For the past four years George Mason University’s College of Education and Human Development has been working with McKinley Technology High School in D.C. to host a program that welcomes middle and high school students from the Northern Virginia, Maryland and Washington metropolitan areas to build their knowledge of technology through computer game design.

The project, funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Information Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers program, is known as Game Design Through Mentoring and Collaboration, and was created by Mason Associate Professor Kevin Clark, who is also the Instructional Technology Program Coordinator for the CEHD. Kimberly Sheridan, assistant professor of educational psychology and art education, is the co-principal founder.

Clark said one of the benefits of this project is that it exposes students to both educational opportunities and to careers in technological fields they otherwise would not have been aware of, like game design.

Those who work in the program believe in video games as a teaching tool. Clark said the students have taken positively to the experience and shown interest in creating their own games.

Graduate research assistant Neda Khalili, who started working with the program as a doctoral student in the Instructional Technology Program, thinks that video games are an excellent way to introduce students to science and technology careers.

“Our students come to the program already interested in playing video games,” Khalili said. “Working on pieces of games and even creating their own fully designed 2-D games through Game Maker, students are exposed to technology in new ways, and we hope that they will start to consider [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] fields for their careers and college choices.”

According to the project’s website, success is achieved through establishing a relationship that facilitates learning between students, teachers and professionals, providing access to information technology resources, creating learning opportunities and making content relevant to students’ everyday lives.

In addition to learning about career opportunities in the fields of science and technology, students learn important leadership skills. Asia Williams, a doctoral student in education and current program research assistant, said that one of the most impressive aspects of the project is the mentoring model it embraces.
“What has been the most interesting aspect of the program for me is the leadership pipeline that has developed over time,” Williams said. “We currently have several assistant instructors [who] were once peer mentors and a group of students [who] are mentors-in-training.”

Williams said the peer tutoring is what separates the program from other technology programs in the area.

The sessions are held on Saturday mornings at Mason’s Arlington campus and, according to the project’s website, “serve urban, traditionally underserved students from Washington, D.C.” The participants are local and voluntary.

The project’s creators are currently investigating its sustainability and plans for the future. The summer session is scheduled for July.