The growing demand for digital skills in the Scottish economy is to be addressed with support to create a new series of tech clubs across the Highlands region.
Skills Development Scotland (SDS) is working with the Scottish Government and Highland Council on the initiative which aims to train volunteers, provide teaching resources, and tech kit as well as trial online delivery to ensure people in rural areas don’t miss out.
The pilot programme kicks off on 27 April when the first ever hybrid tech club event for Highland secondary school pupils takes place. Participants will “code a data selfie” learning data science and coding skills to create their own unique piece of art.
Phil Ford, Head of Digital Economy and Financial Services at SDS said: “The digital skills gap in Scotland has now become critical and many tech jobs go unfilled every year.
“This is particularly true of the Highland economy where digital skills and jobs are now essential in non-tech sectors like agriculture, energy, tourism, food and drink and the creative industries.”
Beth Brown, Senior Lead Manager for Developing the Young Workforce at Highland Council added: “Tech clubs can help young people develop vital digital skills, particularly for those who may face barriers in accessing formal tech subjects in the curriculum.
“The clubs offer an enriching experience for all young people regardless of background and skill. There are some fantastic tech clubs in Scotland, and we want to see more of these in the Highlands.”
Partners involved in the initiative hope to encourage technology experts and companies, schools and colleges, the third sector and community groups like libraries and youth clubs to get involved and improve the career prospects of young people in the Highlands.
As a key partner of Digital Xtra Fund, Skills Development Scotland’s tech club resources – which can be used outwith the Highlands as well – will be hosted on the Fund’s website for anyone interested starting or volunteering at a tech club near them. For more details, please visit www.digitalxtrafund.scot/directory-of-resources.
A short video is available here explaining more about digital tech clubs and the support available.
Highland secondary school classes can sign up here for the first hybrid tech club event on 27 April.
A class of young digital engineers has successfully graduated from a new after school Digital Engineering Club run by North East Scotland College’s Fraserburgh Campus.
The group attended a presentation to mark the successful completion of 10 weeks hard work and fun.
Each student received a certificate of participation from guest speaker Sam Buchan, Mechanical Engineer at Score Group plc.
The group of 14 pupils, from Fraserburgh and Mintlaw schools, was tasked with renewables and robotics projects.
Dr Leann Tait, Academic Improvement Lead said: “We have been delighted with the numbers joining the club and this first group of young engineers has been really engaged and eager to get involved.
“We wanted the club to be relevant to the North East, so incorporating the Renewable Energy Sector was an obvious choice.
“Combined with the robotics area pupils have had the chance to use equipment and technologies they don’t typically have access to.
“We have been fortunate with our funding from the Digital Xtra Fund and Science Aberdeen which have allowed us to run the club for an hour each week.”
The young engineers worked with different technologies including: AutoCAD software to design wind turbine structures as well as building models and looking at efficiencies of the different designs; Tinkercad, an online simulator to build physical circuit plus Dobot robots.
The Digital Engineering Club is based in the Fujitsu Innovation Hub at Fraserburgh Campus, a flexible and innovative digital learning space designed to promote active and collaborative learning through a dynamic and flexible layout.
NESCol is part of the Fujitsu Education Ambassador Programme which aims to enhance learning and teaching and unleash every student’s potential by putting digital technology at the heart of education.
Robin Macgregor, Vice Principal for Curriculum & Quality said: ”It is fantastic to see the Hub being used to help develop the digital skillset of local school pupils.
“Together with the fantastic equipment housed in our Future Skills Zone, funded through a generous donation by a local benefactor, Fraserburgh Campus is exceptionally well placed to help increase the digital confidence and skills of the surrounding community.”
The club is open to any student in S3 or S4 with a keen interest in engineering who is looking to learn.
Coding, or computer programming, is a way of writing instructions so that computers can complete tasks. Those instructions can be as simple as ‘move a toy robot forwards for three seconds and then make a beep’, or more complicated instructions, such as ‘check the weather in my local area and then adjust the heating in my house accordingly’.
Why should kids learn to code?
Even if your child never writes computer programs, it is likely they already use software that coders have created, and in the future they may work with, manage, or hire people who write code. This is why it is important that everyone has an understanding of what coding is all about, and why we at the Raspberry Pi Foundation are passionate about inspiring and supporting children to learn to code for free.
When young people are given opportunities to create with code, they can do incredible things — from expressing themselves, to addressing real-world issues, to trying out the newest technologies. Learning to code also helps them develop resilience and problem-solving skills.
But at what age should you start your child on their journey to learn about coding? Can they be too young? Will they miss out on opportunities if they start too late?
No matter at what age you introduce children to coding, one key element is empowering them to create things that are relevant to them. Above all else, coding should be a fun activity for kids.
You might be surprised how young you can start children on their coding adventure. My own child started to learn when they were about six years old. And you can never be too old to learn to code. I didn’t start learning to program until I was in my late thirties, and I know many learners who decided to take up coding after their retirement.
