16 Jan 2018

Stirling High School: Digital Learning Hub

In 2018, Digital Xtra Fund will be introducing over 3,200 young people to digital technologies by supporting 11 high-quality initiatives across Scotland. Over the next few months we will highlight each of these initiatives through a series of Blogs as they inspire, enable, and engage young people to be digitally innovative and creative, and give them a better understanding of the future career opportunities digital skills provide.

The first initiative we will look at is Stirling High School’s (SHS) new Digital Learning Hub, which launched this week at Codebase Stirling and will involve pupils from SHS as well as six of their feeder primary schools. The Hub will help inspire pupils from P6-S2 through extracurricular coding workshops; engaging more girls in computing science and giving young people, regardless of background or where they live, a chance to take part.

The Digital Learning Hub aims to build a sustainable ecosystem of young computing science developers. 30 pupils from six Stirling primary schools will complete 10 workshops using Raspberry Pi development kits: setting up a computer; coding in Scratch and Python; using sensors, LEDs and autonomous vehicles; and getting the chance to be creative and explore their own ideas. Workshops will be run by experienced Computing teachers, supported by pupils from SHS and primary teachers, and run in partnership with Codebase Stirling, who are providing a collaborative space for young people to learn to code in a live industry environment, and meet and learn from Codebase’s tenants and partners.

Once the initial round of workshops are completed, the 30 participants will be recognised as Digital Champions within their own primary schools and will go on to deliver the Hub’s 10 workshops to their peers, again with the support of pupils and educators from Stirling High School. Overall, up to 210 young people will take part in the Digital Learning Hub, giving them an exciting early introduction to coding, hands-on activities, and peer-to-peer learning that will build confidence and leadership skills.

Paul Cassidy, HT Stirling High said “This project is an excellent example of how we are preparing our young people for their future through developing a range of skills including teamwork, collaboration and digital skills. Our Digital Champions in S1 and S2 are developing their leadership skills by supporting the young people from our primary schools as part of the project. The learning community is excited to be working with Codebase Stirling and we are grateful for the support from the Digital Xtra Fund and Sharp.”

Digital Xtra Fund’s commitment to inspire future talent is backed by a range of partners who understand the importance of empowering young people to understand and create with technology, not just consume it. Support for SHS’ Digital Learning Hub has been generously provided by Sharp as part of their biennial Inspire Expo, taking place in Edinburgh from 15-17 January 2018. Sharp has been inventing one-of-a-kind products and solutions that benefit society and business for more than 100 years and their support of Digital Xtra Fund is greatly valued in benefiting Scotland’s next generation of digital makers.

In addition to supporting Digital Xtra Fund, Sharp has also kindly donated a BIG PAD interactive display to Stirling High School, giving participants an innovative way to present their ideas to their peers as well as brainstorm and collaborate on their projects. The BIG PAD will also be used in day-to-day teaching at Stirling High School, benefiting all SHS pupils with the use of Sharp’s latest technology.

Jason Cort, Director of Product Planning and Marketing, Sharp Europe said: “The future’s not only about technology, it’s also about the young people who will be using that technology. That’s why we decided to support Digital Xtra Fund this year as part of our Inspire Expo event. 2018 being Scotland’s Year of Young People makes this even more poignant.  Sharp has a portfolio of interactive solutions, including BIG PAD, that are dedicated to helping students get better education outcomes. BIG PAD will let Stirling High School’s teachers and students share information in exciting new ways and crucially, it is very easy to use, so these benefits will be accessible to everyone.”

Digital Xtra Fund’s annual grant rounds, which support SHS’ Digital Learning Hub and many other inspirational projects, are made possible by the valued support of Scotland’s tech industry, supplying sponsorship, donations and in-kind support that all go towards our goal of giving every young person in Scotland access to a digitally creative activity. Find out more about supporting Digital Xtra Fund and inspiring Scotland’s digital future.

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22 Nov 2017

Is Scotland Facing a Computing Studies Crisis?

Source: DIGIT LEADERS

In September DIGIT reported on calls from academics at the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Computing Science Education for children as young as five to be taught basic computer skills.

