Case Study

TeacherQuest Institute Creates a New Community of Practice in Pennsylvania

"We allow adults to work together and collaborate and think about their practice in ways that they haven’t necessarily done before."

“We allow adults to work together and collaborate and think about their practice in ways that they haven’t necessarily done before.”

Game design has unique relevance to effective teaching – it develops the skills teachers need to create engaging learning experiences where students can take on meaningful roles, explore complex problems, test out different solutions, and get feedback to help them improve.

In professional development, game design also has the benefit of giving teachers a framework to practice collaboration by design. Through the TeacherQuest program, Allegheny County teachers are working with Institute of Play to build a learning community dedicated to collaboration and iteration across sites, putting games and game-making at the center of a new movement in district-wide innovation.

TeacherQuest takes the professional development playbook from Quest to Learn, the innovative public school developed by Institute of Play, and adapts it for educators working across different contexts. Piloted in Pittsburgh in Summer 2014 collaboration with the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, the program uses the Quest model’s game-like approach to help teachers design powerful game-based and game-like learning experiences for their students.

In this video, we spoke to Institute of Play designers and facilitators, as well as the teachers who participated in the TeacherQuest Summer Institute pilot, about their experiences with this hands-on design-based approach to professional development.

We asked the folks at Institute of Play who helped pioneer the Allegheny County project about the work and what other game developers can take away from the effort. Teachers interested in learning more about the project can find out more at IOP’s site. What kind of training should game developers plan on producing if they want teachers to use your game / system?

TeacherQuest: If learning game developers want educators to understand why a game is a powerful learning tool and why it’s worth their time, they need to first make sure that the game is clearly linked to educational standards so educators can see how the game relates to content, skills and concepts they want to teach.

Then, there are three key things that game developers need to cover in professional development: (1) How to play the game. Keep this as simple as possible. If it takes a lot of time to learn how to play, it will probably take a lot of time to roll out in the classroom, which may discourage teachers from using it. (2) How to integrate it in the classroom meaningfully. Help teachers understand how to roll the game out, how to manage student gameplay, and how to build activities around the game – linking it to other lessons and content. (3) How to assess using the game. Identify ways the game can be used as an assessment tool: is the game itself a tool that the teacher can use to get data about student learning, or are there things the teacher can do before and after gameplay to assess student learning? What role have developers played in shaping the professional development plans? Is their involvement helpful? Necessary?

TeacherQuest: The goal of TeacherQuest is to give educators access to skills and concepts that will be very familiar to game designers and developers. Game designers use a design process, which we believe is crucial to bring into the way we think about teaching, learning and professional development.

The design process is helpful because it’s iterative, it’s focused on user-centered design, and it provides a way to get feedback to improve the user experience – all things that we value in teaching and learning.

When game designers are involved in professional development, not only do they get feedback from educators on what does and doesn’t work so they can create better products, but they give educators insight into the design process and access to a playful, collaborative process where they can learn about perseverance, risk-taking, teamwork and innovation – things that we don’t see enough of in our schools. How prescriptive should game developers be in suggesting lessons and objectives for teachers that use their games?

TeacherQuest: Teachers need concrete but flexible guidelines. They don’t want to reinvent the wheel, but they do like to mod the wheel.

If teachers can only use a game in one way, that is a huge deterrent. It takes longer to prepare something than to do it, so if something can be modded and used in multiple ways, it’s both attractive and empowering. Plus it’s always hard to know if something is going to work, so it’s helpful to have community resources that involve people exchanging information about how they used a game and how it worked.

That’s why we believe helping teachers learn how to mod games, and design their own games and game-like experiences, is good for everyone involved in games and learning. Ultimately, developers want to be supported by a community of practitioners who are able to modify, reuse, and continuously find new value in their products. How can this program be implemented elsewhere? Is the program scalable?  What would be some challenges that one may face?

TeacherQuest: The challenge that any professional development program is to make a lasting impact. Collaboration and community are key to facilitating and supporting sustainable innovation that will positively impact the lives of students in classrooms every day. Currently, Institute of Play partners with schools, districts, and other organizations to provide TeacherQuest workshops and programs to their networks.

TeacherQuest’s long-term goal is to create a national community of teachers and educational leaders who feel empowered at both the individual and team levels to collaborate, share, problem-solve, celebrate, and innovate across sites. One critical component of TeacherQuest is the mentorship program, which supports teachers themselves in mentoring other teachers, and becoming agents of change in their own school communities.

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.