NSF Experiential LearningChildhood obesity remains a significant public health concern and is most widespread in low-income households, where barriers to wellness are highest [2]. Addressing this problem requires family-focused approaches as the household environment influences behaviors in many ways. For example, when parents model healthy behaviors such as nutritious eating and physical activity (PA), children are more likely to engage in these behaviors [1]. Yet, socioeconomic stressors can make it challenging to find the time, energy, and motivation to eat healthfully and be physically active.

The proposed work examines how experiential learning technologies (ELTs) can help families overcome such barriers by learning and applying meaningful insights from sensor-collected data about their PA. Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) researchers have shown the value of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) that enable the visualization of such data. However, there has been limited work examining how ICTs can help low-income families learn from this data and overcome wellness barriers. Motivated by research demonstrating the power of games as learning environments, the proposed work will establish the design space of ELTs that help families develop healthier behaviors.

In the first phase of this research, we are conducting formative research to assess factors such as the impact of socioeconomic context and household structure on the management of and attitudes towards wellness data in families.

Our primary goals are to produce:

  1. Fundamental knowledge about the structural and socioeconomic characteristics of the family, and its implications in design of ELGs and health tracking tools in general,
  2. Insights on how game-based displays of behavior modeling can encourage benefits previously documented for traditional in-person modeling and,
  3. 3. A novel experiential learning game that supports under-researched learning processes and evidence showing its efficacy in low-income families.

The work will also have a significant broader impact by:

  1. Demonstrating how ELGs can be a sustainable and engaging way of encouraging PA,
  2. Nurturing interest in children who have traditionally been underrepresented in the field of computer science by engaging them through participatory workshops,
  3. Improving the participant’s understanding of their bodies in a socially and socio-economically relevant way and,
  4. A service-learning curriculum which will let students practice course concepts during the participatory design portion of the proposed work.

The research is being conducted in partnership with the Boston Centers for Youth and Families (BCYF) and the Mattapan Food & Fitness Coalition. This project received a 3-year grant from the National Science Foundation.


  1. Sabrina L Gustafson and Ryan E Rhodes. 2006. Parental correlates of physical activity in children and early adolescents. Sports Medicine 36, 1: 79–97.
  2. Shiriki Kumanyika and Sonya Grier. 2006. Targeting interventions for ethnic minority and low-income populations. The Future of children / Center for the Future of Children, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation 16, 1: 187–207.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Number #1618406. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.