The teaching workforce is looking increasingly unsettled, in a time when schools and students most need stability.
The exigent nature of STEM teacher recruitment in England is hard to miss, with headline-grabbing figures of only 17 per cent of the target number of physics teachers, and 30 per cent of computing teachers recruited in 2022 (UK Parliament Committees, 2023).
It is into this challenging terrain that our research, funded by the ESRC Education Research programme (PI: Rob Klassen, University of York), is taking us. Not only do we hope to better understand what is motivating young people – primarily undergraduates – into selecting their career paths, but also to craft a cutting edge, persuasive recruitment game aimed at raising awareness of STEM teaching as a career choice.
Research on teacher recruitment interventions
Springboarding from Klassen’s earlier research into increasing interest in careers in teaching through ‘realistic job previews’ (see Klassen et al., 2023), the goal for our ‘persuasive game’ was clear from the outset: to build an active and engaging game that depicts everyday ups and downs of classroom life, but that also challenges preconceptions of life as a teacher. Based on the ‘air of honesty’ hypothesis (Baur et al., 2014), this balanced approach is more likely to result in applicants that (a) actively reflect on teaching as a career, (b) have more realistic expectations of the job, and (c) show a better ‘fit’ once in the role, leading to higher rates of retention.
Making a game
We knew the goal, but should it aim to emphasise reflection or enjoyment? Information-packed or fun and replayable? And in terms of playability, more like Wordle or Call of Duty?
We met with persuasive games expert Jo Iacovides to discuss her work on reflection and motivation in gaming (see for example Iacovides et al., 2022). She spoke of the benefits of framing the game to prompt active reflection, and of using avatars and role-play to allow space for reflection during game play. We followed her advice. Our game began with a single ‘mechanic’ (a rule that guides the play): it would be interactive and enjoyable, with the player’s choices impacting the story.
Next, we needed to test the basic structure, and that’s where focus groups with potential game-players came in. We used paper prototyping – like a deck of cards (see figure 1) – that allows players to walk through the game, turning one card at a time. This allowed us to explore their reactions to all aspects of the game: are the scenarios and responses challenging and varied enough? What did they think about the graphics?
Figure 1: Paper prototype example card
Focus group results
Testing the prototype with potential users was a crucial step in learning about our audiences’ style preferences, and the narratives embedded within the game. Recording, transcribing, and reflecting on these sessions has ensured that our game resonates with players, as reflected by in-play commentary:
‘… this classroom sounds horrible!’
‘Do you think we should change it?’
‘Erm, no, it’s realistic and that’s what people want to see and what you need.’
and the slightly more surreal:
‘Maybe they [students and teachers] should all be cats?… everyone loves cats…’
which we considered, but eventually discarded.
The range of anecdotes solicited from participants gave us food for thought from favourite teachers struggling to find time for their own children, to teachers purely fixated on the content of their lessons. These focus groups have allowed us to explore the views and preconceptions of our target audiences to build a stronger and more engaging game.
At the time of writing, our games team have successfully created an embryonic digital prototype. Once the game is ready for the next phase of pilot-testing, we’ll be testing it on STEM undergraduates around the country, and evaluating its effectiveness in influencing teaching career-related attitudes (interest, intentions) and behaviours (applications to ITE, and retention in ITE).
We’ve got a long way to go, but the first steps are filled with promise for this fresh, new approach to increasing interest in teaching as a career.
Project twitter handle: @tsp_Teach
Project website: https://www.teacherselect.org/teachmatch/
Baur, J. E., Buckley, M. R., Bagdasarov, Z., & Dharmasiri, A. S. (2014). A historical approach to realistic job previews. Journal of Management History, 20, 200–223. https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/historical-approach-to-realistic-job-previews-an-exploration-into-their-origins-evolution-and-recommendations-for-the-future
Iacovides, I., Cutting, J., Beeston, J., Cecchinato, M. E., Mekler, E. D., & Cairns, P. (2022). Close but not too close: Distance and relevance in designing games for reflection. Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction, 6(CHI PLAY), 1–24. https://doi.org/10.1145/3549487
Klassen, R. M., Granger, H., & Bardach, L. (2023). Attracting prospective STEM teachers using realistic job previews: A mixed methods study. European Journal of Teacher Education, 46(3), 533–55. https://doi.org/10.1080/02619768.2021.1931110
UK Parliament Committees. (2023, March 20). Education Committee launches new inquiry into teacher recruitment, training, and retention. https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/203/education-committee/news/194283/education-committee-launches-new-inquiry-into-teacher-recruitment-training-and-retention