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Episode twenty four

The Virtual Staffroom Podcast

Episode 24 – Unpacking the power of Esports in the classroom

Joachim Cohen:

Welcome to the Virtual Staffroom, a podcast made for teachers by teachers and all with a dash of educational technology thrown in. My name is Joachim Cohen and today, like every day, I am joined by two rather awesome members of the technology for learning team. Yvette Poshoglian and Linda Lazenby. So have you heard of esports, seen images of people of all ages competing in the virtual space with avatars, challenges and amazing prizes? Did you know there are even people out there who make a career from esports? But does it have a place in the classroom? Are there both curriculum and social affordances? In today's episode, we dive into the world of esports and also consider if it's a tool for school.

Joachim Cohen:

Now to begin, we here at the Virtual Staffroom have to admit some of us have, and are even still a little skeptical of the benefits of esports, but our minds are open, our attention has been peaked. So to learn more about the phenomenon, we are beaming in someone direct from the United States of America, someone who knows the research, lives and breeds esports in education, and helps schools and clubs across the globe to get started. Today, we are lucky enough to be joined by esports superstar and computer science content manager on the Minecraft Education Edition team, Laylah Bulman. Welcome, Laylah.

Laylah Bulman:

Thank you. Thank you so much for inviting me.

Yvette Poshoglian:

We're thrilled to have you here, Laylah. Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself and also the role you have within Minecraft Education Edition team?

Laylah Bulman:

Sure, absolutely. I'm an educator. I was a teacher for about 16 years and an administrator as well. I joined Minecraft about almost six months ago now. Prior to that, I was working with Lego Education, building content out for STEM and s and robotics. I'm a miner girl, but really my passion is connecting students with their passions and what's important to them to all of the professions and opportunities for learning that are out there. I came to United States as a young girl and I take every opportunity to learn more as I possibly can. And so I realised that when we are exposing students to new kinds of careers and new kinds of skills and just awareness of the world around them, that were opening up the doors for a much better life and a happier life. That's my focus in life. And if I can do that through esports and STEM gives me much meaning, and hopefully I'll be able share that today.

Joachim Cohen:

Oh, wow. That's such an amazing live mantra to have and to pass onto so many others. And you're right, esports is something that's really engaged a generation, but for those who don't know, what is esports? Is it a genuine career? Paint us a bit of a picture.

Laylah Bulman:

It's a great picture. So think of the biggest stadium that you can imagine, and now imagine that times a thousand and that stadium was filled in raucous, and they're all excited about what they're seeing. And that was the Fortnite finals two years ago. It is, there are 550 million esports players, about 45% of them identify as girls or women, about 46 million disabled, 75% of families identify having a gamer in their family. So if you're an educator, if you're a teacher, you probably have quite a few in your classroom as well. So esports is an exciting, as you can hear, and pervasive, organised as scheduled competitive experience in video games. So if you just think about a pitch and it has players on it, and they're playing a game, they need the schedule and they have an opposing team, put it on a video game, and that's esports.

Laylah Bulman:

So is just a new platform for competing, but the difference... That's esports. But esports in education, or scholastic esports, is utilising the passion that kids have for this kind of experience and to connect them to go beyond the game, and to connect them to all the professions in this almost a trillion dollar industry at this point. And so what does that mean? Can my child still be a doctor and do esports? Yes. There are doctors in esports, they treat teams. There are physical therapists. There are accountants. There are lawyers, they're also there, but there are also content creators and marketers, strategists, there're the IT folks and software developers, so there are careers that we don't even know yet in esports. And so kids have to understand that there's a value, and parents have to understand as well, there's a value beyond the game.

Laylah Bulman:

And even if you're not a player or a gamer, which I am not, in fact, my kids say, you're the least likely person to be talking about this, that's okay, because I'm around esports and I help advocate for esports. And if you're a student and you have students that say, "I like to watch the streams," maybe you'd be a great producer. I'm an artist. Well, maybe we need graphic designers for our logos. There's so many different roles for students that you don't have to worry about being good at the game. It's about finding a space and a place and being with your tribe. There's a lot of kids that are looking for that connection. It's a broad term in an education we are utilising as a tool for learning and exposing kids to careers that will be there and that are growing.

