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ESportU Presents: Culturally Relevant Computing Technologies for Living Learning Communities

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Listen and learn : Research paper
Lecture presentation

Research papers are a pairing of two 18 minute presentations followed by 18 minutes of Discussion led by a Discussant, with remaining time for Q & A.
This is presentation 2 of 2, scroll down to see more details.

Other presentations in this group:

Dr. Jason Engerman  
Manjuli Gupta  
Dr. Richard Otto  
Emily Jimenez  
Danielle Nightlinger  
Arlene Hargrave  
Mark Van Auken  

Our National Science Foundation-funded award focused on increasing awareness, attitudes, motivation and participation of underrepresented youth. Our ESportsU presentation shares findings of our 2021 summer camp learning experience, including esports technologies in culturally relevant computing STEM classrooms increasing computational thinking, problem-solving skills, decision-making and reasoning skills.

Audience: Teacher education/higher ed faculty, Technology coordinators/facilitators
Attendee devices: Devices required
Attendee device specification: Laptop: Chromebook, Mac
Participant accounts, software and other materials: We should all have the adobe suite loaded and ready. We will need strong wifi as our presentation will include videos of participants, instructor and researcher activities and high end graphics alongside using powerful desktop publishing tools.
Topic: Games for learning & gamification
Grade level: PK-12
Subject area: Career and technical education, STEM/STEAM
ISTE Standards: For Students:
Knowledge Constructor
  • Students curate information from digital resources using a variety of tools and methods to create collections of artifacts that demonstrate meaningful connections or conclusions.
Computational Thinker
  • Students collect data or identify relevant data sets, use digital tools to analyze them, and represent data in various ways to facilitate problem-solving and decision-making.
For Educators:
  • Design authentic learning activities that align with content area standards and use digital tools and resources to maximize active, deep learning.
Additional detail: Student presentation, Preservice teacher presenter, Undergraduate student, Graduate student

Proposal summary


Living-Learning Communities are residential communities that embed a shared academic or thematic focus (Shapiro & Levine, 1999). Culturally Relevant Computing (CRC) is a learning theory that activates student’s prior knowledge, and focuses content and delivery in ways that provide social and civic empowerment (Hatley, Winston-Proctor, Paige, & Clark, 2017). CRC techniques have optimized STEM learning outcomes by prioritizing cultural responsiveness. This requires learning designers to review and consider the learner’s prior knowledge and meaning making, integrate engaging and motivational learning activities, and provide content that leads to social and civic empowerment (Scott, Sheridan & Clark 2014). These approaches have shown to produce increased levels of self-efficacy, a sense of belonging, and interest in computer science-related career fields (Hatley, Winston-Proctor, Paige, & Clark, 2017). In line with CRC, ESportsU will use a learning approach that:

• Believes all participants are capable of creating digital innovation
• Provides learning context to support transformational use of technology
• Encourages learning about one’s self along various intersecting socio-cultural lines
• Uses technology as a vehicle for reflection and understanding participant identities towards socially and culturally relevant curriculum
• Utilizes barometers for technological success that considers what participants create, for whom and to what ends (Hatley, Winston-Proctor, Paige, & Clark, 2017)

Therefore, ESportsU will address two pressing issues in STEM career readiness in the United States.
1) Commonplace misconceptions about difficulty and disconnection from STEM content 2) Widening underrepresented youth participation and social mobility as historically underrepresented populations have been left out of emerging tech innovations due to lack of access and motivation (DOE, 2016).


The ESportsU development strategy employs a design-based research (DBR) (Collins, 1992) approach to explore the overlapping nuances within the Esports industry by preparing and developing stakeholder relationships, investigate and develop support tools and learning materials, host STEM related work, create and disseminate online modules for STEM learning pathways. As with DBR, the findings from these investigations will determine the next steps through an iterative learning design process.

The research team conducted an experiment with two six-day sleep-away camp sessions. The control group, the first session of 16 participants, experienced a traditional game-based CRC STEM learning event. This camp resembled other STEM camps, such as iDTech (iDTech, 2018), that include traditional and individual techniques for STEM learning through the culturally relevant gaming lens of Overwatch. The experimental group, the second session of 15 participants, experienced the ESportsU enhanced Overwatch environment being more competitive, collaborative and team-based. Each morning students completed a 3hr STEM workshop within their game-themed ecosystems that included game design, computer graphics, tv/video production and digital media marketing.

To develop a pedagogical model through design-based research, ESportsU partnered with research consultants on Culturally Relevant Computing (Dr. Clark), Collect, Analyze, Synthesize, Employ, Evaluate (C.A.S.E.E) (Dr. Foster), and external evaluating (Dr. Gerber and Dr. Onwuegbuzie). DBR, or designed experiments, is a process of investigating to test and refine the educational design based on prior experiments to revise both theory and practice simultaneously (Brown, 1992; Collins, 1992). Using a concurrent mixed methods approach with exploratory factor analysis we assess attitudes and behaviors, potentially identifying powerful research outcomes that promote shared accountability for educational quality (Johnson & Onwuegbuzie, 2004).

The study collected such data from included junior researchers (4), a camp director (1), instructors (4), mentors (8), and participants (31). The research team collected observation notes, individual and group interviews, daily reflection journal and survey instruments such as fidelity checks, exit interviews, daily reflections, precamp expectations, behavioral analysis and a reflection C.A.S.E.E. survey. This data collates to approximately more than 2.3 terabytes of video & photos, eighth 3hr workshops and 10 evenings of living & learning community informal cultural data.


Our analysis of results is ongoing as we analyze 2.3 Terabytes of data, from over 6 unique survey instruments, and coordinate with our senior research consultant and external evaluators. However, the preliminary findings show promise for examining participants’ attitudes, awareness, and motivations to pursue STEM precursor habits of mind and CRC practices that enhance participant understanding of and interest in STEM occupations.

