UNCG Professors Spark Innovative Learning in NC High Schools

Posted on February 23, 2024

2 professors make a presentation about esports academic endeavors to other adults in the esports arena.
Greg Greive and John Borchert work with other professors to develop academic content related to video gaming. Photo by Sean Norona.

UNC Greensboro’s commitment to developing a pipeline that streams students into profitable jobs in the video game industry now includes reaching into high school classrooms.  

UNCG Scholastic Esports Alliance and the Network for the Cultural Study of Videogaming (NCSV) has partnered with SparkNC to provide on-demand learning experiences for high school students designed by UNCG professors.  

Igniting High School Minds 

SparkNC is a non-profit organization that works with school districts across the state to encourage students to discover careers in high-tech fields like cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and software development. Currently, SparkNC is connected with 17 North Carolina school districts to offer students educational opportunities outside of the traditional classroom in SparkLabs.  

Students in a SparkNC classroom watch a monitor featuring an instructor who is leading the class virtually.
High schoolers in a SparkLab.

In these lab settings, students choose from a catalog of learning experiences that build their skills in a personalized way, and SparkLab leaders have flexibility to support their students in collaborative ways. Students explore the units at their own pace and once completed, they can demonstrate their skills by building portfolio entries to share when they apply for college or tech jobs.  

This is the ideal environment to present high school students with educational concepts related to video gaming and introduce them to career paths they may not be aware of. Since professors are already offering courses like this at UNCG, helping SparkNC develop curricula was simple. 

Adapting College Courses for High Schoolers 

UNCG faculty members from varied disciplines drew from courses they teach to develop the units that were introduced through the SparkNC digital platform in the fall of 2023. 

“The professors were challenged with adapting their courses to make them accessible to a highschooler,” SparkNC Senior Director Dana Brinson explains. “But I love the intellectual rigor that each professor brought to the modules. Students are supported to build their analytical skills and use conceptional thinking that they may not even be aware of because it is packaged in such an intriguing and interesting way. It was a great marriage of the skill sets of both of our teams.” 

Content of the units includes video game designing, video game theory, and using video games to learn other subjects: 

When a Spark Lab student selects one of the UNCG modules, they immediately see the UNCG esports logo with credit that the lessons are made possible through a partnership with the NCSV and through the expertise of the professor who developed the course. “We really thought it was important for students to understand that these are examples of areas of learning that are possible at UNCG,” says Brinson. 

Screenshot of a desktop with SparkLab dashboard featuring video game controller icons and unit names.

Fueling Academic Interests 

The game design units have been very popular in the Spark Labs, not only for gamers who want to design their own creations, but for students who are interested in music or art and want to apply their passions to a medium like video games. The music unit has inspired many students to build their own video game soundtracks.  

Student in a SparkLab works with an instructor.
SparkLab student studies video game soundtracks with his instructor.

Individual learners appreciate the buildable skills offered by the modules and traditional classes have also been using the Spark Lab units developed by UNCG professors. High school teachers are finding that units like “Questioning Narratives” reinforce concepts taught in classes like language arts in ways that are engaging for high schoolers.  

Brinson says that new educational connections are discovered every day.  

“Our Guilford County Schools lab brought in a health class to explore UNCG’s ‘Health Hacks for Esports’ unit and study nutrition and mental health for competitive gamers,” Brinson says. “And our New Hanover County Schools lab students were inspired by music from a game they explored in the “Gods, Heroes and Monsters” unit, so they reached out to the composer, Darren Korb, who joined the lab via zoom to talk about his work and the process of world building in games through music.”   

Broadening UNCG’s Educational Reach 

Professor talks to a student in the esports arena.
John Borchert discusses connects with a student in the esports arena. Photo by Sean Norona.

Contributing professor and NCSV Director John Borchert is passionate about reaching students in new ways through partnerships like this one. 

“I have this dream of a student completing high school by learning in modules like SparkNC provides, and then coming to a school like UNCG where they can continue learning and building skill sets that are truly based on their specific interests and goals,” Borchert says.  

UNCG’s involvement in the project illustrates the University’s commitment to improving education in North Carolina and enhancing the state’s economy through career prep for high-tech industries. Furthermore, the partnership presents UNCG educational opportunities directly to prospective students. It’s a win-win effort for all involved. 

“Partnerships like this make education better for all learners in North Carolina,” Borchert says. “I’d love to roll out more of these modules as we introduce new courses. It’s a great model for making higher education accessible for all.” 

Story by Becky Deakins, University Communications.
Photography submitted by SparkNC, unless otherwise noted.


Share This