A Year in the Life of Teaching Esports BTEC: The Diagnostic
This is the second in a series of blog posts by lecturer, consultant, and teacher of esports, Nik Turner.
With induction out of the way it’s time for stage two – The Diagnostic! While the students were discussing the pros and cons and moral dilemmas posed by ‘Squid Game’, I was planning my own sort of ‘test’ in the form of a start-of-term diagnostic... admittedly with far fewer victims, or at least that was my hope!
As all educators will know, when the new academic year begins the diagnostic test is vital in any subject for understanding and getting a feel for your students, where they sit on the scale, and how likely they are to succeed. In saying that, it’s not the be-all-and-end-all when it comes to adequately assessing the quality of students – but it does help!
With no GCSE in esports (yet) I found myself quite excited about the options available to me in terms of the diagnostic as there are no existing blueprints for the new BTEC. I decided on a two-pronged approach — I will discuss stage two in the next article, but for now I just want to talk about the diagnostic test. It needed to be relatively simple and easy to understand as none of the students would have experienced any form of esports teaching previously. But at the same time, it did need to test them, so how do you make it a workable and worthwhile opener to the course?
After some discussion with colleagues, I decided that I would ask them to produce an esports glossary with a minimum of 30 words or terms.
“That’s very basic and simple,” I hear you say, and you would be correct — that’s the point! So why did I go down this route?
Through the production of a glossary, it enabled me to analyse and gain a better understanding of several things. The task is accessible to everyone if students have no previous knowledge of esports. they can always search for terms to put into their work but when explaining the task, I made it very clear that only a few websites contain an esports glossary and I knew what they were! But I also made it very clear that what I wanted was their own glossary, I wanted them to include words and terms that they associated with esports – what was their relationship with esports? In asking them to do this I knew it would give me a good idea of how they perceive esports and equally important - could they differentiate between esports and gaming?
The questions begun!
“Can I use terms from the games I play?” ... ‘Yes’
“Can we name tournaments?” ... ‘Yes’
“Can we talk about teams?” ... ‘Yes’
“Can I identify publishers?” ... ‘Yes’
“Can I copy and paste from the web?” ... ‘No!’
Basically, I gave them complete free range to do what they wanted, but I also made a very clear point that I wanted their work to be presented in an ‘esports style’, (whatever that means!) so we looked at a range of images relating to esports to offer some hints, tips, and examples of what I meant.
This brings in a second element to the task, and perhaps the most important element — that being the amount of effort and commitment they put into the task. Being honest, I was more interested to see what they produced and how they presented it than the contents of the glossary, as a marker point for their likely efforts in tasks to follow. Through stressing the importance of their presentation, I was also hoping it would enable me to obtain some good looking content to start populating the classroom walls (I will discuss this more in the next article).
So, what was the outcome? It was far more interesting than I had planned for, and I’m pleased to say it gave me a real insight into the knowledge of the students and the relationship they have with esports.
After looking through the work submitted, a few things became apparent, so I decided to take a deeper look and try and analyse the glossaries produced in a bid to recognise the patterns I found myself noticing. My findings are based on over 70 completed diagnostic tests so it would be unfair to claim I have undertaken a scientific study, but I do feel that my findings are worth sharing, and I’d be interested to hear if anyone else has found similar?
Based on the analysis of all of the glossaries produced I identified four clear and distinct ‘types’ of learner, or at least four clear variants on the student’s relationship with esports. Based on my ideas I selected a range of students from each group to verify my thoughts and to gather more information.
As you would probably expect the largest group was formed by ‘The Casual’ gamer. The diagnostic showed that there was quite a large range of references in this group’s glossary, there was no real focus of thought - more a generic overview of gaming and esports. Subsequent conversations revealed that these students enjoyed playing a wide range of games on a purely casual basis and most certainly for escapism as opposed to anything competitive. Time spent gaming for this group averaged what I would call a ‘sensible’ amount with other interests taking an equal priority outside of college. ‘The Casual’ gamer also spent minimal time either watching streamers or spectating esports events, the focus was very much on gaming for fun, but those that did generally watched streamers to learn things about the game they happened to be playing, particularly if they were struggling with something within the game.
Next up were ‘The Competitive’ gamers, these were perhaps the easiest to identify through the diagnostic alone. The words and terms included in their work were heavily centred around one or two games with reference to characters, tactics, maps, genres etc. During discussions with this group, they were very proud and quick to announce they considered themselves as ‘serious’ gamers and wanted to tell me the ins and outs about their level of play, rankings etc. All this group were signed up to the ‘competitive gaming’ enrichment at QMC and desperate to prove their worth – in a good way! The time spent playing their chosen games was high, maybe a little too high for my liking, which led to entirely separate conversations! It was quite common for these students to go home and start playing from the moment they got in right through until bedtime (I won’t tell you how late ‘bedtime’ often was!). It became quite clear that when they weren’t actually playing games, they were watching streamers renowned for their skills and gameplay in order to improve their own performance, it would be fair to say that ‘The Competitive’ gamers had minimal other interests or activities outside of gaming and I’m hoping that as the course develops, they will learn that in order to improve performance there are more things to think about than just game time!
The diagnostic also highlighted ‘The Fan’. For me this was pleasing to see as there were a good number of students who were knowledgeable about esports and the industry that surrounds it. These students played a lot less than the competitive group and had a wider range of games on their playlist. There appeared to be a much more balanced (and realistic) outlook on what gaming and esports could do for them going forward. ‘The Fans’ clearly enjoyed watching esports as much if not more than actually playing! There was a tendency to watch and focus on only one or two titles when watching events but that is to be expected and I took the time to explain that it would help them if they widened the range of their viewing. I’m hoping this group will really get to grips with the BTEC and develop their already established knowledge about the sports industry.
The smallest group, which was still larger than I would have predicted are ‘The Curious’. The students in this category were the easiest to identify through class discussion. They most certainly aren’t competitive in their gaming; they are not focussed on one or two games and most wouldn’t even consider themselves as ‘gamers’ – more as someone who likes to play games when they’re in the mood! They would play a wide variety of games until they found a title they liked; they’d play it for a short amount of time before looking for the next favourite. Sometimes it wasn’t even the game itself they were attracted to but simply the aesthetics and the visual enjoyment of the maps! When talking to these students I found myself relating to them which spawned conversations about why they chose the course – this is why I’ve named them ‘The Curious’!
In conclusion the Diagnostic task gave me much more information about the students than I planned to get! Therefore, I most certainly considered it a success that produced a much greater insight into my students, and I will be repeating the process next year. But before I go...
Did any of the work make it to the classroom walls?
It certainly did, and I’ll be elaborating on this in the next article where I officially welcome the students to the word of esports!