NAECAD Interview: Dr. Katrina Adkins, SHI International

June 16, 2022

Dr.  Katrina Adkins is the Director of Education Solutions for SHI International, the largest minority/ women-owned private company in the United States. She is also a professor of Gaming and Esports and an advocate of Edtech. 

As esports continues to evolve rapidly, SHI International is constantly monitoring its progress and developing strategies. This ensures that it is well-positioned to take advantage of the opportunities that will arise. In an interview with NAECAD, Adkins provides an insight into SHI International and its operations.

Can you provide a few takeaways from your recent article, "Actually, video games are great! Here's why we encourage esports in education"?

The title is born out of years of working with educators and being an educator where the struggle of bringing esports or gaming into education exists. There have been a lot of barriers to bringing it in, and barriers mean getting the acceptance of gaming and esports. 

Adkins explains that the article focuses on why video games are great. It tries to transform the concept of gaming and esports from what many people think of as students in a dark basement, gaming and eating junk food. They don't see the light of day and don't get out as young children to play or communicate with others. This is the furthest from the truth.

 “I pulled a lot on my own experience as an educator. When I first became a teacher over 20 years ago, I always had a gaming station in my classroom. Whether it was Kindergarten, first grade, third grade, middle school, or whatever, there was always a place for students to game and relax. Within those games, they were still learning about things, and I always found value in that.”

Now that gaming has become this massive industry over the past few decades, It's becoming more accepted in schools. The article provides some thought and reasoning around why gaming is great and hopefully can help educators bring esports and gaming to more students around the world.

In your article, you discuss working with a trusted partner during the esports journey. Can you speak about how a school or university identifies the right partner to work with?

Working with a partner to get an esports program up and running is extremely important but also very difficult, especially for k12 and higher education institutions. This is because It is challenging for them to know who to trust as the market is currently fairly saturated. 

There are those that want to help educators and schools get started. However, it is difficult to figure out who to go to to ensure they are doing this quote-unquote, right.

 “In terms of the company I work for, which is SHI, it was essential to me to have current and former educators on our esports team. I am still teaching as it is very important for me to continue down that path to understand what is currently going on in the classroom. On our esports team, we have current and former educators, but also current gamers and people who have gamed for their entire lives.”

It is essential to have a partner like SHI that educators can go to and trust to help develop their program. Every situation is different when customers come to them, and they come with different questions. How do I start? How do I bring Esports to my students, community, or program?  

Everybody is at a different entrance point, and Adkins gives an example of a middle school educator looking at creating an esports club for the school. Here, they might not want an entire program but just an after-school club where kids can come in and feel comfortable. A place where they feel like they belong, and they can go in, game, relax and learn along the way. They can also gain social skills and experiences that could take them into a college career or a career after high school within the esports Market. 

Then there are others that want to develop entire programs. They want to embed esports into their day-to-day curriculum, and walking their educators through that is very important to figure out the types of questions that need to be answered. 

What kind of space do you have that you want to build? What type of support do you have from your IT Department? On the K-12 side, What kind of support do you have from your superintendent and your principals? What access do you have in terms of technology? Are you needing help obtaining grants and funding for what you want to do? 

Are the courses you want to implement already connected to your current curriculum, or do we need to look at state standards and try to connect them that way?   

“There is so much involved, and every situation is so different that we return to that original question. How important is it to work with a trusted partner? It is imperative to understand everything about that partner. What their values are, and what their beliefs are, especially in the market of esports and gaming. What they value beyond just making a sale, the games and devices, and what it means for students and the education community as a whole.”

Who are the key stakeholders when developing an effective scholastic esports environment?

“The key stakeholders when developing an effective scholastic esports environment vary by K12 or a college institution. When we look at K12, we often talk with teachers and educators who might be an esports coach or want to organically build a program for students because they know it's something that students can thrive in.”

However, Adkins believes that it is vital to bring in key decision-makers. Those folks that can help write grants or help approve budgets for the space or program that an educator might want to build. It is also crucial on the K-12 side to bring in the IT department. Without the IT department, an educator will have difficulty making sure that the correct ports are open and that you have the infrastructure in place to even be able to game. 

How are the gamers going to communicate? You need a tool like Discord open on your network. Do you want to set up a separate network for esports students? There's a lot that you have to think about prior to starting an esports program or building that environment. 

On the college side, there is the possibility of Athletics getting involved. Student Services, Deans of colleges, the IT Department, Vice presidents, presidents of colleges, and Grant writers at the Collegiate level. There are many things to think through, such as the various stakeholders and who the schools will partner with on the industry side.  

“When we think about the esports market as a whole, who on the business side of things could a school potentially partner with? Who could they bring in to learn about coaching, to learn about shoutcasting, to learn about designing and creating?”

They might want to talk with experts about game design, but who are some of those businesses and stakeholders within the communities that schools can partner with. Adkins points out that all these are things that are important for schools to think through.

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