Video games and online interactions are so much a part of children’s lives that students now distinguish between what happens IRL (in real life) and what happens in the digital world. It is logical for educators to want to venture into this new digital world and harness its potential to reach and teach today’s students.

Karl Hildebrandt recognizes the importance of digital and technological advancement in First Nations schools to keep pace with the modern world. He hopes to educate teachers and students about the benefits of learning through scholastic electronic sports, or e-sports, and becoming a part of a digital community that is diverse and inclusive and can adjust to the way students learn.

Hildebrandt is an education technology facilitator within the Manitoba First Nations Schools System (MFNSS), but he is also the director of Northern and Rural Esports for the Manitoba School Esports Association (MSEA). He helps MFNSS schools and teachers connect to online communities and use online platforms so they can work on lessons, but also to stimulate interactions between students who wouldn’t likely participate.

“With the growth of online communities, there are no limits to what students can accomplish. Teachers can better understand the way each student learns, maybe, help improve students’ mental health. When students realize their potential and learn to appreciate their abilities, their skills flourish,”

– Karl Hildebrandt,

One of the education sites that Hildebrandt likes to share with First Nations school staff and students’ families is Minecraft Education, a game-based learning platform that promotes creativity, collaboration, and problem solving. While it is obvious how effective online tools can be for most students, these tools can also provide a means of teaching and communicating with students with individual and/or special needs.

Hildebrandt tells a story about a student with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) who thrived using Minecraft Education. Through Minecraft Education, he was better able to showcase his unique talents. Hildebrandt gives kudos to the student’s parents for understanding the barriers that make it difficult for their son to learn within normal settings and taking advantage of online gaming as a teaching tool. Through Minecraft Education, this student was able to build, create, and demonstrate concepts in French, such as directions, verbs in the present tense, and structures in French communities. The student even gave his teacher and classmates a virtual field trip of his replica of France’s Louvre Museum. The online environment allowed the student to use a range of audio-, visual-, and text-based options that made it easier for his skills to shine. Hildebrandt believes, with the support of the student’s parents and the use of the online learning environment, there are no bounds to this student’s learning capabilities.

“You do not need to be a gamer, an expert, or even interested in video games to start up an esports team at your school. If teachers want a new tool for creating a better student connection to school and a better way to relate to those students who may benefit from the digital environment, esports can provide this for them,” Hildebrandt says.

Improving mental health in First Nations schools is the main reason that Hildebrandt believes student connections to online communities are important. The online environment can help a student express thoughts, feelings, and goals, while gaining confidence by having social connections and participating in something they are good at. Through cooperative and competitive gaming, students can also better connect to their school and find motivation and encouragement to participate. The four C’s—communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking—are major factors in restoring confidence in students. Problem solving through authentic experiences in-game can give students the learning opportunity to create solutions to their everyday problems. Through these connections in online gaming, students can see things from different perspectives and learn how to give and gain acceptance from others.

Hildebrandt believes that ancient traditions can also be taught using new technology. “Old and new technology will always be passed down to the next generation, like the way teachings and life lessons are passed down by Indigenous Knowledge Keepers. Students will thrive in upholding their roots and build better relationships with their teachers and peers by connecting the Seven Teachings to activities that are familiar to them, like online gaming,” Hildebrandt says.

Online educational gaming platforms can open doors for students, allowing them to create global connections and communities. By using online gaming in their classrooms, teachers can better understand how to use them for their advantage and, potentially, find a new way of addressing students’ mental health needs. Hildebrandt is excited to be a part of making that connection between online gaming and the Resource Centre and MFNSS schools.

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