learn / 2014

Transforming College Access for Los Angeles’ Youth Through Gaming

Transforming College Access for Los Angeles’ Youth Through Gaming

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by FutureBound, Inc.

FutureBound will transform college access through the wide-scale dissemination of its highly engaging and effective educational video games.

Please describe yourself.

Proposed collaboration (we want to work with partners!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

FutureBound will transform college access through the wide-scale dissemination of its highly engaging and effective educational video games.

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • South LA
  • San Gabriel Valley
  • San Fernando Valley
  • South Bay
  • Westside

What is your idea/project in more detail?

In the past, a high school diploma opened doors to skilled jobs and middle-class economic opportunity. Today college has become a critical step to achieving stable employment and financial security. Despite efforts to improve college access, fewer than 40% of LA high school graduates attend college.

To address this challenge, FutureBound proposes the strategic and widescale dissemination of its suite of engaging game-based college access and financial aid literacy tools to students throughout the LA region. Unlike static information provided through books and websites, FutureBound delivers, through its action-strategy games, key information that allows it to have the greatest impact on learning, retention, and college attendance.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

FutureBound’s mission is to create a suite of fun, inspiring, and educational games that will increase the number of youth preparing for, applying to, and finding success in college. FutureBound’s games are a research-based and highly innovative effort to ensure postsecondary educational opportunities for all students, particularly those from low-income households. Since 2009, FutureBound (formerly known as Collegeology) has been working with students and educators in its quest to design useful, effective, and fun games about college. To date, FutureBound has created three games: FutureBound, Mission: Admission, and Graduate Strike Force.

FutureBound has tested these games with over 3000 diverse students to ascertain their impact. Our research has shown that these games increase students’ confidence or “self-efficacy” of their ability to attend college and take steps towards reaching a desired career.

Based on this initial success, FutureBound will expand on this work and provide its games on a significantly larger scale throughout LA. To accomplish this, we will leverage our partnerships to cost-effectively expand our reach and maximize the number of students we serve. A key part of this strategy will include working with school districts, libraries, after school programs, and college access networks to take advantage of the existing relationships these entities have with students and educators. To support these organizations, a portion of FutureBound’s grant budget will be allocated to training staff at these organizations in best practices for implementing the games. FutureBound will also provide web-based training and support resources for these individuals.

FutureBound will complement these efforts through a variety of activities, including significant use of social media and other marketing tools. To provide sufficient staffing for our efforts (training, web/content development), FutureBound will take advantage of its relationship with USC to recruit highly skilled personnel –graduate students and recent post-grads.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to LEARN today? In 2050?

Over the past 25 years, Los Angeles (along with the rest of California) has fallen in US rankings and now lags behind many other areas in the production of college graduates. Based on forecasts by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEM), it is projected that 41% of jobs in 2025 in California will require a college degree. Absent any significant improvements, NCHEM projects that only 37 percent of workers in California will have a college degree in 2025. The gap between the demands of the local economy and the supply of college-educated workers represents a serious impediment to an economically successful future for LA.

Despite government and institutional efforts to improve college access over many decades, fewer than 40% of LAUSD high school graduates currently attend some form of post-secondary education.

To address these challenges, FutureBound has developed an innovative and engaging suite of educational video games that have significantly increased the number of youth—including under-served students—preparing for, applying to, and finding success in US colleges. The games have been proven to develop the skills needed to master the college readiness and entry process and to succeed in college and beyond. Game play extends developmentally sound practices of learning through play into the adolescent landscape like no other medium. Teens love games, especially technology-mediated games. Ultimately, games provide a fun space for gaining social capital related to college-going and career choice that cannot easily be replicated in conventional learning environments. All games are supported through wrap-around curricular activities and materials for teachers, counselors, and program advisors.

With the LA2050 goal that every Los Angeles high school student will graduate and be ready for college and career, FutureBound is well positioned to support this goal. Through the use of FutureBound’s games, educators and practitioners will have the opportunity to cultivate college and financial aid application strategies that increase access to college by providing information about postsecondary and financial aid options. Additionally, our games will help cultivate college application and college choice strategies and will nurture critical thinking and decision-making skills related to college.

Whom will your project benefit?

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) encompasses 130 middle and 149 high schools serving 112,749 and 138,778 students, respectively. LAUSD charter schools serve an additional 95,207 students. FutureBound’s goal is to extend game-based college access tools to all students in LAUSD’s middle and high schools. As a secondary population, we will also target other school districts in the LA region such as Inglewood and Culver City.

