Growing up in Turkey, Georgia Southern University Associate Professor of Instructional Technology Mete Akcaoglu, Ph.D., was intrigued by video games but was only able to toy with the simple software of a friend's 8-bit home computer. Now, with the recent procurement of an almost $300,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, he's helping local students get access to game-based computer design instruction for career achievement. The NSF's Computer Science for All program awarded the funds for Akcaoglu's grant proposal, “Developing and Piloting a Game Design-Based Computer Science Curriculum," or “Project GAME," which outlines the delivery of computer science education using game-development software into four regional middle schools in Southeast Georgia.
Six teachers from Bulloch, Candler, Chatham and Screven Counties – including two teachers from DeRenne Middle School, Darria Campbell and Victor Myles – will be participants in a pilot program that kicked off in August. The teachers have started to receive professional development to use and operate Unity, a cross-platform game engine that can create virtual reality and augmented reality games, simulations and other cinematic experiences. Unity has been used to create notable games such as Battlestar Galactica Online, Assassin's Creed Identity, Call of Duty, Angry Birds Epic, and Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality.
Over the next year, GSU will provide professional development so that the teachers are knowledgeable and comfortable to teach computer science via Unity in middle school classrooms during the connections and enrichment period.
In fall 2021, the teachers will pilot the curriculum developed over the following year with their first group of students, focusing on middle school students. Students will focus on basic game creation and coding and build their skills throughout the course. They will have the opportunity to meet professional game developers who will share their experiences and advice with the students. Akcaoglu said the team is also trying to bridge the gap on the historic lack of women and minorities in the field by ensuring there is equal participation from girls and select Title-1 schools. The two-year grant project will culminate with an event that will showcase the games that students created during the pilot program. Akcaoglu says he envisions a day of students and families coming together to play the games created by the middle schoolers and celebrate their hard work and achievement.
“Introducing students to computer science in this way during middle school allows them exposure to a possible career as a computer scientist and the vast opportunities that can bring," said Akcaoglu. “While many of them may not choose to become a computer scientist, this will impact their thought process going forward and assist them in feeling comfortable approaching other coding and computer software that others would shy away from."