According to The Herald, the introductory courses could help address the 10,000-strong vacancy gap which goes unfilled in Scottish IT roles every year.

But a UK-wide report published by The Royal Society has cast doubts on whether such strategies for improving Scotland’s digital tech scene can be implemented at all. One shocking statistic highlighted by the research paper claims that Scotland has borne a 25% decrease in the number of computing teachers since 2005.

The report raises a difficult question: is Scotland facing a computing and computer science crisis?

DIGIT reached out to Graeme Gordon, Chairman of ScotlandIS, and Polly Purvis, the organisation’s Chief Executive, to find out more about the educational challenges facing Scotland’s computing sector.

 

graeme gordon polly purvis

Teaching shortages

The Royal Society’s report, titled After the Reboot: Computing Education in UK Schools, shows that 17% (roughly 425 of Scotland’s 2,500 schools) do not have the teaching staff required to deliver the learning outcomes of the computing courses on offer.

Graeme told DIGIT: “We have a teaching shortage, and when you get into the more specialised areas obviously that becomes more acute. Certainly in the more modern teaching subjects – and computing is a modern teaching subject – there’s obviously a smaller pool.

“What we don’t want is a nation of coders, just as we don’t want a nation of doctors, lawyers, truck drivers. What we want is that mixed working environment, that mixed economy that we all live in. Should we be showing our kids at school how to use the technology that is there every day better, more safely? Of-course we should, in the same ways we do with every other skill.”

“We should have the opportunity to teach more kids and young people at school about computer sciences as a career path, whether that’s software, sensors, computers themselves, VR headsets, or drones – all these things fit into more advanced computer science skills. It’s not just about coding, it’s much more about the digital environment that people are living in,”

graeme gordon polly purvis

Polly explained that initiatives are having an effect on Scotland’s declining teaching pool, but keeping the nation’s head above water is proving difficult. She said: “This [shortage] is recognised by Education Scotland and the Scottish Government. The ICT & Digital Technologies Skills Investment Plan work is already underway, supporting existing computing teachers to keep their professional knowledge and skills right up to date, and to bring new teachers into schools through greater numbers of specialist teacher training places.

“However this is not an easy challenge and we are continuing to lose computing teachers faster than we can recruit and train new ones.”

 

Pupil participation

Even worse, according to the Royal Society the dwindling number of teachers in the talent pool are outpaced by a decline in overall pupil enrolment in computing courses, dropping 11% since 2005. This decrease means that the declining supply cannot keep up with the declining demand. The Royal Society’s report details that in females Advanced Higher-level uptake of computing studies is currently no more than 14%.

Furthermore, The Royal Society reports that the number of first-year students on computing initial teacher training courses has dropped by 80% over the last nine years. As a result, some universities have been forced to drop their PGCE in computer science, which could lead to a perpetuation of the student-teacher decline.

With student-teacher declines in mind, Polly hypothesised what a general lack of participation could lead to: “As the whole world goes digital it is essential that Scotland develops the technology products and services of the future. Our economic prosperity will depend on making sure all our young people can be skilled contributors to the technology workforce.

“If we don’t address the issue we will fall behind, as other countries are prioritising the teaching of computer science in schools.”

Graeme contests that technological innovation has long been a part of Scottish history, and there is no reason why this should not be enhanced in the digital age. Graeme said: “I think that Scotland has been an engineering society forever. We’ve been caught up now by the rest of the world, but that doesn’t mean that we’ve gotten any worse at it.

“I still think we produce some of the best engineering, whether that’s software, hardware, electrical or space-tech – there’s no doubt about that. But we need to increase the volume of people coming through our system. We’ve got great quality there – [and] it could be better, it could be more industry relevant – but we need to increase the volume of it so we can capitalise on the reality: that Scotland is a great place to be educated. Let’s take that forward into a digital age and continue that theme through.”

Despite Scotland’s rich heritage in technology, and the ubiquitous nature of digital tech, the numbers have caused The Royal Society to brand computer science in Scotland as a ‘long established discrete’ subject.

