In the early weeks of the fall semester of 2017, we developed a series of events that provided students opportunities to create Esports activities that led to a universitywide showcase competition. We will be presenting these findings at the inaugural Connected Learning Summit, Aug. 2, 2018 at the MIT Media Lab.
In April, students from across East Stroudsburg University (ESU) came together to hold a successful League of Legend event in the Digital Media Technologies department. This was the culmination of a year of hard work and exploratory active learning. How did we get there?
Our ESports tournament was a special event in the Provost’s Colloquium Series entitled “ESportsU Live Gaming Event.” The experience hosted almost 200 participants in the very first Esports event at the university. ESportsU showcased the potential of an Esports program as a highly engaging experience that can encompass active learning, high levels of research and career development to achieve self-motivated objectives at the crossroads of play and digital media content knowledge. The ESportsU project conducted four preparatory sessions called Beta Tests, to test equipment, League of Legend game play, procedures, and prepare for the student-run event. These activities were led and driven by student passion for competitive gaming and also sought to enhance their engagement in digital media competency development.
Why Esports? The emerging global phenomenon of Esports, competitive playing and viewing of live competitive digital games, has seen international growth in players, spectators and revenue. In fact, the Overwatch league has the potential to become the next NFL and collectively the industry expects to generate revenue streams of up to $1.5 Billion by 2020. Gaming communities such as those built around Esport cultures provide students interactive entertainment, competition, communication and digital skills development.
Organic STEM Learning
The new ESU Esports enthusiasts began to self-organize, using social media platforms to connect with like minded students. With great interest, these students then took on a quest for club status, entered tournaments, and prepared several opportunities for fellow club members to participate in competitive gaming. Engagement spread throughout the campus as students began to think strategically to develop plans to obtain their long range objective of Esports at ESU and applied digital media skills in a real-world setting to accomplish their objectives.
Learning can be greatly enhanced by inspiring students, facilitating a learning experience that both informs and challenges, finding the balance between rigor and passion. Learning approaches in a new digital age require more student-centered approaches that harness learner’s native digital hubs. During these events, students displayed advanced production skills, problem solving, critical thinking, teamwork, collaboration, communication, and leadership skills. Students noticeably increased their proficiency using digital media tools and engaged in active learning, that we came to call Organic STEM Learning (OSL). We define OSL as the process of providing active learning opportunities for students that leverage their desire to accomplish specific tasks using STEM knowledge obtained in classroom activities then translating them to real world activities. As a result, learners accomplish tasks and projects autonomously using the competencies they have transformed into an authentic self-motivating learning process.
When students engage in OSL with culturally relevant computing approaches, it increases their motivation, and allows them to transform classroom information into the ability to create digital content, building STEM competencies. During the preparation, and in the event itself, approximately 50 students were actively involved from across the campus. After the event, more than 175 incoming freshman have joined the newly created club. Our OSL experience included aspects of graphics and web design, video production, media streaming, and digital marketing/management and deployment of social media.
We believe that the success of EsportsU represents the first domino in a series of connected events and programs that can provide positive benefits in multiple areas including student retention concerns, recruitment, and transformational pedagogical practices. These activities proved to be a catalyst for cultivating a cohesive Esports community connected to an academic department. Our findings reveal a potential replicable template for smaller rural institutions to develop and embed academic intersections of OSL and play into a burgeoning Esports program. We observed a positive impact that the event had on our students as they used skills they had acquired in the classroom to accomplish their objectives by engaging in OSL. As a result of their work on the project, students were able to gain valuable skills toward career readiness and STEM development. Overall, the event was a great success, with a blending of learning, competition, and entertainment for the ESU community.
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