CU Prof Receives Grant to Help Encourage Kids' Interest in Computers Through Games

October 23, 2008

University of Colorado at Boulder Professor Alexander Repenning has been awarded a $1.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation for his work on the IDREAMS project, aimed at engaging students in computer science through game design and ultimately encouraging them to pursue careers in the information technology field.

IDREAMS, or Integrative Design-based Reform-oriented Educational Approach for Motivating Students, investigates the potential impact on the information technology workforce by stimulating interest in computer science at the middle school level. The curriculum is based on an approach called scalable game design, according to Repenning.

Using a tool called AgentSheets originally developed at CU-Boulder, students create their own Frogger-like game and gradually learn about sophisticated topics including artificial intelligence and computational science applications.

"While the demand for IT workers in the United States is growing, the supply is dropping at alarming rates," said Repenning. "At the crucial middle school age many students are concluding that computer science is hard and boring. Scalable Game Design with AgentSheets is an approach balancing educational and motivational concerns of computer science in a way that is attractive to many children, including girls and minority students."

IDREAMS delivers one week of classroom instruction to 1,120 students as part of a required course within the curriculum, a four-week follow-up elective module, and a one-week transition module to high school computer education.

The teachers and students taking part in the project are drawn from four diverse Colorado communities: Boulder Valley School District (technology hub), Aurora Public Schools (inner city), South Central Board of Cooperative Educational Services (rural) and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe (remote/tribal).

Repenning is an associate professor of computer science and member of the Center of LifeLong Learning and Design at CU-Boulder. His general research interests include education and computers, new approaches to programming, human-computer interaction and artificial intelligence. He earned his doctorate in computer science and a certificate of cognitive science from CU-Boulder in 1993.

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