 

Fighting back

But aspects of Scotland’s rich technological heritage do endure in programmes today which are encouraging more Scottish people into tech. The Digital Xtra fund, for example, raises and distributes funds to organisations engaged in advancing technology, digital and computer science education across Scotland. These projects include the Rampaging Chariots Guild – an introductory robotics module already active in over 250 Scottish schools. Other initiatives include Apps for Good, which teaches 10-16-year-olds to design, market and build apps for causes that they care about in their local communities. More recently, the fund is releasing a pot of £50,000 to 11 tech-programmes.

Initiatives such as Digital Xtra aren’t only available to younger audiences, as both Graeme and Polly pointed out. CodeClan, the first UK digital skills academy to be recognised by the SQA, offers 16-week coding courses to adults as well as students. Perhaps surprisingly, the average age of a CodeClan cohort is 32 years-old.

Polly also noted a number of tech initiatives aimed towards redressing gender-imbalances in Scotland’s digital landscape. Organisations such as SmartStems specifically focus on encouraging more young women into tech, through its offering of Hub and Outreach programmes which look at areas such as VR, programming and engineering.

Despite these promising signs, Polly reminded DIGIT: “All these groups and the Digital Xtra Fund are all under-resourced, so we are in effect only creating a sticking plaster for the underlying issue.”

Graeme suggested that by utilising the gig-economy model in digital education, teacher shortages could be addressed in a more substantive. Graeme said: “You could use the gig economy model where you’ve got coders who may be lending time to code clubs and so on. [They] could come in and support the learning environment by saying, ‘Look, this could be a career choice for you,’ and not just using Word and Excel and so on.

“We should be opening more people’s eyes to the opportunities that computing, computing software, software engineering, data analytics and data science offer. We have a missed opportunity there.”

 

Industry Evangelists

Beyond a paucity of teachers, Graeme also pointed towards a lack of active engagement from professionals within the digital industries as both a problem and an opportunity: “I think one of the biggest things when it comes to education is [that] parents tend to devolve education to schools and universities.

“Because we’re in the digital space, I think as parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends, you owe it to pay that back. We as people who are out there and doing this owe it to speak to our nieces, nephews, cousins, sons, daughters, brothers: ‘Hey this is what a career in digital looks like. This is what you could be doing. This is what I do.’ And we’re not doing that enough, and that’s because it’s sometimes difficult to do so, but it’s also because sometimes we’re reluctant to do so. We should be telling people about, ‘How great my job is’.”

Graeme concluded: “You’re never too young to start exercising, and the benefits in later life you never realise when you’re 16– it’s how we introduce that blended environment for using technology as an enabler, not as a novelty.”

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16 Nov 2017

Digital Xtra Fund continues to inspire Scotland’s future digital makers

Formula 1, 3D printed drones, lighthouses, and coding for social good are just some of the latest activities to receive support from Digital Xtra Fund, a charity dedicated to inspiring Scotland’s future digital workforce through high-quality extracurricular digital activities.

From Orkney to Dumfries & Galloway, a sum of £50,000 has been shared between 11 sustainable initiatives to introduce over 3,000 young people to digital technologies, and show them the range of career opportunities these skills will provide. Five awardees are new initiatives which demonstrated a creative and fun way to engage young people, with the remaining six projects set to build on activities previously supported by Digital Xtra Fund.

The aim of Digital Xtra Fund is for every young person in Scotland to have access to a digitally creative activity regardless of their gender, background, or where they live. The Fund is particularly keen to engage audiences underrepresented in the digital technologies industry, especially girls and young women, and looked to support initiatives that showed a healthy gender split and were delivered in areas often excluded from extracurricular digital activities through lack of local resources or facilities.

Kraig Brown, Partnership and Development Manager for Digital Xtra Fund, said: “The digital skills gap is well documented, and we believe the best way to tackle this gap is to engage young people through extracurricular activities, where they can be themselves in an informal and creative setting. Initiatives supported by the Fund will inspire them to be more than just digital consumers; they can be digital makers too.