Linda Lazenby:

I think that's a great description, Laylah, of how it intersects with teaching and how we can use it in the classroom. I suppose the question for our listeners who are predominantly teachers, is why should teachers be interested in esports?

Laylah Bulman:

Because your students are.

Linda Lazenby:

Great answer.

Yvette Poshoglian:

Yeah.

Laylah Bulman:

It's relevant to them. It matters to them. They love it. And if they love it, and research demonstrates that when students are deeply engaged in a topic they're open to learning. That's one part. You also have to have, as an educator trust, you have to develop trust so that they're open to learning from you. So you're meeting them where they are, you're valuing what they value. It matters to them that you like what they like. So meet them there. Their brains are wired differently than ours are. So if it's relevant to them and it matters to them, it should matter to us. And then we can use it to share what they don't know, what yet will matter to them.

Yvette Poshoglian:

Laylah, what does the research say about the success of esports? Does it have the potential to develop our students in different ways and maybe those key 21st century dispositions in our students?

Laylah Bulman:

Well, the research demonstrates that when done with intentionality, right, when done purposefully, it has a number of different, well, quite a few different benefits for students. The social, emotional skills, I think, that we've seen in the research is where students grow the most. They're communicating, they're leading. They are actually self-regulating. So what with the image of these kids going crazy with esports? And on the contrary, they are teaching themselves how to not tilt, how to remain calm so that they can be... so they can improve their scores and be better, for example. The research also demonstrates that students in the traditional STEM subjects, that kids are better at... they do improve in science, they do improve in math because of the critical thinking that occurs and the problem solving skills that occur in esports as well.

Laylah Bulman:

But I really think that the biggest growth that we've seen actually is around equity. All of the research has demonstrated that the lowest 25% of socioeconomic strata kids, so our course kids, our most marginalised students have the greatest growth. A lot of reasons why. Because we're giving access, we're teaching them about game constructs that they perhaps had never experienced before, opportunities to be in a team that doesn't require for you to have a huge pitch and umpires and parent volunteers. Those things are... that's a lot of heavy resources. So you can have an esports team in your classroom.

Laylah Bulman:

And I think also in terms of intentionality of your question, the research has also demonstrated the role of inclusion. So students also grow their sense of STEM value and STEM identity. They say, I belong here, esports is for me, this is really a STEM activity, I now value STEM. So the research has demonstrated that transition when done, again, with intentionality, and in a program that focuses on those types of skills.

Joachim Cohen:

I love the dimension of STEM throughout there. And I was wondering, I guess I can start to see the connection in the roles that you were talking about that become part of esports, but can you unpack that a little bit more for us for those who may not have done a lot of gaming, how does esports actually develop and promote those STEM skills as well as a STEM identity?

Laylah Bulman:

So the best way to think about it is to think of an esports club, and that esports club can have many teams in it. And those teams are the teams that are playing a particular game. So in Minecraft, for example, we have creative clash games, we have making model games. Those are just two. And in your esports club, you have a make and model team, and you have a creative class team, and you may have an Among Us team and you may have a Fortnite team, but your esports club has opportunities, not just for the kids that are playing competitively, but like every club, they need a leader, they need a treasurer, they need someone thinking about wellness and exercise and nutrition. We're in the 21st century, we should be thinking about those things. And did you do your homework before you came to the club today? Let's do it now together as a club.

Laylah Bulman:

There's a club where kids also take on the roles that parents traditionally do, or volunteers traditionally do, or teachers even traditionally do with sports. So for example, here in the United States, if you're a teacher, you are required to do at least one activity after school, whether it's a club or it's a sport. And so sometimes we may not know the sport, but we're coaching it. So the ability for teachers to then gain those skills and become relevant as well, those roles are done also by students now in that club. So the scheduling that occurs in recreational sports, students do that. Setting up a tournament and the fundraising and selling the refreshments and the... those are called fruit and chips, right? That's run by students. That gives them opportunities and roles in their club that they never would have had before.

Laylah Bulman:

So, for example, even in my own experience when I was a principal, they wanted to have a girls lacrosse team, and I had to go and recruit the teacher, and I had to go and recruit the parents to do all of the work that really the kids wanted to do. And those are the skills that are relevant to them in their future lives. So to a teacher to think about, think about this as a really, really, really robust PBL, project based learning. That's the best way to describe it. It's immersive, it's hands-on, kids are making something that parents can see that demonstrates their relevant artifacts of their learning. That's really what esports in its best way is.

