Attending the International Conference for Meaningful Play 2018 in East Lansing, Michigan (October 10-13, 2018) significantly helped me towards achieving three major career goals: presenting and obtaining feedback for my scholarly research, networking with the game design and research community, and establishing both short-term and long-term agenda for research and career advancement. I have taken full advantage of this conference, and all of these learning outcomes are critical to my ongoing career development as a doctoral student and a future academic researcher.
During the conference, I presented my first author conference paper titled “Unpacking Meaningful Play in the Clinical Context: Mobile App Use Between Children with Disabilities and Their Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs).” In this paper, I discussed my preliminary qualitative analysis of interviews with SLPs who use a variety of mobile applications (including games) to help children with communication impairments to advance their speech, language, social communication, and academic skills. This paper was presented in the academic paper section called “Games in Contexts,” along with two other faculty researchers who are conducting research related to (1) incremental gameplay during workplace, and (2) using cognitive testing methodologies to investigate decision making during gameplay. Overall, the audience showed genuine interests about my paper, and they are especially fascinated by the idea that leisure games such as “Angry Bird” can be repurposed and remediated with creative use by SLPs to help children with disabilities during speech therapy. The audience also asked questions such as:
Liberian at U of Michigan: This shift in online searches are moving to voice command, how does it impact the future of game design, library catalogs, and non-mainstream interfaces? What are your thoughts on this?
My response: my colleague in grad school is now working as an SLP in a deaf-blind school and she has already adopted the smart speaker – Amazon Echo – to help middle schoolers with minimal verbal skills to create shopping lists. As a researcher, I found myself always falling behind how actual users are adopting and repurposing these technologies. My tentative dissertation project idea is indeed to investigate the clinical implication of therapy games using home-based voice technology tools.
Grad student in Michigan Tech U: I am wondering about parents or babysitters who are working with the children (my brother has autism and my parents can tell you many good insights about him). Are you considering parents and their input and getting their mental model of how they interact with children on a daily basis?
My response: The reason why I didn’t even start looking at parents yet because they are one user group that grows organically during my research. Two of the app developers I interviewed are indeed parents with children who have disabilities. Therapists are now designing apps because of their terrible user experience with existing technology; parents are becoming app designers and developers because they want to help their children. The “app designer/developer” stakeholder group that I interviewed has a very blurry definition and individuals hold multiple roles in this ecosystem. There is also more research related to how parents (rather than therapists) are using technologies with these children, for my research, I want not only to focus on SLP practices but also to understand the larger landscape: who’s voice is being left out?
In addition to the wonderful feedback that definitely will inform me for the next phase of my research project, I also learned new research methodologies and grew my research network. The other paper presented shared how using cognitive task analysis (with 4-5 people) rather than semi-structured interviews can become an effective methodology to investigate clinicians’ gameplay strategies, which can lead to a potential follow-up mixed method study. A Michigan journalist who owns an online special education technology website (http://specialedtech.net/) invited me to write a blog about my presentation, which serves as a great opportunity to educate the public about my research outcome. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to attend this conference to connect with practitioners and researchers who are all passionate about creating better technology tools for children with disabilities. Many of these individuals are deeply connected to the Michigan game design and research communities that I would not have met without the generous support from the DECADES Student Travel Grant.
If I can bring home one key message, it has to go back to words of wisdom from my advisor Katie Salen’s old friend Eric Zimmerman: “Yao, break some rules!” Glad to finally get his signature and meet him in person. Here’s another anecdote: I was having a hard time finding a good pen for Eric to sign on my Rules of Play book (known as the “Game Design Bible”) so I handed him a regular ball pen. He then started digging in his backpack and found a marker: “If I am leaving a mark, might as well leave a big one.” Such a designer, isn’t he? =)