Student engagement is the single most important cornerstone of any education solution. This importance has been proven throughout the practice of distance learning where globally, teachers have had to seek out new ways of engagement through purely digital rather than physical mechanisms. This has expressed itself in various forms throughout the world: the hybrid approach of Egypt utilising part time in-person classes supplemented by online teaching, Mexico’s use of national television to broadcast lessons to remote areas without internet access, Europe reopening schools by year group and East Asia, where students have returned to class with plastic walls separating students, with frequent temperature tests to isolate potential virus cases. One thing is clear from all these variegated developments - that being how the question of student engagement remains unresolved even as schools reopen.
A world that is learning to live alongside the continued existence of COVID-19 is an alienating one, and the experience is amplified for young students in K-12 who in such an early stage of development find their voice and independence through their social interactions. The mutual suspicion of our closest friends, lingering beyond national stay-at-home orders is a difficult concept to explain and harder still to practice in everyday life. However, we are not without an answer to these challenging issues.
Gaming is an unlikely pairing for education and is by no means the sole solution for disrupted social engagement, but video games can play an important role to enrich student engagement in a challenging world. The benefits of esports education applications are clear and come in a variety of forms. In the Nordics region, there is formal integration of esports into the K-12 curriculum, which has demonstrated clear advantages in developing teamwork, problem solving and social skills amongst students. In France, schools have partnered with esports leagues such as ESL to provide virtual school trips, taking the place of in-person visits. In Singapore, esports non-profits arrange work placement and experience for students with online event management and broadcasting. Furthermore, esports in the classroom teaches healthy gaming exposure. By playing with classmates rather than anonymous people online, it helps individuals engage with technology in a way that mitigates addiction, whilst practicing social skills rather than eroding them.
As esports is an organised form of digital engagement, it can provide the routine and responsibility which is typically absent from traditional gaming and internet usage. The idea is that education esports represents the school playground, where students meet with their colleagues between classes. The key difference for education applications of esports is not to see it as competing for a prize pool with intensive after school coaching, nor is it about about becoming absorbed by a digital world at the expense of reality. It is about using the digital world to visit those we know from the real world and to play.
When considering esports in education, we should think about playing football in the playground, not to obsess and train for the England team, but to enjoy the company of those we play with, with our social connections justifying the time we spend on the activity, rather than the activity itself. This is a key opportunity for education to take the initiative and improve young peoples’ relationship with technology, whilst bringing them back into socially beneficial communication with their classmates.
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