Journal of Science Education and Technology

, Volume 26, Issue 3, pp 295–308 | Cite as

Alternate Reality Games as an Informal Learning Tool for Generating STEM Engagement among Underrepresented Youth: a Qualitative Evaluation of the Source

  • Melissa Gilliam
  • Patrick Jagoda
  • Camille Fabiyi
  • Phoebe Lyman
  • Claire Wilson
  • Brandon Hill
  • Alida Bouris


This project developed and studied The Source, an alternate reality game (ARG) designed to foster interest and knowledge related to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) among youth from populations underrepresented in STEM fields. ARGs are multiplayer games that engage participants across several media such as shared websites, social media, personal communications, and real-world settings to complete activities and collaborate with team members. The Source was a five-week summer program with 144 participants from Chicago aged 13 to 18 years. The Source incorporated six socio-contextual factors derived from three frameworks: Chang’s (ERIC Digest, 2002) recommendations for engaging underrepresented populations in STEM careers, Lave and Wenger’s (Cambridge University Press, 1991) situated learning model, and Barron’s (Human Development, 49(4); 193-224, 2006) learning ecology perspective. These factors aligned with the program’s aims of promoting (1) social community and peer support, (2) collaboration and teamwork, (3) real-world relevance and investigative learning, (4) mentoring and exposure to STEM professionals, (5) hands-on activities to foster transferable skill building, and (6) interface with technology. This paper presents results from 10 focus groups and 10 individual interviews conducted with a subset of the 144 youth participants who completed the game. It describes how these six factors were realized through The Source and uses them as a lens for considering how The Source functioned pedagogically. Qualitative findings describe youth’s perception of The Source’s potential influence on STEM interest, engagement, and identity formation. Despite limitations, study results indicate that underrepresented youth can engage in an immersive, narrative, and game-based experience as a potential mechanism for piquing and developing STEM interest and skills, particularly among underrepresented youth.


Alternate reality games STEM Underrepresented youth Informal learning Science education 



This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Award No. DRL-1342159. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Obstetrics and GynecologyUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry and Innovation in Sexual and Reproductive Health (Ci3)University of ChicagoChicagoUSA
  3. 3.Department of English and New Media StudiesUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA
  4. 4.School of Social Service AdministrationUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA

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