Earlier this week at Games For Change Festival 2019, Gerald Solomon and Claire LaBeaux of NASEF (North American Scholastic Esports Federation) not only had the opportunity to discuss NASEF and the future of esports, but also were able to announce preliminary findings regarding diversity, inclusion, and STEAM learning through the NASEF program.

Although I wasn’t able to attend the Games For Change Festival this year, LaBeaux reached out to me to talk more about esports with herself and Gerald Solomon, founder of NASEF and the Samueli Foundation. Happily, I took the offer–as I said apologetically a few times during the interview, I don’t know a lot about the esports scene, and I definitely want to learn more.

So, we began by discussing the study mentioned above, which surveyed students in NASEF programs about their experiences with esports culture, both within NASEF-related activities and without. The survey found that within the NASEF club and curriculum, results were positive: there were “low levels of racial tension,” educators are seen as trusted leaders, and the NASEF Code of Conduct is seen as “a valuable tool for setting and maintaining behavior standards.” Solomon noted that the Code of Conduct has been said to affect how students play and interact online outside of their NASEF circles, where toxic behavior can be common with players that don’t have a code in place.

Solomon referred to these results as “hopeful.” In some ways, the results were better than expected, but some results definitely showed room for improvement: for example, female players and players of color tended to hide their identity when playing online, and scores were low when students were asked if they had seen gamers stand up for each other when bullying occurs based on identity.

Solomon pointed out that now that they know areas where improvements have to be made, progress can be made successfully. He also noted that NASEF is, “very deliberate and thoughtful about this.” That is, NASEF isn’t interested in the money it makes–it’s a nonprofit organization–it’s about “looking at what you do with evidence and research,” and helping kids. NASEF’s goal is always about having an impact and making a difference.

NASEF is also currently in the midst of an in-depth research program conducted by IRB (Institutional Review Board) and the University of California, Irvine, independent organizations, that are “examining both the esports environment and learning using esports as a foundation.”

One thing that can sometimes stand in the way of this is the accessibility of programs and tech. Fortunately, NASEF clubs are open to anyone and any school can start their own club. Curriculum and training programs are all available for free. As for the question of tech, NASEF works with lower-income schools to help them develop business plans to help obtain necessary items, or connecting them to libraries or companies like Microsoft to help obtain said items.

The NASEF high school program is about more than just esports, too. The goal of the clubs is, overall, to develop a well-rounded individual and “for every kid to be turned onto learning.” Solomon and LaBeaux explained that students don’t just compete in the realm of esports: students in a NASEF club are also expected to design their club’s logo, website, business plan, blogs, and more. So, kids can learn more about their specific area of interest and see how that interest can translate into real-world opportunities and work. Students that compete in esports matches are rewarded for their efforts–but the students that do this legwork also compete and can earn scholarships based on their efforts in these other realms as well.

LaBeaux wrapped things up by talking about NASEF’s growth: there are currently clubs running in 35 US states and even a few running in Canada. The high school curriculum has only been certified in California this time, and other clubs are beta tests for the program, to certify it in other states. NASEF is even currently seeking approval for a middle school curriculum. Solomon noted that although there have been requests to expand to other regions, he wants to take things one step at a time.

If you’re interested in learning more about NASEF, you can check out their website here. Educators and students interesting in starting a club at their schools can learn about doing so here, and are more than welcome to reach out to NASEF with any further questions they may have.

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