Case Study

Game-based Approach to Teacher Education at ASU Builds Essential Skills

"It occurred to us that these  games aren't just good for students, these games are really powerful learning for teachers."

“It occurred to us that these games aren’t just good for students, these games are really powerful learning for teachers.”

One of the major trends within education is the idea of developing personalized learning tools that allow a student to develop skills at their own pace. But teaching a teacher how best to use newly created game-based tools takes a different kind of professional development.

That’s where Arizona State University’s Quest2Teach comes in.

The program aims to put prospective teachers–and ASU trains one of the largest cadres of new teachers in the U.S. every year– in a different space by developing and using games that prepare them to know and be able to reflect on essential skills, starting on day one.

One of the challenges of scaling-up games-based learning in schools is the lack of exposure to best practices to new and early-career teachers. The Quest2Teach program is a collaboration between Arizona State University’s Center for Games & Impact and the Sanford Inspire Program at the Mary Fulton Teachers College that uses research-based game environments to help teachers modernize and improve their pedagogical and content knowledge by simulating their future teaching practice.

In this video we interviewed researchers, game developers, teacher educators, and undergraduate students about their experiences with an innovative teacher education program and followed the implementation of a new literacy game.

We asked those behind Quest2Teach what game developers can learn from the ASU work. Those interested in what teachers can take away from the Quest2Teach project can find more at the Institute of Play’s website. What kind of training should game developers plan on producing if they want teachers to use your game / system?

Quest2Teach: The design of games and their training must take into consideration where these games fit into the larger ecology of where it will be implemented, so strategic research and positioning beforehand is key. For example, with Quest2Teach, we found that placement in the scope and sequence of the Teachers College program of study was key for making the games relevant to the undergraduates’ needs. Because these games bridge between theory and practice, they need to be positioned ‘just-in-time’ with respect to the teacher training timeline, rather than presented ‘just-in-case’. What role have developers played in shaping the professional development plans? Is their involvement helpful? Necessary?

Quest2Teach: All of our games come from a unique collaboration and foundation of learning scientists (Center for Games & Impact), domain experts and teachers (Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College), and game designers and publishers (E-Line Media).

A key focus here has been building multi-stakeholder alignment in which we are collectively working towards the common goal of designing games that demonstrate solid learning and emotional gains, leverage the appropriate game mechanics for the desired impact, and establish an engaged and purposeful learner who remains invested in the learning activity. How prescriptive should game developers be in suggesting lessons and objectives for teachers that use their games?

Quest2Teach: We also found that instructors and students need additional support in initially learning to navigate these immersive worlds. Our designers built these into the games in subtle ways, through use of game devices such as way finding maps, pop-ups based on player inactivity, and in-game reminders from NPCs.

Even communicating to the audience the expectation that their actions will influence the outcome of the situation was quite important since many of these players hadn’t previously played immersive-world, strategy-type games. Many of these needs were uncovered less during the usability studies and more during the design-based implementation research cycles, which were used to simultaneously inform both learning theory and subsequent design iterations.

All of the collaborators (learning scientists, domain experts, teachers, game designers, and publishers) are essential in understanding the ecosystem in which these games play out, which is an ongoing process, from the strategic positioning and deconstructing beforehand, to the domain and teaching expertise to create the curriculum, through the design iterations done in the game studio, and into the implementation research and findings that feedback into the process. How can this program be implemented elsewhere? Is the program scalable? What would be some challenges that one may face?

Quest2Teach: Quest2Teach was designed from the ground up with the goal of impact and scaling to a variety of teacher education contexts. We realize that we have a unique collaboration of expertise that has allowed us to create something meaningful, and we plan to share it widely. Our publishers are some of the most experienced in scaling and managing products with multiple stakeholders and complex partnerships.

Further, the game curricula themselves were designed to be flexible, modular, and modded, so they can be personalized to local needs and goals. Throughout the various implementation cycles of Quest2Teach research in the field, we have evolved what we call an ‘Ecology of Implementation’, or best practices to ensure successful implementation in new contexts with diverse learners.

The curricular package that comes with Quest2Teach provides these structures, along with training and support of local stakeholders, and tailoring to their local needs. In implementing these game curricula its important to not think of them as a product where one ‘hits play’, and rather as a practice, where the impact will be seen early on, but will also continue to evolve and deepen as the community develops a relationship to it.

We are exploring community-based implementation models that identify local supports necessary to maximize the value of the games as part of a supportive and capable ecosystem. Lastly, we are working to establish a broader agenda around unlocking the promise of digital learning in which the goal is for teachers to have available multiple learning trajectories and treat the Quest2Teach games as one component of a larger personal journey, establishing a more aspirational positioning of the individual games but also for the teachers’ learning.

Additional Resources

About the Video Case Series

Data from the 2012 Joan Ganz Cooney Center national teacher survey showed that few teachers are exposed to games-based learning in their pre-service training, and that teachers usually provide their own ongoing professional learning on games and learning. Thus, as a follow-up on the 2012 series of video case studies on teachers using digital games in the classroom, this series looks at how teachers can be exposed to games through various forms of PD.  From a game-based approach to teacher education at ASU to play-based professional learning for informal learning environments at TASC, this series takes the viewer on a journey of innovative and novel approaches to teacher PD.

The series is a project of the Games and Learning Publishing Council and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  The series is produced by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center and the Institute of Play.