Interest in entering post-secondary education after the camp experience grew by 75% and interest in pursuing a digital media career grew 25% after the camp experience. 96.7% of campers expressed interest in returning to the camp next year. The first group of campers, from at least 4 different school districts, developed a collaborative Discord server dedicated to continuing their relationships by spending time together outside of the camp.

Mentors were upperclassmen within the majors of computer science, digital media technologies, and even esports. Mentors reported the camp provided improvement of their own digital media skills and extraordinarily and unexpectedly rewarding interactions with campers . In fact, one reflected, "My favorite part about this camp is hearing how much it has changed kids’ lives. I had multiple conversations with them about what they learned and experienced during the camp has made them realize what they want to do for the rest of their lives as their careers." (Mentor 3)

Instructors deemed the hybrid learning model a success and felt comfortable adopting the game-based learning tools such as Bluetooth headsets, streaming platforms and robot cameras to reach all students. Instructors also expressed that the Esports-themed camp resulted in higher quality student products and digital artifacts in comparison to those from the individual VG camp.

As we develop high-quality learning pathways for youth in our area, several of these preliminary findings helped develop an Online Graduate Certification as well as an Esports Undergraduate Track within our Digital Media Technologies Department. Additionally, partnering with a local Intermediate Unit and urban HS, the findings are guiding the design and implementation of customized Esports content to accompany their emerging Esports programs. This escalator to success develops a pathway for our target population to cultivate skills in HS, engage in STEM career development in undergraduate and even pursue mastery level graduate opportunities.


Competitive gaming research currently speaks to the engaging socio-cultural importance and potential for significant meaning making development within social peer groupings (Anderson, et al., 2018; Cranmer, et al., 2021; Reitman, et al., 2020). However, links between highly competitive commercial gaming practices and STEM career readiness competencies are less represented. Culturally Relevant Computing (CRC) leverages the relevance of everyday experiences of groups with shared values and beliefs in well-designed mentoring environments to enhance computational thinking and improve positive attitudes towards STEM fields for traditionally underrepresented populations (Hatley, Winston-Proctor, Paige & Clark, 2017). Therefore, within educational and scientific literature, our investigation will add to the current literature by examining the intersection of Esports activities and STEM career readiness through CRC goals. Specifically, that all students are capable of digital innovation, learning context supports transformational use of technology, identity formation along intersecting sociocultural lines allows for innovation, technology should be a vehicle for students to reflect and demonstrate understanding of identities and barometers of tech success should consider who creates, for whom and to what end.

Furthermore, competitive gaming has already demonstrated increased critical thinking and problem-solving skills, higher levels of interest in STEM fields for competitive gamers, productive risk taking, and reflective techniques for collaborative learning in real-world settings. The current project has potential to onboard learners into 21st-century careers and create gateway activities to deepen STEM competencies that exist within the Esports industry. ESportsU may also provide a template to reach other segments of disadvantaged populations using an Esports mechanism to do so. Engaging a new generation of learners may require stepping into their participatory networks, and leveraging unique ecosystems, to develop untapped career STEM skills. The current project facilitates the conditions and tools necessary to build a sustainable knowledge-sharing program for modern learners through student-centered STEM learning pathways. Ultimately, ESportsU will create a transformational Esports experience that can impact underrepresented students’ ability to see their future in creative digital media by developing post-secondary STEM career pathways.


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Dr. Jason Engerman, Playcology, LLC

My research lies at the intersection of interactive media and underrepresented populations for the Age of Experience. As an assistant professor, I work with young adults to help them leverage their passions towards advancing career opportunities. Using performance-based strengths, learners become participants in the design of their own learning. My work has recently led me towards the intersection of sports, entertainment, and digital media technology where Esports is an upcoming movement for the Experience Age. I believe that Esports holds key components that can help us understand how to develop sustainable and SMART communities that truly optimize their human resources.

Manjuli Gupta, East Stroudsburg University
Graduate student

After receiving her bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from Drexel University and working in the Chemical industry for 7 years, Manjuli is currently enrolled in the Graduate Teacher Certification Program at East Stroudsburg University to pursue a career in Professional and Secondary Education. As the Graduate Research Assistant of the ESU Creative Media Factory Team she is working to explore the enhancement of education towards STEM career readiness by utilizing Esports to create engaging culturally relevant environments. Manjuli’s interests in this field will shape her future classroom ensuring an equitable learning space tailored for highly tech integrated students.

Dr. Richard Otto, East Stroudsburg University

Dr. Otto is the chair of the Digital Media Technologies department at East Stroudsburg University. During his career he has enhanced the curricular offerings of the department and upgraded the technology and facilities, including state-of-the-art multimedia classrooms and production facilities and high-end production equipment. He earned his Ph.D. in Communications from the University of Memphis. Dr. Otto is the Co-PI for a National Science Foundation ITEST Award that uses Esports as STEM career development for diverse and inclusive youth. His research focus is on virtual game communities and the media production technology needed to tell the stories of gamers.

Emily Jimenez, East Stroudsburg University
Undergraduate student

My name is Emily Jimenez, and I am currently a senior t East Stroudsburg University. I am studying digital media technologies with a track in social and interactive media, as well as a minor in Spanish. I have worked with the team as an undergraduate research assistant/project manager for two years. I have created graphics for marketing purposes, community outreach, managing our social media and much more. In my future career, I would like to be a part of a company making digital assets in order to enhance children’s educational understanding in academic fields they may struggle in.

Danielle Nightlinger, East Stroudsburg University
Undergraduate student

Arlene Hargrave, East Stroudsburg University
Graduate student

Mark Van Auken, East Stroudsburg University
Graduate student

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