eSports - gaming that promotes all kinds of learning

At Wanniassa School Senior Campus, a one-of-a-kind program has raised the profile of ICT among the students, given them a voice, and provided opportunities to for students to develop a range of skills from leadership and sportsmanship to positive online communication.
At first glance, the eSports unit might not look like a traditional high school ICT class. In fact one of the main pieces of feedback that teacher Adam Carter has had from the occasional person to pop into his class is “they’re just playing games!”. But when you scratch below the surface, you start to see just how much learning there is in a ‘game-playing’ class.

What is eSports?

For those who don’t know, eSports is an international phenomenon, involving more than 200 million people in any given year. Generally, players participate in tournaments based on Massively Multi-Player Online Role-Playing Games (MMPORPGs). In the last few years, the player base has expanded, as well as the profile and audience, with live broadcasts, competitor salaries and huge prize pools.

But where does it fit into a school?

At Wanniassa School, it all started with a problem (as good innovations do!). ICT elective participation was way down, despite the current emphasis on digital technology skills. Having only four students electing to participate made it difficult to sustain a good ICT program. So the teachers asked the students: if you could study anything at all in the world with an element of ICT, what would it be?

One student thought eSports might be a good option. He came from a Korean family, and knew a lot about eSports, so he thought it might be a good fit. The teachers did a bit of research, and were able to find some elements of eSports that seemed to fit in the curriculum. They could immediately see the potential for developing leadership, sportsmanship and problem-solving skills, while developing digital technologies skills at the same time. With the support of the executive, the eSports unit was born!

How does an eSports class work?

Students in eSports work on a combination of tasks assigned by the teacher designed to lead them into the mechanics of the specific games they are focusing on and the actual implementation of that learning. The games were chosen by the students based on current popular competition games.

There are a variety of students enrolled in the unit. Some of them have never played the games used in the unit and there are some who play competitively in their own time. These more experienced students move around the room working to support other students throughout the lesson.

Wanniassa School are sharing their curriculum and planning documentation with the Garnes Vidaregåande Skule (a public high school) in Norway, who have offered Wanniassa students the opportunity to join the European league later in the year. This will involve schools from both Norway and Sweden. Students are also working towards creating their own league in the ACT with high schools around town. They are currently conducting research and creating the rules and processes for this to happen.

What impact does the eSports program have on student learning?

Believe it or not, some of the main outcomes covered in the eSports program relate to the Health and PE Curriculum. The students learn about teamwork and sportsmanship, rules of a game and game strategies, just the same as if they were learning how to play baseball or field hockey. The program also links with both the  ICT General Capability and the Digital Technologies Curriculum. As the program develops further, the students will start including more coding-based topics, such as designing characters.

One of the major pieces of work for the students in term 4 will be creating tutorial videos to host on the Wanniassa YouTube channel; talking and showing how to successfully play the games they have focused on.

And then there are the unintended outcomes. One thing that the teachers have discovered so far is that the students are developing some great social skills as well. When the students were setting up their original game server, they came across some of the typical interactions between gamers.

For example, as the students are participating in a public environment, they are exposed to the full spectrum of interactions between gamers, including the kinds of slurs that people say to each other. Instead of trying to hide this from the students, Adam engaged them in discussions about why this kind of language was inappropriate. And he and other teachers have really seen a shift in the students’ behaviour as a result. They rarely swear, and will ‘call each other out’ on inappropriate or derogatory slurs. They are more respectful and very aware of the potential problems with online interactions. In recent times, when the treatment of women online has been in the spotlight, having the change in awareness come from the students rather than an authoritative ‘teacher voice’ could make all the difference.

The high engagement in this unit has also made a big difference to behaviour management. The teachers notice that students are managing their own behaviour, and the pride that they take in their ‘digital technologies’ classroom is also evident. I heard a nice story about how an ‘interesting’ year 10 student was quick to respectfully remind another student that “there is no eating in this space, you’ll need to move outside”. An interaction that might have had a different flavour in another context.

And of course the ICT faculty has now seen a complete turnaround in elective participation. The eSports course is ‘maxed out’, and the other ICT courses (also planned with student input) are also seeing a surge in numbers. A powerful example of how student voice and authentic learning can make a difference.

So what’s next?

As Adam develops this unit further, he is working closely with his students: regularly gathering feedback about what’s going well and what some of the problems are. Together they will continue to refine the unit and deliver it to students. We’re very excited to hear about how it goes in the future.