Could TeachQuest! Be the future of teacher selection?

University research is finding innovative ways to use technology to improve teacher education and selection, and is developing new ways to help prospective teachers understand what it takes to succeed in the classroom.

Rebecca Snell, left, and colleagues work on an early paper-based prototype of TeachQuest!.

Building on his 20 years of motivation research and his desire to see that research has a real impact, Professor Robert Klassen, along with a team of researchers associated with the University’s Department of Education, has developed a range of methods to improve teacher education, selection and retention.

Professor Klassen says that while his early applied research projects focused on teacher selection, he soon noticed that in the UK at least, selection wasn’t the issue.

“In the UK the priority isn’t to screen out people from the teaching profession, the priority is to attract as many qualified people as possible,” he says. “So more recently we’ve started working on an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) project called TeachMatch that uses novel approaches to recruit people into teaching.” The approach includes a ‘persuasive game’, built on research investigating STEM undergraduates’ motivations and barriers to entering the teaching profession.

Rebecca Snell worked as the educational consultant on the team. She describes the game: “We’re making what I think of as a super-cool, but persuasive, game which we're currently called 'TeachQuest!'," she said.  "With the skill and insight of the games development team, we’re looking at how we can create something which is both entertaining, informative and, crucially, promotes reflection.”

She adds the entertainment factor is vital to ensure the game is used, but the reflective aspect is just as crucial - to ensure prospective teachers aren’t blindsided by preconceived ideas of the teaching profession.

“We all tend to have an internal narrative surrounding teaching that stems from a few different sources,” she says. “Some of it is created by the media, whereas some of it comes from our own experiences of school; we all tend to think we know what life as a teacher would look and feel like.”

And this is where the need for reflection comes in. Anyone considering a career in the classroom must do so with a full grasp of the reality of the teacher’s life, “a near-world simulation of what that career would look like”, as Rebecca describes it.

So she says the intention is to show a few days in the life of a teacher and the scenarios they would come across, ranging from the humorous - such as wasps terrorising students in the classroom, to the more challenging and emotive.

“How do you deal with somebody who is having a difficult time?”, she says. “How do you deal with a student who is trying really hard, but still isn't going to be able to get the grades that they want? This is the multi-faceted reality of teaching. And that's what we want to show people with the game that we're creating now.”

So by offering the player an entire range of scenarios, the game presents school life as a whole, and enables the player to reflect fully on what they would be like as a teacher.

Having come through several development stages, including paper-based prototype sessions, the project has now commenced digital development, with a writer and illustrator currently making their contributions. 

Professor Klassen and Rebecca agree it’s been refreshing to collaborate with colleagues from the Department of Computer Science and the School of Arts and Creative Technologies. 

“We’re working with game developers here in the University and it’s been fascinating, and rewarding to see how they approach this sort of thing. Jo Iacovides and Joe Cutting in the Department of Computer Science have been very supportive of our work,” says Professor Klassen.

“They have a really different kind of outlook on developing something like this. And it's been really eye opening for us to work with them, to see how quickly they work and how much interesting research is done in gaming and engagement and enjoyment, and how people interact with various technologies. And so that's been quite exciting.”

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With the skill and insight of the games development team, we’re looking at how we can create something which is both entertaining, informative and, crucially, promotes reflection.

Rebecca Snell
educational consultant on the TeachMatch project

The work on TeachMatch builds on that of TSP, a spinout company from the University of York.