An interactive experience that literally knows no boundaries, esports draws on the use of multiplayer video gaming to create engaging, educational experiences for participants. By breaking down barriers that exist in the traditional sports setting, enabling a diverse set of individuals to participate, and incorporating complex subjects like math and science, esports is taking both in-classroom and remote learning to new levels.
The latter is especially critical right now, during an era where schools not only had to finish out the 2019-20 school year in a virtual setting, but where the upcoming year still hangs in the balance for many.
As states try to wrap their arms around what it means to educate on campus during a global pandemic, many school districts will maintain an increased offering of distance learning as an option for the foreseeable future.
In doing so, these schools open themselves up to a host of new virtual learning opportunities, including esports. To incorporate gaming into their curriculums, schools are leveraging video game-based educational products from companies like DimensionU, which embeds curriculum into its games.
Here are five important “wins” that schools and students see when they make this move:
1. Encourages high levels of social interaction. This is a major win in the COVID environment, where the outbreak effectively “stripped away” a student’s ability to come to school and socialize with peers and teachers. If we thought kids were disengaged in the classroom, at least somebody was there to watch them and ensure that they did their work. When they’re at home, that same level of supervision often does not exist. Here’s the good news: esports is keeping people more connected than ever before. Layer in teacher control (e.g., over the curriculum, the reporting, and/or the understanding of the academics) and the socialization aspect increases even further. With esports, we can ramp up the level of engagement that we’re providing to students, along the way keeping them very connected and encouraging social interaction among them.
2. Removes the barriers of traditional physical education. Anyone who didn’t get picked for kickball, or who had to sit on the sidelines during gym due to a physical condition, understands the stress of not being able to participate. Esports tears down these barriers to create a highly diverse and inclusive environment where everyone can participate. It doesn’t matter what you look like, how physically fit you are (or, aren’t), what race you are, or what gender you are—you can literally get in there and kick butt, win respect, and learn more effectively in the online gaming world.
3. Develops critical and strategic thinking skills. When they’re gaming online, students are in strategic thinking mode, constantly having to react and be proactive. They’re not only reacting to situations as they occur, but they’re also acting proactively at the same time. This requires kids to process a lot of information while—at least with academic games—concurrently solving problems. As a result, students effectively hone their quick decision-making skills that become so critical during their time in college and out in the workforce, where future jobs will heavily integrate and rely on these skills.
4. Levels the academic playing field. Esports also levels the playing field from an academic standpoint. By applying esports to education, academics, and curriculum, for example, DimensionU brings the 8th grader who is learning at the 3rd grade level, and the 4th grader who is functioning at the 9th grade level, all together on the same team. They can operate individually and succeed with esports because they have anonymity regarding their own curriculum capabilities while still playing with and amongst peers. This opens the door to fundamentally change the way we educate children, who are typically placed in grades according to their ages. Additionally, we have a tremendous opportunity to establish and leverage the largest, most impactful network of peer-to-peer teaching and learning, where students help one another achieve without the traditional constraints of the classroom.
5. Eliminates achievement gaps. The fundamental reason why students love participating in esports—and why they thrive in the online gaming environment—is the engagement opportunity that it provides. The problem is if we keep putting off providing a mechanism for students who didn’t master—or gain automaticity around lower level skills—they won’t be successful when they reach higher-level coursework. Esports also presents the perfect opportunity for any student who has fallen behind, to catch back up. They can devote more time to the skills that they haven’t mastered and that will help them achieve success in higher-level coursework. This, in turn, helps eliminate achievement gaps and break down the barriers to learning.
Tapping new opportunities
We’re at a critical standpoint right now in education; distance learning is here to stay. We may be going back to the classroom, but we’re never walking away from distance learning. In fact, its use is going to surpass physical classroom growth. To adjust, schools have to find a way to get up to speed on effectively engaging learners at home.
Also, as we look at what school will “look like” for the 2020-21 school year, school districts are already discussing the option of coming into school or staying at home. As they work to define exactly what that means, our educational system needs a way to keep students connected to one another. Esports is a great way to help make that happen.
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