Why America’s pastime is a great fit for engaging, interactive learning.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

An opportunity to present a subject in a way that interests a student is a key element to effective teaching, so can Major League Baseball hit one out of the park for STEM education? Perhaps it can. In fact, high-quality digital content just got a little more interesting for students, teachers, and sports fans, and Major League Baseball’s Barbara McHugh tells us how.

As Senior VP of Marketing for Major League Baseball in New York City, Barbara McHugh oversees all aspects of MLB’s Marketing, including New Media and Content Marketing, Club Initiatives, Digital Marketing & Media, Product Marketing, Marketing Analytics and International Events.

In March 2009, McHugh joined MLB’s digital arm, MLB Advanced Media (MLBAM), where she was responsible for its marketing and digital advertising strategies, online ticket sales campaigns, and cross-platform promotion of other e-commerce businesses and digital products, such as MLB.TV and the MLB At Bat and MLB Ballpark mobile apps.  During her tenure at MLBAM, she also supported the digital marketing efforts of BAMTech-powered direct-to-consumer products, including NHL.TV and the NHL app, PGA TOUR LIVE and MLS LIVE.

Prior to her time at MLBAM, McHugh worked for the Sports Museum of America, and also spent more than six years in the marketing department at the New York Mets.

A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., McHugh holds a Bachelor’s Degree in business administration with a concentration in marketing and a minor in communications from Le Moyne College in Syracuse, NY.  

In this EdTech Digest exclusive, we explore the interesting confluence of our beloved American pastime, and a key element to establishing a successful future workforce: STEM education.

So, baseball and science/STEM education at first blush don’t seem like they’re natural partners—can you talk about why sports and education are a natural fit? 

Barbara: Baseball and science/STEM are absolutely intertwined, and in fact, I would say that science/STEM applications have been at the forefront of driving baseball decisions on and off the field. This data and technology has allowed fans to be exposed to different data points to complement their consumption of our game in a new way. Between data analytics, StatCast, and a variety of positions within our game, science and STEM have an important role in the present and future of our sport.

People often say that baseball mirrors life more than any other sport. We think this partnership with Discovery Education will provide a tremendous opportunity for teachers to engage students in real problem-solving situations with some fun baseball content.

How does educational technology fit into the equation? 

Barbara: We know that kids and schools utilize technology in classrooms more than ever before, in part because of its unique ability to engage students for extended periods of time. To be able to merge our sport with their familiarity of technology will provide kids an interactive learning experience and help them discover more about baseball than they could have ever imagined. If that helps them better understand the fundamentals of our sport when they go out to play and bring the game to life for them, all the better.

Tell me about your partnership with Discovery Education?  

Barbara: This new partnership connects students to a variety of intriguing science and STEM concepts and related careers in professional baseball through high-quality digital content that supports core instr.  In the initial phase of this project, a variety of MLB-themed content has been added to Discovery Education’s award-winning core instructional resources, like the Science Techbook, and supplemental services including:

  • Custom Major League Baseball-themed Career Videosthat showcase a variety of MLB careers and help students connect what they are learning in school to multiple career options in Major League Baseball such as a groundskeeper, software developer, or baseball operations executive.

 

  • STEM Project Starters to help students relate math, technology, and engineering to their understanding of scientific concepts. They feature authentic data from MLB’s StatCast, the state-of-the-art tracking technology that allows for the collection and analysis of a massive amount of baseball data. The baseball-focused STEM Project Starters challenge students to solve real-world questions such as “how does stadium altitude affect the number of home runs hit there” or “how does playing surface impact player speed.”

 

  • New MLB-focused Content Collectionfeaturing baseball-themed STEM career videos, resources exploring the history of the National Pastime, lesson starters, high-quality videos and images from the MLB archives. Other engaging content will be added to Discovery Education Streaming Plus.

 

In the spring of 2019, additional MLB-themed content will be added to Discovery Education services, including dynamic statistics drawn directly from StatCast.  With this data, educators will be able to formulate their own everyday problems for students to solve in real-time.

The content available to students and teachers goes way beyond what happens on the baseball field and includes content that showcases various careers in baseball. Can you talk about how you are leveraging educational technologies to help students see possible careers beyond graduation and why this is important?

Barbara: It’s important for young people to see first-hand the possibilities ahead of them in terms of careers. With this digital content, we will take the students beyond their classrooms into the lives and experiences of those pursuing their dreams in Major League Baseball. They will be able to connect what they are learning in the classroom and how that applies to the real world. Attracting the brightest minds, who also happen to be passionate fans, to work in our game is part of our long-term talent acquisition strategy. This is an early step in the process of making future professionals aware of the business side of baseball, but it is an important step.

This new partnership will provide students authentic data from MLB’s Statcast service? Why is this important to students? 

Barbara: Baseball is increasingly more data-driven than ever before. We think it would be beneficial for students to be well-versed, not only for the rest of their academic careers and professional pursuits, but also to better understand our great game. Through StatCast will begin to see a different of baseball and become more knowledgeable fans. In turn, by using baseball, we can take something like statistics and make it really fun and engaging.


A BIG HIT. This partnership launched on January 15 at Baltimore County Public Schools’ Deep Creek Middle School with a special lesson that featured Nicole Sherry, Head Groundskeeper for the Baltimore Orioles (pictured), working alongside 7th grade students as they engaged in an exciting science lesson exploring turf/soil samples from Camden Yards, the home of the Baltimore Orioles. 


Technology is playing an increasingly larger role in baseball every year—replay, virtual strike zones, etc.  In addition to digital content, are there some baseball technologies you could imagine being applied to classroom teaching and learning? 

Barbara: The beauty of our sport is that there are a great variety of fields that could contribute to the success of the business of baseball.  We have video game development, virtual and augmented reality, coding, performance-based digital marketing, and so much more.

What sorts of parallels do you see between baseball and teaching?

Barbara: Preparation, patience, resilience, practice and performance—these are all words that come to mind when thinking of similarities between our sport and teaching.

Broadly speaking, what is the state of education?

Barbara: The education of our children is vitally important to the future prosperity of our society. Major League Baseball supports educators and believes in their abilities to reach them in ways few others can. At MLB, we have a number of existing partnerships and initiatives that support scholars and provide educators with curriculum that uses our great game to enhance what students learn.  

What do you believe is technology’s role in education? 

Barbara: Technology is an incredibly helpful and critical tool that enhances education.  In our world, we have instant replay, which is based on new technologies that have evolved as part of our game. Technology in a classroom helps educators and enhances all they are trying to do to educate our future leaders.

Your thoughts on the future of education, technology, and baseball?

Barbara: I think there is a bright future ahead for all!

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com