Linda Lazenby:

It's definitely a different way when you look at it with that PBL focus, Layla. So for your advice to teachers, do you recommend teachers look at this as part of their regular curriculum, or as an extracurricular?

Laylah Bulman:

You can do both. In the classroom, it's a great way to assess in a formative assessment, a way to assess learning. So for example, say we are studying the Great Wall of China, I can in my esports worlds, have students compete and build certain sections or perhaps certain tools in the game. And I'm assessing not only the actual build I'll build a rubric, but also I can assess how well did you preplan. Think about all the stuff that we do as teachers in group format, right? And I don't know about you, but I've had many a conversation where students say, "I'm the only one that did work. The rest of my team didn't do anything."

Laylah Bulman:

And so in esports there's no escape. We're going to see... we get to see the pre-planning. We get to hear the communication, the working together in real time. And the retrospective; now explain to me as a team, what you built together. And there's a bit... and then the fun element of competition, right? That's an example of how we would have esports in the classroom. But to then expand access, because you know every student's going to hear that in your classroom they're doing esports, they're going to want to be in your class. Having the after-school club builds out opportunities that go beyond just that formative assessment or content-focused experience. I mean, it brings fun to school. I'm in school, it's fun, and I belong here, and I want to stay until late at night because we're practicing and we're preparing for the tournament for Saturday. And these are kids that typically are not already participating in activities after school. It's a place for them. So it's in the school day and out of school for expanding to multiple students.

Yvette Poshoglian:

Laylah, yeah, you're painting such an exciting picture of this being in schools. And I know that you've already started to touch on this, but how could schools foster this excitement and how can teachers safely foster esports and an esports program within the school? I mean, you've talked about bringing everyone together and the different facets of that engagement, but for teachers who are listening who might really want to do this, give us some tips.

Laylah Bulman:

So a couple of first steps. The very first step I would do is to go to the Microsoft Education Centre, we have a course, takes about an hour, not even, called esports is more than a game, more than just a game. You can go and have a quick intro into what are the requirements for incorporating esports into your classroom. That, I think it would be a good first step. We just finished the Microsoft Esports Teacher Academy. It went really very well. And all of those materials will be soon a course, coming to you as well on the Microsoft Education Centre. So they'll be two areas that you can self-teach. Additional, those resources include a playbook, right? How to build a club. What's a rubric, where are the resources? That's one.

Laylah Bulman:

Then another area, of course, is on Minecraft Education Edition's website. So if you go to our website education.minecraft.net, I say I want to teach this, a blue button at the top, esports, will pop out really quickly. And that will take you to a landing page that has our playbook. It has videos, and it has access to 24 of our Minecraft worlds.

Laylah Bulman:

We have three collections. One is called make and model, so where kids make and model. And the cool little fun structure block is that what you've made you can also export to a 3D printer and print what you've made, which is super fun. It is STEM and STEAM, as well as we also have code to create. So these are just the same way as the make and model, where I'm building in a competitive format, you can also do it with code. So utilising the make code, the IDE, you can use block or JavaScript, or Python. So those of you, and we have a tonne in the Microsoft Esports Teacher Academy, tonnes of CS and IT teachers. So that to be able to integrate computer science into esports is like a dream come true. So we have coded grade.

Laylah Bulman:

And lastly, we have what's called creative flash. That's the more traditional, I'm on a team, and there's a point, and we have to be the first to, in this case, I'm a honeybee and I have to collect my nectar with my hive and the first to fill the honeypot with nectar wins. We have those traditional kind of resource gathering games to win. Kids love that because it's really about those SEL skills. So come to education.minecraft.net. We have the playbook, we have the worlds, and we also have the courses.

Linda Lazenby:

That's fantastic, Laylah. Can you talk to us a little bit about the experiences of the students, parents, and teachers that have been involved in your work with esports?

