Districts across the country revise and rewrite their academic visions, goals, and strategic plans every year. Professional development (PD) for administrators is embedded, and if the district has a comprehensive strategy for teacher PD, best practices are implemented in every classroom. However, is this really what is happening nationwide, and are Career and Technical Education (CTE) teachers included in the “trickle-down” process of PD?
Excellence, equity, resources, and classroom actions are at the forefront of student success. The rapidly changing technological landscape has changed much of what teachers and students are currently experiencing in learning environments. Industry leaders are searching for graduates that possess professional skills such as collaboration, communication, creativity, and analytical thinking. Yet, students are often focused on their electronic devices and are enamored with the multitudinous methods of communication available to them within a single piece of technology. Although at times distracting, it is evident that today’s learning environment must meet the needs of today’s learners, and that tool is an electronic device.
Emerging Technologies and the Major Role of CTE
Until recently, only a few attempts were made to postulate developmental change in CTE curricular resources to include the rapid growth in emerging technology. Technology has consumed every aspect of the industrialized market and CTE career pathways must contend with the growing “gamification” of curricular resources and capitalize on the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) roots embedded in this process of delivering gamified lessons. Additionally, the 2D environment that has been the norm has expanded rapidly to a 3D environment, and it is predicted that in the next few years, 3D learning will be the next phase of internet expansion and industry tools. This begs the question, “How can we intrinsically excite and engage our CTE students in this new chapter of history and prepare them for the future workforce?” The answer is Academic Esports!
Academic Esports: Engage in the Future
Academic Esports is known as a gateway to STEM-related courses such as game design and development, information technology, engineering, web development as well as orbital careers in sports marketing-related fields. This multi-billion-dollar industry has attracted today’s youth at unprecedented levels. Now is the time for CTE to be the educational innovator and leap ahead with state-of-the-art technology and industry-standard teaching tools. Researchers at Mastery Coding have provided a “blueprint” for turning “gamers into makers” and include the developmental as well as technical skills that are so critical for all industry sectors (see white paper). Skills generally held in high esteem such as teamwork, leadership, strategic thinking, adaptability, tenacity, self-regulation, etc. have long been educational goals for most districts across the country. These are universal skills that employers so desperately seek in today’s employees. Academic Esports provides learning experiences to enhance each of these skills. Introducing students to STEM studies through their passion for gaming can quickly help a learner discover their next steps in career visions. Very soon, today’s youth will be able to place themselves in the 3D world of professions and experience future career roles. This role play in a three-dimensional environment may well permit students to be more decisive about their future career goals and develop the skills needed to be successful.
Teamwork and Collaboration Leads to Multiple Careers
One needs only to look at the size of the industry to understand its appeal. Worldwide, 2.7 billion gamers have made esports a $175 billion international industry. Last year, League of Legends had more viewers tune in to watch their finals than the NBA and the NHL combined. Another platform, Epic Games, announced plans to sponsor $100 million in prize money for Fortnite esports tournaments in the very first year of gameplay – almost as much as the $113 million of prize money awarded for all esports competitions in 2017. The opportunities aren’t just reserved for gamers, either. Contributing to each team’s successes are people in a variety of orbital roles, such as team managers, social media specialists, and broadcasters. With a continually growing eSports industry comes numerous and expanding career pathways. Esports athletes become software developers, graphic designers, engineers, IT professionals, and more.
Esports Pathway to College Scholarships
We genuinely believe that given the right tools and a little bit of guidance, the gamers of today will become the builders of tomorrow. The Metaverse is already here, and we want our CTE students to be the pioneers and creators of that digital space. Students are already gaming at home, at school, and with their friends. Now is the time to harness the power of academic esports and set them up for success. Already, almost 300 universities offer esports scholarships. Combined with the fact that esports players overwhelmingly prefer STEM studies, it becomes clear why colleges are actively starting and supporting esports varsity teams on their campuses. They understand that having an esports team directly contributes to having a really strong engineering team, cybersecurity team, and IT programs. By channeling students' passion for gaming into college and career readiness we give them the tools necessary to be successful in a landscape changed by technology.
Educational research trends have suggested gaming as a very viable engagement tool and that when taught in a safe academic environment, leads to successful student outcomes and avoids the pitfalls of unhealthy gaming. Clubs that are playing thesegames on campuses across the country could and should be a part of CTE student organizations as an extension of course-related material. A curriculum focused on ethical gaming, strategic thinking, teamwork, and scholastic application of esports has proven successful in a variety of districts and would be an excellent addition to many existing CTE Pathways/Programs of Study or as an emerging technology.
Recently, I spoke to several students involved in Academic Esports. Students even as young as seventh grade expressed their intense passion for technology and expressed a desire to pursue career goals in STEM fields as a result of learning about and playing games associated with Academic Esports. The realization that today’s students in middle and high school are so enthused with gaming and STEM careers correlate to collegiate Esports data as well. If we can ascertain this type of information from recorded student interviews, and compare it with national collegiate data, we can surmise this tool to be effective in the classroom. This current trend began only a few years ago and will only increase as we become a more virtual society (whether by pandemics or by choice). Technology revolutionized the 21st century and education must stay abreast of in-demand industrial needs. CTE courses are the vehicle to engage students in these developments, and our educators must be willing to seize the opportunity for educational growth. It is incumbent upon every educator to continue their journey as lifelong learners.
Emerging technologies are no longer “emergent,” but already ubiquitous and constantly evolving within our daily lives. Technology will continue to rapidly develop and CTE educators must grow with the changing panoramic landscape. This is a monumental task, but with the help of curricula such as academic versions of gaming and industry partners, teachers will have the tools to effectively teach tomorrow’s technology. After all, student engagement and success are essential to solving the complex problems that currently affect our global citizens as well as those of the future.