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Could online ‘games’ be answer to challenge of teacher recruitment?

Posted on 7 December 2022

Researchers at the University of York are testing whether online games and simulations might help in the recruitment of teachers - particularly from applicants with a background in STEM subjects.

Persuasive games can immerse an applicant in teaching practices

Recruiting high-quality applicants in certain subject areas, such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), into teacher training is a significant problem in England and other countries around the world. This is often due to undergraduate students in these areas having particular careers in mind related to the subject they are studying, such as jobs in industry or healthcare.

The three-year study aims to build a better understanding of what might attract STEM undergraduates to teaching, and in particular, test online ‘persuasive games’  and online ‘realistic job previews’ in recruitment drives for teachers. 

Persuasive games can immerse an applicant in teaching practices and prompt them to use their knowledge to respond to pupils in a virtual classroom, demonstrating to the applicant how their skills can be of value to school learning and what a classroom environment feels like.  

Job previews

In addition to games, online realistic job previews provide videos and text examples of real-life workplace situations and ask applicants to respond to questions on what they might do, followed by feedback from experts that shows how their response compares to experienced teachers, demonstrating their fit to the job. 

Both of these recruitment methods are used in other professions, but have not been tested in the education sector before.  Realistic job previews are known to be effective because they communicate an honest and believable portrayal of the job so candidates can see if they are a good ‘fit’. Persuasive games can influence how a person views a job and potentially change attitudes by engaging an applicant in a ‘journey’.

Different approach

Professor and Chair of the University of York’s Psychology in Education Research Centre, Robert Klassen, said: “We know that teaching effectiveness, particularly in STEM subjects at secondary school level, is heavily influenced by the depth of subject knowledge and enthusiasm of the teacher.

“Recruiting people with STEM degrees, however, has been a significant problem for some years and so it is evident that recruitment methods need a different approach. We know from research that if you can demonstrate how well suited a person is to a job and show the value they can add, the more likely they are to apply.  

“The traditional advert does not go far enough to ‘hit home’ with STEM graduates, however, who most likely have had other careers in mind when they started their degree. We are testing new technologies that go a step further, placing the candidate in real, albeit virtual, situations that can more realistically show how teaching could be a good match for the skills they have acquired in their degree.”


Once participants have been through one of the recruitment interventions, they will be assessed on whether their attitudes to teaching have changed - their interests, intentions and self-efficacy -, and whether their actual behaviours have changed - did the applicant apply and complete training programmes, and then decide to enter the profession?

Professor Klassen said: “Teacher shortages are the result of a complex mix of political, economic, and social factors, but the methods used for recruitment are one contributing factor.  Digital tools may well be the answer to creating attractive messaging targeted at applicants who are the best fit for the job.”

The work, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) - part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) - Education Research Programme, is in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Durham and the Education University of Hong Kong.

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