Laylah Bulman:

Yeah, well, that's a question that occurred often during Esports Teacher Academy, the different stakeholders and the role that they play to have a successful program, any teacher who's embarking on, or even just considering an esports club in their school has to address the concerns and interests and goals of their administration, they have to work with IT, have a clear, strong handshake with IT, inform parents of what this really is, what intentional esports is and the benefits of it, right, and certainly their administrations. So those are the kind of the four key stakeholders with whom you can have positive conversations.

Laylah Bulman:

The students can do a lot of it for you. You're going to have students, I mean, it can be as simple as I put a flyer, either in my course site or on my classroom door esports club. 4:00 PM, Wednesday. And the kids that are interested will show. And how do students tell parents why esports matters to them and what they'll be doing in that club is really a valuable... probably more valuable than what you could do. Those four stakeholders are important to address.

Laylah Bulman:

I will tell you that I think that parents, I've experienced this a lot, parents sometimes, actually often, and I will say that even I, as parent, experienced this as well, I come home, I used to work for Lego, and I think I got the best job, this is before Minecraft, best job in the world, and I see my kids deeply embedded in a screen and then say, "Oh my gosh, you're always gaming. Get out of the game. Come, face-to-face time. Talk to me. What about your homework?" And I think a lot of parents relate to that experience. So part of the job that you'll have to do as a teacher is a talk about the difference between a kid who's unhealthily gaming for hours on end, right?

Laylah Bulman:

So a kid, and I will tell you this, the majority of esports clubs, the kids are not gaming in the club. They're preparing for tournaments, they're practicing a little bit. Right? They're connecting it learning. So they're actually self-regulating in that club. And oftentimes they've gamed, and if they have gamed in the club, they don't do it at home. So parents really like that. So that conversation with your parents is very important because you will have probably a little bit of kick back. So informing and educating a parent is good. I think administrators are interested in many things, they're interested in engagement of students and wanting outcomes, but they're also interested in you hopefully as a professional and how this makes you... it adds to your toolkit and relevancy as a professional in the education world, right? This is something that's new. I heard that from many, many, many teachers, especially teachers that were teaching vocational courses.

Laylah Bulman:

So for example, teachers of graphic design, I heard this a lot from graphic design teachers that were teaching for magazines. They're teaching graphic design in the outlets for kids for magazine covers, etcetera, no one's reading magazines anymore, but when they change it to creating content for the schools esports club, they were reporting not only were students going through their curriculum three times faster because they couldn't wait to get to the esports, but as professionals, they say, "I just added 10 years to my career because I have a now a whole new area that was never teaching to before." So that's another to answer your question about parents and teachers and administrators.

Laylah Bulman:

And the students themselves, the students are looking for someone, and that might be you, you might be that teacher who gets them. And you may say to yourself, I know nothing about esports. I knew nothing about esports either. In fact, my esports relationship was very much kind of negative with my kids until, so I have a three and to of them are on the Spectrum, and I think the conversation came home to, "You don't even have any friends. You're only in that screen." It was a negative. I can tell you that it was not a proud parenting moment, but I don't think it's an uncommon one. And they waved me over and they said, "Well, really? Take a look." And on their Discord, hundreds of people that they were communicating with. I never even saw them speaking. So hundreds of people that they were communicating with, they were leading charges in these games that they were playing. They were respected. And I found out that they had a whole Twitch stream with 300,000 subscribers. I had an arena in my dining room and I didn't even know. And so, I thought it was crazy.

Laylah Bulman:

But the biggest moment I think I shared at the very beginning was the minute that I said, "Wow. Wow, not only do you have friends, you're... I'm so sorry. I didn't value what you were doing." It changed the relationship, and it opened them and open me to different ways in which we can reach kids and engage them so that we can reach our learning objectives and broaden the learning objectives, and frankly go deeper into the learning because it's relevant to them. It matters to them. It's a hook. It's a great hook.

Joachim Cohen:

Oh, research, the passion that you exude, the amazing stories you've told, I think have certainly made everyone stop and listen. That's for sure, Laylah. And as we get to the end of our podcast today, I'm just wondering, do you have any quick tips for teachers who are thinking, well, I might want to dip my toe in the water? Where do you suggest that they go and begin.

