As part of its careers guidance programme for young people, the social services provider Jugend am Werk Steiermark has discovered that girls and young women have little interest in IT professions. They also often don’t know what professional fields there are and what skills are needed for them. In the FemQuest project funded by the Federal Chancellery’s Section for Women’s Affairs and Gender Equality, a workshop was therefore developed together with the Institute of Interactive Systems and Data Science at Graz University of Technology (TU Graz), which offers a low-threshold introduction to the topic using digital and analogue means. According to surveys of the participants, this was also successful. There was largely positive feedback on the aspects of learning, design and commitment, and hardly anyone felt overwhelmed in terms of complexity.
Stimulating interest in IT
“With FemQuest, we want to awaken a passion for information technology in girls and young women,” explains Michael Holly from the Institute of Interactive Systems and Data Science, who realised the project on the TU Graz side. “If the participants themselves gain a basic understanding of the semantics of a programming language and recognise the connection between the input into the device and the visible output on an output medium, this can be an important impetus for them to deal with the topic of IT independently.”
“Practical and innovative programmes such as FemQuest make it easier for young women to enter IT professions,” explains Waltraud Pölzl, head of training and the job market at Jugend am Werk Steiermark. “In this way, we offer theoretical knowledge and practical experience in careers guidance, and also promote important soft skills to strengthen self-confidence for the transition to the world of work.”
Learning the basics together
The core element of the workshop is the multi-user game FemQuest for tablets and PCs, which familiarises participants with the basics of programming in a fun way. Before the game is started, there is a theory section in which basic elements such as instructions and loops are explained. In the game, users create an avatar with which they have to immerse themselves in a story and solve various tasks. Coding is not necessary. Blocks that represent different functions can be dragged in a very beginner-friendly way to suitable positions in the right order in order to create a functioning programme. The workshop leader is also part of the game with a fox avatar and can provide assistance.
The game was developed together with female youngsters, who provided continual feedback during the development process. The game engine used was Unity, which can be used free of charge for non-commercial purposes.
Game available for free download
FemQuest is now available to download for free from the website of the TU Graz research group Gamelab Graz. It will also be released free of charge for Android and on the PC platform Steam.
The story of the game revolves around a professor who wanted to create various creatures, but something went wrong. One of these creatures, a mischievous rabbit, has devastated a town. Now it’s time to help the townspeople rebuild, catch the rabbit and make it good-natured using an antidote. To solve these tasks, for example, rows of bricks have to be laid using programming or, as an introduction to cryptography, simple Caesar ciphers have to be cracked in which letter wheels have to be shifted by a certain number of letters in order to break a code.
This research area is anchored in the Field of Expertise “Information, Communication & Computing”, one of five strategic foci of TU Graz.
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