“It’s been incredibly inspiring to see the quality and diversity of activities that organisations across the country have come up with. They are fun, engaging, and with the help of Digital Xtra Fund, they are more widely available than ever before. This is very encouraging for the future of digital technologies in Scotland.”

Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “It is great to see the Digital Xtra Fund supporting deserving extracurricular digital skills projects across Scotland, benefiting over 3000 young people. The Scottish Government recently launched its STEM strategy, which aims to inspire and enthuse everyone to study STEM and build STEM skills. Charities such as the Digital Xtra Fund, who are enabling inspiring digital and STEM projects to flourish and encourage more young people into the sector, are making a significant contribution to this important agenda.

Damien Yeates, Chief Executive of Skills Development Scotland said: “We are delighted to the see Digital Xtra Fund going from strength to strength and supporting projects which are addressing the gender imbalance and encouraging more girls into tech. The digital technology sector in Scotland is booming and the Fund is now well established to work with Scottish employers to collectively support extracurricular digital activities for young people. This is a great way to encourage the next generation of digital makers into the tech sector.”

Now an independent charity, Digital Xtra Fund is seeking further support to give every young person in Scotland opportunity to get involved in extracurricular digital activities. Actively working with Scotland’s industries, Digital Xtra Fund is currently raising funds for its 2018 grant awards. Companies interested in supporting young people to gain the digital skills for the future should contact the Fund.

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02 Nov 2017

Edge Testing completes 500 mile charity walk for 10th anniversary

Edge Testing Solutions, one of the UK’s fastest growing and largest independent software testing companies, has completed a £5,000 fundraising initiative in support of 10 chosen charities, including Digital Xtra Fund.

10 volunteers across Edge’s offices walked 500 miles from the company’s Glasgow office, via its new Digital Test Hub in Birmingham, to its London premises on a treadmill.  Edge donated £10 for every 10 miles walked with the proceeds split between the 10 charities. Charity representatives were invited to the company’s 10th anniversary celebrations to receive their cheques from CEO Brian Ferrie.

Digital Xtra Fund was hugely honoured to be one of the 10 chosen alongside other nominated charities: St Andrew’s Hospice (where Susan Chadwick, joint founder of Edge, spent her final days); Glasgow Children’s Hospital Charity; Brick by Brick; Little Stars; Acorns Children’s Hospice Trust, Birmingham; British Heart Foundation; Cancer Research UK; NSPCC; and MacMillan.

Fiona Atherton, Head of Marketing at Edge, said: “We got everyone at Edge involved by asking them to nominate a charity which was close to their hearts; the stories inspired us all and gave us the motivation we needed to complete the 500-mile journey.”

The walkers from Edge were CEO and Founder Brian Ferrie, Nadia McKay, Sharon Hamilton, Fiona Atherton, Liam Rankine, Gary Robertson, Michael Burt, Jennifer McManus, Claire Ferguson and Kimberley Crielly. In addition to the 500 mile walk, Edge employees have also been participating in other fundraising activities in support of the 10 charities, including a raffle at their 10th anniversary event, which the charities were invited to attend.

Kraig Brown, Partnership and Development Manager for Digital Xtra Fund, said: “Thank you very much to everyone at Edge Testing for their contribution, especially the 10 volunteers who participated in the 500 mile walk from Glasgow to London. We were delighted when Fiona told us we were going to be included in this terrific initiative, especially alongside fantastic and long-standing charities like MacMillan and British Heart Foundation.

Edge Testing’s donation is very much appreciated  and will help ensure that Digital Xtra Fund, along with the activity providers we support, continues to support young people across Scotland in learning the technology skills needed to succeed regardless of gender, background, or location. And who knows, some of these young people may work for Edge Testing in a few years!”

Brian Ferrie, CEO and Founder of Edge, concluded: “We wanted to mark our 10th anniversary as a growing testing company by adding another dimension to our fundraising efforts, while also celebrating our expansion into England; that’s why walking 500 miles seemed so appropriate.”

Edge is a leading expert in providing world-class software testing solutions. The award winning company is typically engaged when organisations are implementing a new system or making significant changes to an existing system, to ensure systems are fast, secure, available and work as expected in an increasingly complex and distributed digital age.