FutureBound’s games will benefit middle school and high school students in LA by delivering crucial college guidance, teaching college preparation strategies, and increasing their confidence in their own ability to go to college. The games will have a particular impact on underserved populations and first-generation college-goers who currently have little access to college guidance and preparation. Helping these students get to college creates a beneficial cycle within their communities. When first-generation college students matriculate, they create a culture of college-going where there wasn’t one before. They serve as role models to their families and larger social networks, modeling positive behaviors and outcomes—especially for younger students in the community.

Additionally, FutureBound’s games will help over-worked guidance counselors, teachers, and parents by providing them with a set of tools to reach the students in their lives. College can be a difficult subject to broach with students who are anxious about their future. By reaching out through play, teachers, counselors, and mentors can communicate about this subject in a more relaxed way that facilitates a more productive discussion.

Finally, this project also serves the many and varied colleges in the Los Angeles area, who will benefit from a larger and more diverse applicant pool if more of Los Angeles’ underserved youth are able to navigate the complexities of the college application process and make informed choices about how and where to apply.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

We believe the most effective approach to engaging students and achieving the goals described above involves connecting with youth across multiple learning environments, including schools, college preparation and community-based organizations, and libraries. The primary goal associated with these collaborations will be to leverage their direct experience with and access to students and educators. An additional goal of these partnerships will be to leverage the recognition and public awareness associated with their organizations and services, as well as to create new positive associations for the combined offerings.

The three factors that will be critical to the success of our partnerships include: (1) ability to enhance distribution and expand access to LA schools and students; (2) partner resources and capabilities to help provide some of the training to local schools; and (3) a strong track record among partners of working with LA youth in the area of college access.

FutureBound has existing relationships and has worked with the following organizations: Los Angeles Unified School District; Southern California College Access Network; USC Pullias Center for Higher Education; and USC Game Innovation Lab. Potential partners include: Inglewood Unified School District; Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District; Culver City Unified School District; TRIO & Upward Bound Program participants; Los Angeles Boys & Girls Club; LA’s BEST After School Enrichment Program; and MESA Programs.

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Learn” metrics?

  • Percentage of community college students completing a certificate, degree, or transfer-related program in six years
  • Youth unemployment and underemployment
  • District-wide graduation rates
  • HS student proficiency in English & Language Arts and Math
  • Academic Performance Index scores
  • College matriculation rates
  • Student education pipeline (an integrated network of pre-schools, K-12 institutions, and higher education systems that prepares students for seamless transitions between high school, higher education institutions, and the workforce) (Dream Metric)
  • Suspension and expulsion rates (Dream Metric)
  • Truancy rates in elementary and middle school (Dream Metric)

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

FutureBound’s games are an effort to reach out to underserved young people and help them understand the complex processes that govern their future education. These games give teachers, counselors, and parents tools that provide invaluable information to high school and middle school students using a medium that they’re comfortable with and ready to engage with. Playing these games builds students’ college-going aspirations and self-confidence, helping them picture themselves as successful college students and understand the steps they need to take to make that future a reality. This, in turn, affects the ambition that they demonstrate in school and in after-school activities.

The first game, FutureBound, encourages middle school students to become more engaged with their own education, both inside and outside the classroom, by expressing enthusiasm for their passions and, eventually, taking on leadership roles in after-school clubs and activities. Encouraging this sort of investment in academic and social organizations leads to students taking a greater level of responsibility for their own education, which will help to reduce truancy and increase graduation rates.

The second game, Mission: Admission, is explicitly designed to directly impact college matriculation rates by teaching high school sophomores and juniors about the application process, and allowing them to practice the skills they will need to employ (such as time management, self-presentation, and prioritization) when applying to college. There is a real and specific need for this education for students who would be the first in their family to apply to college and who don’t have adequate access to a college counselor or other college advisor.

The third game, Graduate Strike Force, targets another important educational metric: the amount of college debt that is taken on by unprepared college-goers, and the pervasive problem of low-income students under-matching their own potential when applying to colleges. By teaching students about the dangers of taking on too many loans, while at the same time showing that a reasonable amount of debt can be a good investment for an education that improves their earning power, Graduate Strike Force addresses the inadequate financial aid literacy among many LA students and families.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

In order to measure the success of our project we will partner with USC’s Pullias Center for Higher Education. Previous research illustrated that by playing FutureBound’s games, students demonstrated significant increases in college-going self-efficacy (the belief that they could attend college) and growth of college knowledge (understanding of college terms, strategies, and processes). Since we already know that these tools are effective when students play them, our evaluation of our LA2050 initiative will focus on how well the games have been disseminated, implemented, and received across LA. We will use several metrics and perform this evaluation throughout the year so that we can maximize the reach of the games and their usefulness to students.

