BPR: Increasing STEM Participation and Success Rates of Latino Youth Using Culturally Relevant Immersive Technologies

Investigators: A. Gates, D. Tillman, and S. An

The goal of the proposed work is to study the effectiveness of augmenting STEM-integrated learning modules with culturally relevant, immersive technologies in impacting Latino middle school students’ performance in STEM and motivation to study STEM topics. The proposed project addresses two research questions: 1) How do culturally relevant immersive experiences augmented with STEM-integrated learning modules impact Latino secondary students’ interest and dispositions toward STEM subjects compared to students who participate in traditional curriculum? 2) What aspects of the intervention affect the differential participation and success rates of students from underrepresented groups?

An effort under the project is the development of the “Sol y Agua” game.

Built around the premise of middle-school students pursuing their goal of a new water park in the area, “Sol y Agua” is a simulation game designed to develop skills and stimulate students’ interests in STEM as they are immersed in regional water issues through interactive gameplay. Students become the decision-makers for the project as they work in cooperative teams, reconcile competing real-world interests, and evaluate the impact of their choices.

To gain the necessary expertise and understanding of the many civic, cultural, economic, scientific, and engineering aspects of such a large project, students are offered a choice of “virtual-apprenticeships” with project stakeholders, and then represent their points of view in the game. A feature of “Sol y Agua” is the inclusion of stewardship attitudes and water sustainability practices of local cultures and ethnicities.

Students playing the game will be collecting, applying, and analyzing data as they design unique problem solutions, with coordinated in-game and class activities. Activities will be mapped to state educational standards in focus areas such as science, math, language arts, communications, research skills, and teamwork. The effectiveness of creative data visualizations also will be examined.

As part of the background research for this project, the BPR “Sol y Agua” team members have evaluated current educational simulation games, gathered local water usage and management data, and conducted interviews with domain experts and representatives of local groups.

The inter-disciplinary BPR “Sol y Agua” project team includes the following UTEP students:
• Marisa Steans and Rebecca Urbina, undergraduate students in the Department of Computer Science
• Aria Borunda, undergraduate student in the Department of Chemistry
• Claudia Santiago, M.S., Geophysics, and currently pursuing an M.A. in Rhetoric and Writing Studies
Faculty/staff “Sol y Agua” project mentors include:
• Dr. Ann Q. Gates, project supervisor, Director of Cyber-ShARE Center of Excellence and Computer Science Department Chair
• Dr. Daniel Tillman and Dr. Song An, Department of Educational Technology, who are also working with teachers from local school districts to collect data and study water sustainability issues
• Dr. Lucia Dura, Department of English, Rhetoric and Writing Studies
• Kay Roy, Cyber-ShARE staff member