Laylah Bulman:

YouTube. Actually, I really do mean that. If you go to the Minecraft Education YouTube channel, we have an esports playlist where you can just sit back and watch the videos of game play. That I think reduces a little bit of the anxiety of, I don't really understand these games and what the kids are doing. That's a quick tip. Go and watch it. Just sit back, have a cup of tea, maybe a glass of wine, and watch the videos. After that, if you're interested, then going and downloading the esports educator framework. It's really a full compendium from A to Z that tells you, takes you from the why of game-based learning to why esports, it has all of the research in that compendium. So if an administrator asks, "Well, show me the research." Here you go. As well as playbooks for all of the games and worlds that we have in Minecraft Education. So I would download the Esports Educator Framework from our website. Those are the 1, 2 things I would do.

Yvette Poshoglian:

Thank you so much, Laylah, such a comprehensive approach and an overview for a lot of us that didn't know that much about it. So I'm just fascinated. Thanks so much. We're not going to let you go without one final question, which is a special surprise package. We've pinched an idea from the Desert Island Discs podcast from the UK where the guests nominate their favorite albums they want to be stuck on an island with; however, ours is a little bit different. Rocket ship robot asks, "What piece of tech would you take into space with you if you were on that rocket ship?"

Laylah Bulman:

I would take my iPhone because I really would want to stay connected to my family on earth and communicate as often as possible and send pictures from space.

Yvette Poshoglian:

That's beautiful. Thank you so much for being a part of our podcast today.

Laylah Bulman:

Thank you.

Yvette Poshoglian:

We're going to have a lot of listeners keen to go check out this world or building their knowledge on it. Thank you so much, Laylah.

Laylah Bulman:

My pleasure. Thank you very much.

Joachim Cohen:

So, Yvette and Linda, esports. After hearing from Laylah, do you think there is a place for them within the classroom or in the school?

Yvette Poshoglian:

Look, I'm very new to thinking in hearing and knowing about esports. I know that it's a thing, but I think after hearing Laylah talk about her experience as a principal and as a parent, I think her experience really speaks to the potential esports in our schools. Now, I don't know where that place might fit, and I know you guys might want to talk about that, but the line she had where you meet students where they are is actually really interesting. And I know that that's how a lot of teachers feel, but I think even with my, not my trepidation with Minecraft, but it really took me going in and speaking to teachers using Minecraft to realise how fully that potential could be realised with Minecraft. So I think it's like this again. I just probably need to immerse myself a bit in the world to see what the potential is.

Yvette Poshoglian:

Linda, what are your thoughts?

Linda Lazenby:

Look, it was a great conversation with Laylah, and I think it's really important to make sure when we are including things in the classroom or in our school programs, that they really are adding value to what's happening. And I think she really clearly demonstrated that that is the case with the way that esports has been run at schools. I think it's exciting to see teachers make sure, as you said, they're meeting students where their interest is at, that engagement is really front of mind as they're designing learning. I think there's a lot to be done here, but it's all around the how. And I suppose my only trepidation is still around looking at that full 20 hour, 24 hour period for a young person, and if there is a lot of gaming or screen time having outside of the school day, building more of it into the school day, as a parent and a teacher, probably concerns me still a little. Joe?

Joachim Cohen:

Yeah.

Linda Lazenby:

Disagree?

Joachim Cohen:

I can see where you're coming from, Linda, but I guess I can also see the opposite as well. And the one thing I really liked about what Laylah was saying is that by incorporating an esports program you're really opening me eyes to so many people as to what esports is, what STEM is, getting people excited about that. There might be lots of students who don't have any screen time out of school, don't engage in this kind of process, and they never thought they could have a career as a game designer or as a video game arena producer, but I agree, there needs to be moderation.

Joachim Cohen:

I remember back to my time in the library and I used to run a chess club during lunchtime, and it was like a little haven for a lot of students and provide them with a great opportunity to be able to connect with others and build those social and emotional skills. And I think esports has the potential to do that, but perhaps with an even wider audience and more people being interested in being excited and also having a place where they feel welcome. And I don't think it should be just for those that go into the library either. I think it should be for everyone. And that's the exciting potential from esports, from my end. There's no one who can't give it a fly. And as Laylah was saying, there's so many different roles within the esports arena to give everyone a chance.

Linda Lazenby:

I did, I really liked when you talked about looking at it from a project-based learning lens. I think that does really clear my mind a little bit around the quality it can provide students in going beginning to end with the whole experience. So yeah, a really great conversation.

