Build ‘beyond the game’ for max esports impact

Research shows that the more extensively an esports program is implemented, the greater the gains

When we started the Orange County High School Esports League as a pilot program in January 2018, there was a lot of skepticism about bringing esports into schools and into classrooms. Based on successes that included increased student engagement and positive classroom and social developments, we expanded to form NASEF, the nonprofit North America Scholastic Esports Federation. There are many school-based esports tournament programs or lesson plans out there, but we emphasize true scholastic esports: intentional learning intertwined with gameplay, whether in the classroom or in an out-of-school program.

NASEF now falls under the even larger umbrella of the World Wide Scholastic Esports Foundation, underscoring a huge attitude shift as educators around the world embrace the concept. That is not to say that there aren’t a few that still need convincing, but most progressive educators are now eager to adopt programs like NASEF’s that are so engaging for students and build both social-emotional and career skills.

These positive outcomes have always been the goal. NASEF’s mission is “to provide opportunities for ALL students to use esports as a platform to acquire critical communication, collaboration, and problem-solving skills needed to thrive in work and in life.” Its vision is “to ensure that ALL students possess the knowledge and skills needed to be society’s game changers: educated, productive, and empathetic individuals.”

Those are lofty objectives for programs centered around video games! To determine their efficacy, the Connected Learning Lab at the University of California, Irvine, has conducted unbiased evaluation of our programs and curriculum, helping NASEF’s team to zero in on aspects of esports clubs and classes that are most beneficial.

A report from the UCI research team says:

For the last three years, our research team has investigated the outcomes of the NASEF program. Our early quantitative and qualitative findings suggest positive outcomes for participating youth in areas such as STEM interest, school affiliation, emotional self-regulation, and positive relationships with adults and peers.

NASEF continues to evaluate impacts on key variables and improve its programs accordingly. As always, the focus is not on gaming but on factors for student academic, social and emotional growth, including:

  • STEM interest
  • Communication
  • Constructive Mindset (toward learning)
  • School Engagement
  • Self-Regulation
  • Relationships with Others
  • Wellness
  • GPA
  • School Attendance
  • Student attitudes toward NASEF and its program
  • Whether positive outcomes are equitable for all students

While specific structures are created individually by schools and out-of-school organizations, all clubs in NASEF offer students the opportunity to participate in a variety of “Beyond the Game” roles. The majority of NASEF students are members of competitive teams, but nearly a quarter (22%) also serve in other roles such as team manager, gameplay analyst, artist, or streamer. The goal is for students to experience various options as they consider education and career choices, at the same time building portfolio pieces they can showcase on college and job applications.

In its evaluation, UCI suggested that NASEF continue its focus there:

By improving on key aspects of NASEF’s current robust career pathways programme, we can prepare students for professional internships and job applications, effective both in and out of university. Building connections and getting advice from professionals will ensure that students trust the information they are given. Students should leave NASEF programs not only with a high-quality secondary education and professional skillsets but also with a knowledge of how to make those skills visible to academia and industry. Whether it be resume, portfolio, and reel development, or individual CTE programs that grant exposure to fields and techniques, experiences should be widely available and engaging, applicable well beyond the scope of higher education and industry, and – most importantly – of value to students who need them.

To that end, several NASEF programs have been designed specifically to provide assistance for both college and career planning and exploration.

To help students with choosing a college and major, as well as succeeding in college programs, NASEF has partnered with the National Association of Collegiate Esports. In one joint livestream, leading collegiate esports directors offered students valuable advice ranging from esports talent and persistence to getting good grades and being “clean” on social media if they want to succeed. Recordings of this series of livestreams with collegiate program directors and coaches are available on YouTube, and additional conversations will be offered in the new school year. Blogs and videos are consistently provided to help students explore their options and find their niche.

NASEF students are encouraged to build a digital portfolio through our partnership with Tallo, an online platform that connects the next generation of talent with opportunities. Colleges, companies, and organizations can identify and connect with students who have demonstrated interests and skillsets. In the spring, NASEF, Tallo, and NACE partnered to host an esports college fair. Over the course of the event, more than 14,000 matches were made between students and esports recruiters, and more than 1,000 conversations took place. In the new area of esports study and competition, these early connections are important. With our goal of personal development in addition to gameplay, NASEF was thrilled to see the career interests of the students:

As scholastic esports continues to be recognized for its power to connect learning and play, the first step for any educator is to just get started! A small program will quickly gain momentum; many of the articles in this issue of eSchool News provide advice to help you. For the greatest student benefit, UCI’s research makes it clear that a robust program has the most impact on students:

We defined “extent of program” quantitatively in terms of the richness of resources and amount of activity, including: the number of club staff members, student roles occupied, competitions attended, and game titles played. Tests examining the relationship between these variables and student outcomes reveal multiple significant, positive patterns of association. Among the patterns found, club staff size correlates positively with STEM interest, school engagement, and relationships, suggesting that the more adults involved, the more students engage in academic content. Higher numbers of differentiated student club roles correlate with higher GPA, implying that students who are able to participate in more roles within their club perform better academically. Students in clubs that participate in a larger number of competitions showed higher school engagement, and students in clubs that play a larger variety of game titles show higher levels of communication and social relationships. Finally, clubs that take advantage of more of NASEF’s resources show greater student wellness overall.

[Also,] students in school sites where an esports classroom curriculum is available show higher gains in communication and relationships than students in schools without it. These findings suggest that schools with greater commitment to esports may foster greater academic and social gains.

As UC Irvine’s research demonstrates, across a wide variety of schools and community organizations, the more extensive the program version that is implemented, the greater the gains. That is why NASEF continues to offer the opportunity to join free, offers its curriculum and tournaments free, and provides its in-depth training and professional development. NASEF’s goal is to help educators worldwide build programs that don’t just entertain, they ensure that ALL students possess the knowledge and skills needed to be society’s game changers.

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