Esports students develop healthier tech habits

By: | Issue: January, 2019
December 19, 2018
HIGH SCORERS—Students play video games in an esports class at Complete High School Maize in Kansas. The course, which examines the social and cultural aspects of competitive gaming, helped students improve their grades and attendance.HIGH SCORERS—Students play video games in an esports class at Complete High School Maize in Kansas. The course, which examines the social and cultural aspects of competitive gaming, helped students improve their grades and attendance.

 

Students who took a first-of-its-kind esports class at Complete High School Maize near Wichita, Kansas, actually spent less time playing video games at home. While taking the elective course—which focuses on the social, health and cultural aspects of competitive video gaming—the students also improved their attendance and boosted their grades above the school average.

“It helps students understand gaming at a higher level—not just playing games, but the impact it has on them and their peers,” says Steve Jaworski, head of strategic partnerships for the High School Esports League. Amid the explosive growth of esports in K12 and higher education, the national group organizes competitions. It also collaborates with educators, such as those in Maize USD 266, to develop programs similar to the Gaming Concepts course.

“The course should translate into more specific skills, such as interpersonal communication, that some students may struggle with amid the rise of technology,” adds Jaworski.

The course, first offered in the 2017-18 school year, has also tackled a phenomenon known in esports circles as “player toxicity,” in which the anonymous nature of video games allows players to insult or bully each other, Jaworski says.

“When you play pickup basketball, if you’re a jerk to your team and opponents, there are real-world consequences,” Jaworski says. “If you’re playing behind a screen, there’s not always that feedback loop.”

Students in the course showed far less of this behavior. They also reported spending more time with family members because they had done their gaming during the school day. “They now have a healthier relationship with technology,” Jaworski says. “They’re actually unplugging and focusing on the rest of their lives.”

Inclusive and low-cost

Educators at the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District in Alaska launched an esports program this past fall when a survey showed that a quarter of their students did not participate in after-school activities. About 200 now participate in after-school teams at seven of Matanuska-Susitna’s high schools, including a home-school program and two alternative, credit-recovery schools, says Reese Everett, the district’s executive director of instruction.

“Esports is a low-cost activity in that there are not any associated travel costs,” Everett says. “This is paramount in our state, as transportation becomes cost prohibitive very quickly.” 

Because the program began this school year, district educators do not yet have hard data on grades or attendance. They do know that most of the players had not previously participated in after-school activities and that many students come from low-socioeconomic backgrounds.

The teams, consisting of three to six students, play sports and capture the flag-type games that emphasize communication, teamwork and strategy, Everett says.

The district hopes the Alaska Schools Activity Association will soon follow the state of Arizona, which, by officially sanctioning esports, created an end-of-season tournament. The move also legitimizes competitive video gaming alongside football, basketball, cheerleading and other traditional student activities.

“Esports provides another vehicle to connect students with their school, culminating in our ultimate measure of success: graduation,” Everett says.

 

Gaming gains

Improvements made by students in the Gaming Concepts course at Complete High School Maize:

• The attendance rate for the course was 94% (the goal was 85%)

• GPA was boosted by 1.5 points above the school average

Explore the Gaming Concepts curriculum: DAmag.me/gaming


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