The company is listed on the Sunday Times Hiscox Tech Track 100, and has quickly built up an excellent reputation with an enviable client list across financial services, telecommunications and media, utilities, retail and the public sector.

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10 Aug 2017

2017 Scotland Women in Technology Awards

Digital Xtra Fund is excited to announce that nominations are now open for the inaugural Women in Technology Awards hosted by Scotland Women in Technology! The awards are for any individual or group operating in the technology sector or in technology education in Scotland. The awards recognise those who possess the drive, commitment, and passion to further the technology agenda.

This event will showcase the vast amount of talent working in the Scottish technology sector and also uncover the inspirational people in education who are working hard to develop a pipeline of talented females to meet industry demands of the future. There is an exciting range of 10 award categories and nominations are open to everyone (participants are also actively encouraged to self-nominate). Digital Xtra Fund is particularly interested in the ‘Rising Star’ and ‘Employer of the Year’ categories.

Becoming a finalist for the awards will showcase fantastic female role models in the sector, highlight the great work already happening across Scotland to promote gender diversity in the technology sector, and will work towards encouraging more girls and young women to consider a career in tech.

If you know of someone deserving of a nomination, please click here to make a submission! Nominations close 1 September (same day at the Digital Xtra Fund Round III Grant Award, so get typing!). All categories will be judged initially by the Scotland Women in Technology Board with the final list of nominees being evaluated by an independent judging panel of industry experts not associated with SWiT or its associated companies.

Scotland Women in Technology is a voluntary organisation run by a Board of female technology professionals with a shared passion for diversity. Founded in 2008, the group run frequent professional talks and networking sessions  aimed at providing a platform to attract, inspire, retain, and connect the female technology talent pipeline in Scotland.

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26 Jul 2017

Celebrating SLIC’s Code Club Success

In 2016, the Digital Xtra Fund supported 22 projects including the Scottish Library & Information Council’s proposal to upskill library staff to enable them to deliver free coding clubs in public libraries across Scotland. Working in partnership with Code Club Scotland, this project has been a huge success with strong attendance and over a third of the participants being girls. Digital Xtra Fund are very proud to have played a part in helping this happen (although most of the credit must go to the teams at SLIC and Code Club Scotland). Gillian Daly, Head of Policy & Projects at SLIC, recently wrote about their success at introducing code clubs in libraries throughout Scotland and what the digital future holds.

If your organisation is looking to engage young people aged 16 years or under in coding, digital making, or computing science, please download the application for the current funding round to apply for support up to £5,000.

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17 Jun 2017

Digital Xtra Fund Trustee Polly Purvis honoured with OBE

Polly Purvis, founding Trustee of the Digital Xtra Fund has been honoured with an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2017.

Polly who is CEO of technology trade body ScotlandIS and chair of digital skills academy CodeClan was recognised for her services to the Digital Economy in Scotland. In an interview with The Scotsman, Polly stated that she was both ‘delighted and surprised to receive the award.’

Everyone associated with the Digital Xtra Fund would like to extend their congratulations to Polly.

Picture: Lisa Ferguson/TSPL

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14 Jun 2017

Digital Xtra Announces New Fund of £50K to support digital skills projects

Projects that teach digital technologies skills to young people could be in line for a financial boost as the Digital Xtra Fund announces its first new fund since becoming a charity.

The new fund of £50,000 will be available for projects that inspire young people by taking digital skills out of the classroom and teaching concepts like computational thinking, coding, digital making, or data science in a fun environment. Applications open on 16 June and each project can apply for up to £5000.

The Digital Xtra Fund was created in 2016 to fund a variety of projects, all with an aim to foster a new generation of digital makers who will, in future, bridge the skills gap in Scotland’s digital economy.

It is seeking applications for innovative, adaptable, and sustainable projects, particularly those that engage with groups such as girls and young women, who are underrepresented in the digital sector. Its ultimate aim is to increase the number of young people from all backgrounds entering highly skilled digital careers.

