Designing Coding Tutorials for STEM-based Video Game Design Course; The Teacher Shortage Crisis of K-12 Education in the United States

Walsh, Theodore, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Wylie, Caitlin, University of Virginia
Sherriff, Mark, EN-Comp Science Dept, University of Virginia

Education at all levels plays a crucial role in society, shaping future generations and driving progress, yet challenges persist in ensuring its effectiveness and accessibility. In the following research, I delved into two of these challenges: creating effective college-level courses for online distribution and the ongoing K-12 teacher shortage in the United States. The overarching problem across both domains is the need to optimize resources and address systemic issues to enhance educational outcomes. At the collegiate level, designing a video game design course that was both flexible and effectively imparted knowledge and skills to students was paramount, ensuring their readiness for the demands of a rapidly changing job market. Conversely, the K-12 education system in the United States faces a severe shortage of qualified teachers willing to teach, significantly impacting the quality of education for millions of young students in this country. These challenges highlight the pressing need to implement effective strategies that adapt to the evolving landscape of education. By addressing these issues, the research contributes to the overarching goal of improving educational outcomes for students at all levels.

The technical research of this project centered on revolutionizing the design of college-level courses to enhance student engagement and learning outcomes. I worked with a video game design professor at the University of Virginia to develop innovative course structures and teaching methodologies by creating a series of three online tutorials that were tailored to focus on both the technical and creative aspects of the dynamic gaming industry. The first tutorial focused on installation of the integrated development environment and basic familiarity with the MonoGame framework and the C# programming language. Next, students were tasked with implementing simple physics using sprites of their own choosing. And last, students integrated tilemaps they generated from a freeware program to build their own basic platforming game. The effectiveness of the tutorials was measured based on the quantity and categorization of message board questions as well as average score on the related assignments. The results and feedback highlighted how difficult writing software tutorials for students with non-standardized machines can be, especially when the software base is not maintained by the people writing the tutorial.
For the sociotechnical research, I focused on the K-12 teacher shortage in the United States. The research I performed identified the multifaceted causes and implications of the shortage by examining data on attrition rates, government initiatives such as standardized testing and teacher salary determinations, instances of parental bullying, and surveys of teacher perceptions and experiences. The findings underscored the interconnected roles of governments, parents, and teachers in perpetuating or alleviating the crisis. Notably, while government policies often fall short in addressing underlying issues and may even exacerbate the problem, parental behavior and increasing workloads on teachers further contribute to attrition rates. The paper emphasized the need for a comprehensive strategy to address the root causes of the crisis that should include prioritizing teacher well-being, fostering mutual respect between parents and educators, and empowering teachers to fulfill their vital roles.

The technical portion of this research was perpetually plagued by unplanned issues revolving around compatibility; more time was spent addressing those issues than the original concern of online tutorial efficacy. Those setbacks made me realize why Cornell maintains their own software for their game design course, which might be a major takeaway for other post-secondary schools looking to add a game design course. If more time and resources had been available, I would have also wanted to have a more scientific approach with a control against which to gauge the educational value the tutorials created. For my sociotechnical research, I began the research believing that technology--namely massive online courses--could help resolve the K-12 teacher shortage, but the more I researched, the more I realized that was a solution none of the stakeholders were asking for, especially following the technology-fueled distance education protocol enacted nationally during the COVID-19 pandemic. But in pivoting away from my original hypothesis, I think the research proved more fruitful, showing that a complex problem such as the K-12 teacher shortage doesn’t have a simple solution.

This research represents the end of an incredibly long journey that started two decades ago, and I could not have reached this point without the endless support of Todd, my mother, and my trailblazing cheerleader Aaron. I would also like to thank Mark Sherriff at UVA for believing in me. Special thanks go out to my third-grade teacher--now neighbor--Pattie for helping to humanize the extensive K-12 digital research.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
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