Joachim Cohen:

So, one of the things that stood out to me was the idea of a challenge and of a teamwork and of engagement being so central to esports and really all sports. So, Yvette and Linda, do we have any tech resources that might engage our students and perhaps even get them working together?

Yvette Poshoglian:

Look, in terms of engagement, there is some great resources the T4L team have made that I want to point teachers towards, and that's our totally tech resources. It's a bit like having a classroom in a box online. And what it is are STEM-focused incursions that you can tune into with your students. You could set it as an independent learning challenge, or you could set it as a classroom project. And what we've done is we've gone and interviewed lots of industry experts and leaders, and they're really fascinating topics. So we've got Gadi, Australia's supercomputer, we've got the army drones racing team, and we've got Ryan "The Brickman" McNaught from LEGO Masters, he's got a session on there as well. And the packages are all like fabulous incursion inclusions, video content, guided learning activities that are connected to the videos, and really getting students to think about life in the STEM industry and also developing those skills to help them along with it. What have you found, Joe?

Joachim Cohen:

Just first of all, I love those totally tech resources. They're absolutely amazing. Getting behind the scenes of a supercomputer, I think will inspire anyone to get, working a little bit with data and thinking about how they can develop a STEM skills, but I went in a bit of a different route. And I took a look at the department's game changer challenge resources, and that's a really awesome annual challenge that gets students working together to solve a really big problem. And that kind of reminds me of esports because that's what esport is all about. It's about solving a problem, taking a challenge on board and working together as a team. And there's an awesome design thinking playbook that you can go and take a look at on the game changer challenge site, which you could use independently outside of the game changer challenge. So I really recommend people go along, take a look at that and then get students thinking about a problem in their community that they might be able to solve with that design thinking process. Linda, your turn.

Linda Lazenby:

Well, while we're thinking of all things games, T4L kids magazine, our first issue that came out, is all around game design. And there's some fantastic resources in there for teachers and students to go through the steps around creating a game, the different packages and software that students might use to make those and some really great tips on how they might share them with an audience in a safe way. So I'd recommend people explore that issue of the magazine.

Joachim Cohen:

So we've come to the end of another episode of the Virtual Staffroom, and to see us out, we have an awesome tip of techno wizardry wisdom, and we are lucky enough today to hear from Michael, a team member at Dubbo College.

Michael:

Thanks Joe, Linda, and Yvette. My name is Michael and I'm from Dubbo College Delroy Campus. My classroom technology tip this week is keyboard shortcuts for YouTube. Instead of trying to use your mouse to skip back to something, use your keyboard. Now, spacebar will pause and play a video, but so will the letter K. Right next to K is J, which will jump back 10 seconds, and L, which will jump you forward 10 seconds. F will take the video full screen, M will mute the sound. Probably my favorite feature of YouTube, closed captions, can be bought up by C. Now, there are loads of other useful shortcuts, just Google YouTube keyboard shortcuts, and the best bit, that most of them will work with Netflix, Amazon, Disney, Apple Plus, etcetera. Back to you T4L team.

Joachim Cohen:

So, Yvette and Linda, are you going to be dusting off that old game console to work on your strategic thinking and team-working skills this weekend? This podcast has been produced by the masterful Jacob Druce, with the assistance and supreme coordination of many more awesome members of the T4L team.

Yvette Poshoglian:

Just a little note, please be aware that all views expressed by the podcast presenters, that's us, are our personal opinions and not representative of the New South Wales Department of Education. Discussions aren't endorsements of third party products, services or events. And please note that as much as we sound like it, we are not experts in legal ease, tech speak or anything in between. We're just passionate people keen to boost technology for learning in the classroom and to help build the skills in your students and for you to solve the problems of tomorrow. Do your due diligence, read further. And if we've got something wrong, let us know. We, too, are always learning and always improving.

Joachim Cohen:

Before we go, please make sure you send us through your comments, your word of techno wizardry wisdom, and your thoughts for new guests and segments. And if you liked the podcast, give us a rating so more and more educators find us and be inspired to get a little techie in the classroom. Stay safe, stay compassionate, everyone, and don't stop challenging and questioning your preconceptions. Thanks for joining us.