Ryerson professor promotes social activism through gaming

Dr. Robert Clapperton, professor at Ryerson's Professional Communications Department at his desk in the Rogers Communication Centre in Toronto, Canada on January 26, 2016 (Aidan Cox/Ryersonian Staff)

Robert Clapperton, professional communications professor at his desk in the Rogers Communication Centre on Jan. 26, 2016 (Aidan Cox/Ryersonian Staff).

A Ryerson professor has created a program to encourage entrepreneurship among high school students by combining digital gaming technology with the principles of activism.

Robert Clapperton, professional communications professor, plans to begin the program next month. He created the Global Social Innovation Game (GSIG), a digital simulator that will challenge Grade 11 and 12 students to come up with sustainable business plans that address social problems. According to Clapperton, the wider goal of the program is to inspire students to become more vested in social-oriented projects.

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An early mock up of the homepage (Courtesy Robert Clapperton).

The GSIG will start by teaching students what a social enterprise is and how it fits into the global economy. The game uses examples and tools to help participants create their business plan.

“They follow a design model where they empathize with a situation,” Clapperton said. “Then, they come up with a solution in the form of an enterprise.”

Social enterprises are usually characterized as businesses geared towards providing an essential good or service that a community is lacking. As a result, living standards of the consumers are raised while the owners or shareholders earn a profit.

Once a business model has been created, the student uploads it onto the program, which then simulates the various interactions that they’d have with government officials, business owners and customers. The student then receives feedback on the potential barriers and obstacles that their plan may face from these various stakeholders.

The GSIG will be introduced to students at two different high schools next month in the form of a six-week extra-curricular program. The participating students will be surveyed after three and six months to gauge whether they have applied what they learned to actual social projects.

The program will be more widely administered once the pilot has been reviewed.

Clapperton received funding for GSIG from RECODE, an initiative at Ryerson that wants to “scale up the social innovation ecosystem” on campus. His research typically involves studying entrepreneurship and innovation as well as developing algorithm-based simulations for teaching purposes.

“I think there needs to be more education on companies that can be created in a way that’s socially good while making a profit,” he said.

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