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Tripling Student Engagement While Advancing Learning, Career and Life Skills Through Esports

Original article from NASEF | July 14, 2023

Esports is gaining widespread acceptance in schools around the world, by both educators and students, as a powerful way to engage students in active learning. Esports also serves as a platform to develop critical career and life skills including communication, collaboration and problem-solving.

NASEF provides a framework and support for educators in school districts and classrooms nationwide to introduce esports programs, leveraging students’ love of video games to connect them to career pathways. Doing so helps students compete in today’s workforce by building essential tech and “soft skills.”

Many NASEF members are witnessing first-hand success in the classroom due to scholastic esports clubs. Students at California’s Moreno Valley Unified School District (MVUSD) are having fun as they learn valuable lessons about team building, STEAM skills and much more, offering a real-life illustration of why NASEF’s blend of play and learning is so effective.

Students in the Moreno Valley Unified School District develop critical life skills as they have fun at the 2022 Winter League Championship.

Thanks to the free resources offered by NASEF, MVUSD has integrated full scholastic esports programs into each of its four traditional high schools, three alternative education schools, seven middle schools, and 22 elementary schools. Students, together with teachers, have freedom to explore a number of potential career pathways, from game design and concepts to health and wellness and social media influencing. Students are encouraged to explore higher education via college field trips and develop the skills and concepts surrounding gaming that align with scholarship opportunities.

At the district level, school administrators have a strategic plan that focuses on four of the 15 NASEF college/career pathways per year in support of the district’s goal for esports events to be 100% student-produced. In 2023, the district supported a scholastic focus on event organization, shout casting, IT support, streaming, marketing, and fandom art.

According to Joshua Combs, Board Member on the Moreno Valley Education Foundation and IT Analyst at MVUSD, the program has been an overwhelming success as district events, including all league championships and their district wide end-of-the-year tournament, are now smoothly organized and produced by students. In 2023, students independently hosted matches, streamed games to Twitch and shout casted, while other students organized the championship, set up equipment, ran lighting and sound, created video highlights for the big screen, made T-shirts for the “Event Staff” students, and captured player and coach interviews so they could create promo videos later.

Says Joshua, “Student engagement in esports tripled to over 1600 students in the second year of our program with the introduction of esports electives, dedicated spaces in our secondary schools, and new esports clubs in our elementary schools. As we enter year three, we expect to see those numbers double if not triple as esports electives are increasing, industry speakers are being introduced, collegiate pathways are being formed, and partnerships are being created with existing CTE and career based programs.”

Moreno Valley School Unified District students participate in the 100% student-driven Fall League Esports Championship, helping organize and run the event, which was broadcast live.

Recently students from 17 of the district’s elementary, middle, and high school programs had the opportunity to showcase their scholastic programs at the Annual MVUSD STEAM Expo, which drew more than 2,500 attendees.

Added Joshua, “Students from our secondary schools in the IT Pathway set up, imaged, inventoried, and deployed 92 Legion gaming laptops to our elementary esports program which will be used for Minecraft competitions, while Event Pathway students documented and captured the entire experience on video. Elementary program students incorporated the ‘Soul Forge’ exercise developed by NASEF’s Kevin Brown into their esports programs and classrooms. One of our schools took this to a whole new level by having the entire 5th grade do Fantasy Game Design as one of their five International Baccalaureate projects. Students designed their game worlds and characters, developed back stories, skills, and weaknesses, and presented the project to the entire class.”

In Spring 2023, MVUSD’s Spring League Minecraft Challenge entered several teams into NASEF competitions internationally and internally. All secondary schools have established NASEF clubs and compete in NASEF tournaments, while three of the district’s high schools took 1st, 2nd and 3rd place in the winter Riverside County championship 5x5 Super Smash Crew Battles. All four MVUSD’s high schools have JV and Varsity CIF teams competing at the state level through NASEF.

“In our second year, we collected data to evaluate student progression and program success. Students engaged in esports were flagged in our Student Information System allowing us, with the help of the Riverside County Office of Education (RCOE), to report data on attendance and suspension rates. To our amazement, reports showed MVUSD esports students 100% outperformed non-participating students at every school in every category,” said Joshua. “Additionally, we are now partnering with RCOE and the University of California Riverside to do a research study on ‘Assessment of Cognitive Function in Competitive Esports Gamers.’”

“The program has been amazing! Moreno Valley is a great model for anyone wanting to implement a scholastic esports program in their district/schools,” added Heidi Baynes, Educational Technology Coordinator for the Riverside County Office of Education.


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