attributes and must be earned by the author. I’m not experienced enough to judge the paper on its content, but I can see clearly that other academics and experts have given it their approval (Open University & UKRC). The paper is also freely available, under the creative commons attribution licence –

“This journal uses Open Journal Systems, which is open source journal management and publishing software developed, supported, and freely distributed by the Public Knowledge Project under the GNU General Public License.”

which makes it easily accessible to wider community, hence contributing to the pool of general knowledge.

On a personal note, I can relate to Jade (the subject of the research paper) in so many ways . I’m just discovering the world of IT myself and I’m only a language tutor :-). I became ‘hooked’ on virtual worlds when I discovered that I could actually understand them, create my own world and participate on collaboration projects with other like-minded people. But it’s very easy to think that this is an impossible task for a language teacher who’s clearly not an expert in ICT. Virtual worlds also make it accessible to ICT experts to join in the conversation with professionals such as language teachers. This platform basically provides an opportunity for professionals to have a dialogue. Virtually, sky’s the limit now! I see this research paper as a confirmation that this kind of communication is achievable.

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  1. It Learning | Information Technology

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