The Scottish Government’s Digital Strategy sets out plans to increase the number of people in digital technology roles to 150,000 by 2021. Increasing digital participation and preparing young people for the future by improving digital skills levels is an integral component of this strategy. Career opportunities are significant, with an estimated 12,800 job opportunities available in Scotland annually.

Kraig Brown, Partnerships and Development Manager for the Digital Xtra Fund, said: “Our aim is to drive innovation and engagement through a large network of digital skills providers across Scotland, including teachers running clubs outside school hours, as well as helping create links between industry and skills providers.

“Most importantly, we want to improve digital skills among young people by supporting high-quality extracurricular activities; thereby preparing them better for a digital future and inspiring them to consider a career in digital tech.

“Projects funded by the Digital Xtra Fund have done fantastic work that has reached thousands of young people across the country already. This is our first new fund since we received official charitable status so we’d like to thank everyone who has supported us to get here.”

The Digital Xtra Fund was originally established with funding from the Digital Scotland Business Excellence Partnership before being spun out as an independent charity in March 2017.

£400,000 was already awarded to 22 projects in 2016, reaching an impressive 15,000 young people across the country. Past projects include the Little Lighthouse project, which used the context of lighthouses to introduce ‘little engineers’ to STEM concepts, as well as ComputerXplorers who delivered Micro:bit Workshops to S1 pupils in a selection of high schools in East Lothian as well as providing CPD (Continuing Professional Development) sessions for teachers.

Supporters in the private and public sector include BT Scotland, Be Positive, Edge Testing, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, ScotlandIS, Skills Development Scotland and the Scottish Government.

The closing date for applications is 1 September and awardees will be chosen by a panel of experts made up of key players in Scotland’s tech industry. Funding will be awarded to the successful projects in mid-October 2017.

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02 May 2017

Directory of Resources added to Digital Xtra Fund web site

The team at Digital Xtra Fund have added a useful directory resource to the web site. The new section contains details of the major organisations delivering digital activities to young people across Scotland.

If you are seeking details on starting a Code Club in your area, finding a mentor to come and talk to a class or wish to run an App competition in your School then this directory is a very good place to start!

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18 Apr 2017

Digital & Tech Role Models & Mentors required for School Age Girls

A call to Women In Scotland’s Tech & Digital Sector – consider becoming role models and mentors to inspire the next generation!

Whether you’re a school leaver on a training course, a recent graduate, or early in your tech career, please volunteer to become role models and mentors for school age girls! By becoming a role model, you will be making an important contribution to the future of the digital technology sector and helping improve the economic prosperity of Scotland.

Girl Geek Scotland and Skills Development Scotland are holding a series of training webinars to get you started, show you how to use the available resources, and help you know what to expect, so you can go into schools confident you are fully prepared.

You will learn how to talk to teenagers about digital technology and gender discrimination and why both are important. You will learn how to create engaging presentations and interactive learning experiences while developing your communication skills and enhancing your professional capabilities and relationships.

The webinar will cover:
● how to engage a teenage audience,
● why digital technology is important and the range of jobs available,
● why we have a gender problem in digital technology,
● why it is important to get more girls into technology,
● how to talk about jobs in digital technology so that they appeal to girls,
● how young people can get into the industry,
● how to use and tailor the provided resources,
● how to construct and deliver interactive learning experiences,
● what practical information and logistics you need before visiting schools,
● how to become a role model or mentor.

All the webinars will cover the same material but places are limited so please select a time that is suitable for you.

The Free Webinars are available 0n:

● Thursday 27th April (19:30)
● Thursday 4th May (12:30)
● Tuesday 9th May (10:00)
● Saturday 13th May (13:00)

You can book webinar tickets via Eventbrite HERE

These webinars will use Google Hangouts to enable the widest possible audience. It’s available online and for both iOS and Android mobile phones. The link to the Google Hangouts will be shared with ticket holders the week before the webinar takes place.

It would also be appreciated if you could complete a short survey prior to the seminar as this will aid Girl Geeks Scotland and Skills Development Scotland to understand what we can do to support and motivate you in your role.

The survey can be found HERE

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