In less than the span of a generation, the world has gone online. Teachers have had to adapt quickly, looking for new ways to prepare students for success in an ever-changing technological age. To stay relevant, it’s been important to engage students via structured online learning activities, made even better when these are based around a student’s existing hobbies and interests.
League of Legends Clubs are one such example—an online team-based sport or "esport"—League of Legends is an excellent game for teaching sportsmanship and good behaviour online.
Stanley Chang, Science Teacher at Howick College in Auckland, started his first League of Legends Club last year. “My goal was to promote friendship, teamwork, commitment and leadership,” says Stanley, “I want to create a Whanau (Maori word that stands for an extended family or community) so students have a sense of ‘belonging’ in school.”
The first step was to create an online tournament, in which students could form teams and compete against each other.
I found that students were able to communicate more effectively and build a strong sense of teamwork while playing League of Legends
“Initially there was confusion with tournament schedules and problems with online behaviour,” Stanley says, “however, these problems were quickly resolved through physical meetings and a restorative approach. From a teacher’s perspective, I found that students were able to communicate more effectively and build a strong sense of teamwork while playing League of Legends.”
There’s a disconnect in our education system. Students are thrown into the web, a new frontier (Facebook—for example—is less than 13 years old) but not one they need to face unprepared. Esports provide a unique way to teach online behaviour and sporting habits, one that is already a huge part of many students’ lives. Sportsmanship is not something we're born with, but a product of culture and education. By taking part in our students' online activities we can help shape those behaviours into productive, life-long habits.
Steven Van Garderen, Hard Materials Technology Teacher at Manurewa High School, sees the importance of this, and has been running League of Legends school tournaments for the last few years. “Communication is really important,” Steven says, “this is a game that can only be won by playing together. No matter the experience of a player, they can never win a game without the help of the others in the team.”
No matter the experience of a player, they can never win a game without the help of the others in the team
League of Legends is a five versus five co-operative team game, where players—who choose unique champions with different abilities—are required to work together to capture objectives and win the game. It’s this focus on communication, strategy and teamplay that make League such a positive learning tool for students.
“How to treat each other and the opposition is really important,” says Steven. “Good player conduct is something we talk about. It is common in games to flame[abuse]—not only the opposition—but also teammates when they are doing badly. This is something that you should not do. Teach each other when we make mistakes, and if something bad happens be positive and fix that error so we don’t repeat it.”
These are lessons taught on the sporting field, but for students who don’t connect with that environment, learning opportunities can be completely lost. League of Legends provides an alternate avenue for students to learn the value of fair play.
“Almost every day I get a student come up to me and ask if I am the teacher that plays games,” Steven says. “It is a way that teachers and students can bridge a really important gap that forms a new relationship.”
It is a way that teachers and students can bridge a really important gap that forms a new relationship
We expect students to reach outcomes that link to the national curriculum, but this gets harder if there’s a divide between the method of the lesson and a student’s day to day life. Students become more receptive when presented with a medium they authentically relate to.
There are a lot of negative connotations around gaming. The milder side comes from false associations with laziness and a lack of cleanliness; That gaming inspires aggression and antisocial behaviour is the much more extreme—but just as false—stereotype, which can be damaging to a student’s sense of self.
“An important process is explaining how gaming can be part of a student’s learning but, like anything, should not take over a student’s life” says Steven, who is acutely aware of the way negative profiling affects students. To combat this, Manurewa High School have set up an official esports team, recognised by both the school and the Board of Trustees.
The benefits about the recognition we are giving to the students is giving them some pride in what they are doing
“The benefits about the recognition we are giving to the students is giving them some pride in what they are doing. I have seen the students with their heads up now as they tell other students they are in a team. They feel now that they are taken seriously.”
This isn’t possible everywhere. In Western Australia, the Department of Education doesn’t allow video games to be played in schools, but certain advocates are using the medium to engage with students through other channels.
Flaktest Gaming, started by Tranby College ICT Teacher Brett Sullivan, has been running interschool high school tournaments, which has included 16 different schools from WA over four different tournaments. Sullivan is extremely focused on the link between education and gaming, and has strict rules that teams must be supported by a teacher in order to get involved.
Andrew Mayhills, Technology Innovation Coordinator and Level 3 Classroom Teacher at Shenton College, was responsible for the team who won the highest bracket of the tournament. “I had extraordinary support from my colleagues,” Andrew says, “many of whom were not necessarily gamers, but recognised the 'bigger picture' that esports can achieve in terms of driving positive school culture.”
The final was played in front of a crowd of roughly 200 people—a mix of students, teachers and parents—yet as the students weren’t able to train on campus, they had to find another way to prepare for the game.
“The two Shenton College teams who won the finals were meticulously organised,” says Andrew. ”They are Year 11 and 12 students with significant academic and sporting commitments. Most of them have casual or part-time jobs—they are busy. That they have been able to manage their time and fulfil all of these obligations, in addition to being successful in the esports championship, is a huge credit to them.”
The key to video games, like most activities, is finding a healthy balance; this includes time away from the screen. Video games are a great way to engage with others, or simply unwind, but parents and teachers have a collective responsibility to ensure students are managing their time correctly. Engaging with students through their gaming interests provides the opportunity for teachers to supervise these habits and plant the seed for healthy gaming habits.
It has been fantastic to watch the parallels between how students work together in the game and transfer these understandings into their broader school experience
“From the College perspective, we are most interested in the way that League of Legends' renewed focus on values, including sportsmanship, can translate into richer citizenship and community in all aspects of school life,” Andrew says. “It has been fantastic to watch the parallels between how students work together in the game and transfer these understandings into their broader school experience—working in groups on an assignment, for example, draws on many of the same skills.”