Our project metrics will include:

Student metrics - Server-level analytics of anonymous user/student data will document how many students play the games, for how long students play, and what milestones they reach within each game.

Teacher, counselor, and administrator metrics - Surveys will be administered to school-based staff at multiple points during the year in order to optimize the implementation and effectiveness of professional development and support tools.

Extra-school metrics - Surveys will also be administered to outreach professionals in non-profit organizations, including library staff, in order to ascertain how these stakeholders are making use of game tools.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

Lesson #1 Ample research has shown that many often qualified youth slip through the cracks when it comes time to apply to college. Even students who have done well in school and met college requirements miss key college and financial aid deadlines because they lack the support and/or knowledge–at home and/or at school–to successfully complete the college applications process.

Of the most effective college outreach efforts, the vast majority of these tend to involve mentoring or hands-on outreach, which is human-capital intensive. Such efforts are bound by resources and serve only a limited number of students.

With recent reductions in funding, the ratio of guidance counselors to students at LAUSD are inadequate (1:850 or higher) and many students are left without effective counseling to navigate the college application, selection, and financial aid process. Additionally, we have seen that relevant information about college is often delivered in passive ways or in formats that serve a finite number of students. Examples of this include students listening to a teacher lecture about college or reviewing websites that provide content that does not solicit active engagement from students.

Lesson #2 To address the challenges of Lesson #1, FutureBound engages students in the college preparation process by meeting them where they are–in online and video game spaces—and recognizes the importance of moving beyond simple, static, web-based approaches in order to more effectively connect with students. In our experience working with youth, we have found that our games are highly interactive and employ both learning through social interaction and decision-making. Our games have provided an important arena for middle and high school students to practice college-going skills, role play through game interaction, and safely try out future-focused decisions and ideas for careers. Ultimately, the games provide a fun space for learning and practicing strategies pertaining to going to college and choosing a career. This interactive learning cannot be easily replicated in conventional learning environments.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

Our games have been developed, are effective, and have been successfully used with many schools and students across the country. For our proposed project, the primary activity and goal will be the wide-scale and strategic distribution of our games in order to maximize the number of students we can assist in learning about college and expanding their access to college information and support.

FutureBound has a positive track record of working with schools, community organizations, non-profits and directly with students. Based on this past experience, we expect that the current and potential partners described above will be highly motivated to work with FutureBound to help us achieve our goals.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

The primary potential barrier to the success of our implementation is the acceptance of educational video games by teachers and educators.

Although game-based learning is becoming increasingly accepted by teachers, there is still a small proportion of educators that do not appreciate the benefits of educational game play and do not consider it an important component of the adolescent learning experience. These teachers and educators in schools forget that play makes learning fun and that students are more likely to engage deeply with school content if what they are doing is truly playful. For this small group of educators, FutureBound will provide - directly and through its partners – case studies and training materials that show the efficacy of game-based learning and introduce teachers to its practice. FutureBound also has a team member who is a faculty member at USC’s Rossier School of Education and a former high school teacher, who will lead FutureBound’s training and implementation efforts. In addition to these credentials, this individual also has extensive experience successfully implementing FutureBound’s games in LA schools.

In addition to teachers not appreciating game play, they are typically very busy. Whereas students are apt to jump into game play without much or any support, teachers and counselors often need guidance as to how to use games in the classroom to best meet the needs of their learners. To address this, FutureBound has produced a series of reports and tutorials designed to educate practitioners on the value of game-based tools and to assist them with implementing our games in the classroom. We will add to those tools by developing additional resources available through our website, tailored to the specific requirements of local students and partners.

FutureBound has a history of working with students through our effective collaboration with schools, community organizations, and non-profits, and the successful completion of deadlines as evidenced by prior work. To further mitigate any risks associated with these challenges, we have cultivated a Board and an Advisory Board consisting of experts in the fields of games, assessment, and college knowledge who will provide guidance on how best to address potential risks.

What resources does your project need?

  • Network/relationship support
  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Education/training
  • Technical infrastructure (computers, etc.)
  • Community outreach