Two Years of Research by UC Irvine Document Significant Positive STEM Learning Outcomes for Students in NASEF High School Esports Clubs

press release Jan 15, 2020
UC Irvine Research on NASEF

Research indicates student gains in STEM engagement, STEM activity participation, STEM career knowledge and interest, and more

(Orange County, CA – January 15, 2020) – The North America Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF) and the University of California Irvine (UCI) today released data that documents significant positive learning outcomes for high school students because of their participation in NASEF’s scholastic esports program. Researchers at UC Irvine found that students improved in nearly every outcome variable measured, including STEM career interest, school engagement, critical thinking, and many others.

From its inception just two years ago, NASEF has focused on developing a program that taps into students’ excitement around esports, with an emphasis on personal and educational development. Constance Steinkuehler, a professor of Informatics at UCI, researches the cognitive, intellectual, and social aspects of esports and multiplayer online videogames. She and a team of researchers have just completed two empirical studies on student behaviors and learning specific to NASEF’s scholastic-based structured environment.

“You can’t just guess at whether a new approach to learning will be effective,” said Steinkuehler. “Teenagers are tricky; they can’t be talked into liking something or easily convinced that certain classes are relevant. I’ve been researching games and learning for more than a decade, working to hone in on something that kids are authentically drawn to AND that provides a meaningful, authentic context for meeting key educational goals and standards. These data suggest that NASEF is onto something important with scholastic esports.”

In year one, UCI found emergent, natural ties between student activities in NASEF and important educational standards in science, math, and English Language Arts. NASEF then developed digital toolkits and curriculum to amplify the educational content of students’ activities– for example, taking students’ analysis of their gameplay data and adding structure and scaffolding in order to amplify and make explicit the connections to data science and STEM. These materials were then distributed to all NASEF clubs and developed into high school curricula, which has been approved by the State of California for high school English Language Arts graduation requirements (and is easily adapted for other states).

Student interviews revealed the impact. As one student commented, “Comparatively to - like - other games that I’ve played, I’ve never really analyzed a game more closely than I have with League. Mostly because of my coach.

Mentorship and opportunities for student leadership were shown to be two important program features that led to these early positive outcomes in:

  • Science: asking questions and defining problems, analyzing and interpreting data
  • Math: problem-solving, attending to regularity (of the game and league)
  • English Language Arts: communicating information and findings, using evidence to back up one’s claims

In its second year, NASEF continued to carefully evaluate evidence of learning and again the results were positive. NASEF programs showed significant positive outcomes across nearly every outcome variable measured, including STEM attitudes and career knowledge, and 21st Century skills such as critical thinking and mastery orientation.

Additionally, comparisons between the NASEF program and other programming within the same schools revealed that NASEF significantly outperformed other after-school options in:

  • STEM activity participation, career knowledge, and engagement
  • Grit and perseverance
  • Relationships with adults
  • Critical thinking

“We need to be clear that these learning outcomes cannot be extrapolated to other esports programs or leagues,” said Gerald Solomon, executive director of the Samueli Foundation and founder of NASEF. “There is a huge difference between esports in general and NASEF’s approach of scholastic esports. We put learning first, and the documented gains are fantastic – not only are these young people thrilled to participate in clubs and classes, they’re building a foundation that will help them thrive.”

“The tide has turned,” said Tom Turner, chief education officer at NASEF. “Esports and video games used to be seen as negatives by parents and educators, but this research documents the positive benefits children realize when they’re involved in esports in a NASEF club, with structured learning built right into the fun. It’s time for all of us to embrace this new world of learning and to give our children the ability to learn while doing what they love.”

About the North America Scholastic Esports Federation 

The North America Scholastic Esports Federation is working to ensure that ALL students possess the knowledge and skills needed to be society’s game changers: educated, productive, and empathetic individuals. NASEF is on a mission to provide opportunities for ALL students to use esports as a platform to acquire critical communication, collaboration, and problem-solving skills needed to thrive in work and in life. The Federation’s core values are intertwined through all aspects of education and play: learning, opportunity, community, diversity, and respect.

Under the Samueli Foundation’s leadership, the Federation is led by partners from the Orange County Department of Education, OC STEM Initiative, Connected Camps, Connected Learning Lab, UCI Esports, UCI Henry Samueli School of Engineering, and the UCI Bren School of Information & Computer Science. 

Learn more at the NASEF website. Members of the press can find videos, infographics, and leadership profiles in the online press room. Join online conversations on Twitter @NASEFgg for esports updates and @NASEFedu for our education news, on Facebook and Instagram, and see matches streamed live on our Twitch channel. 

Media Contact:
Claire LaBeaux
[email protected]

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