Acquiring new skills and knowledge is often best accomplished when you are young. Learning a programming language is a little like learning a new spoken or written language. There are strict rules, special words to be used in specific orders and in different contexts, and even different ways of thinking depending on the languages you already know.
When people first introduced computer programming into the world, there were big barriers to entry. People had to pay thousands of dollars for a computer and program it using punch cards. It was very unlikely that any child had access to the money or the skills required to create computer programs. Today’s world is very different, with computers costing as little as $35, companies creating tools and toys aimed at coding for children, and organisations such as ours, the Raspberry Pi Foundation and our children’s coding club networks Code Club and CoderDojo, that have the mission to introduce children to the world of coding for free.
Getting hands-on with coding
By the age of about four, a child is likely to have the motor skills and understanding to begin to interact with simple toys that introduce the very basics of coding. Bee-Bot and Cubelets are both excellent examples of child-friendly toy robots that can be programmed.
Bee-Bot is a small floor robot that children program by pressing simple combinations of direction buttons so that it moves following the instructions provided. This is a great way of introducing children to the concept of sequencing. Sequencing is the way computers follow instructions one after the other, executing each command in turn.
Cubelets can be used to introduce physical computing to children. With Cubelets, children can snap together physical blocks to create their own unique robots. These robots will perform actions such as moving or lighting up, depending on their surroundings, such as the distance your hand is from the robot or the brightness of light in the room. These are a good example of teaching how inputs to a program can affect the outputs — another key concept in coding.
As your child gets older and becomes more used to using technology, and their eye-hand coordination improves, they might want to try out tools for visual programming. They can use free online programming platforms, such as ScratchJr on a tablet or phone or Scratch or Code Club World in a computer’s web browser. To learn more about these visual programming tools and what your child can create with them, read our blog post How do I start my child coding.
Children can begin to explore Scratch or Code Club World from about the age of six, although it is important to understand that all young people develop at different speeds. We offer many free resources to help learners get started with visual, block-based programming languages, and the easiest places to start are our Introduction to Scratch path and the home island on Code Club World. Children and adults of all ages can learn a lot from Scratch, develop their own engaging activities, and most importantly, have fun doing so.
At around the ages of nine or ten, children’s typing skills are often sufficient for them to start using text-based languages. Again, it is important that they are allowed to have fun and express themselves, especially if they are moving on from Scratch. Our Introduction to Python path allows children to continue creating graphics while they program, as they are used to doing in Scratch; our Introduction to Web path will let them build their own simple websites to allow them to express their creative selves.
There is no correct age to start learning
In my time at the Raspberry Pi Foundation, I have taught children as young as five and adults as old as seventy. There is no correct age at which a child can begin coding, and there are opportunities to begin at almost any age. The key to introducing coding to anyone is to make it engaging, relevant, and most of all fun!
The organisations are seeking to tackle a shared ambition to increase STEM education for school aged pupils, by improving collaboration between the programmes and accessibility for anyone who wants to get involved.
ScotlandIS’ ‘Digital Critical Friends’ programme, in partnership with DYW Glasgow and Skills Development Scotland, has been rolled out in several local authority areas to help meet the rapidly growing and changing skills demand within the Scottish digital sector. It connects school aged pupils with industry practitioners to support computing education, developing interest and abilities in digital technologies, with a view to increasing the digital skills talent pipeline. It also provides teachers with access to insight and support from industry, increasing knowledge and informing lessons.
Through the new partnership, STEM Ambassadors will provide PVG accreditation, making it much easier to become a Digital Critical Friend. With Tech She Can’s ‘Tech We Can’ educational resources now being provided to Digital Critical Friends, they can increase the support given to teachers to build knowledge and confidence in delivering tech related lessons, helping to inform students and inspire them to consider a career in STEM.
Karen Meechan, CEO of ScotlandIS, said: “Our aim when we started Digital Critical Friends was to ensure young people had access to practical knowledge, experience within the tech sector and exposure to the career opportunities available to them. This partnership with STEM ambassadors and Tech She Can will allow us all to work together to give young minds the opportunity to explore a future in tech.
“We’re calling for passionate individuals to get involved with the programme. It’s a wonderful opportunity for people to get invaluable mentoring experience by training the potential future pioneers of tech.”
The SSERC (Scottish Schools Education Research Centre) is a charity group which runs STEM Ambassadors.
SSERC CEO, Alastair MacGregor, said: “We’re delighted to be able to work alongside Tech She Can and ScotlandIS to provide such excellent opportunities for our STEM Ambassadors to help young people in Scotland consider a career in technology. STEM Ambassadors come from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences and by participating in the Digital Critical Friends and Tech We Can initiatives they are able to share those experiences with others.”
Dr Claire Thorne, co-CEO of Tech She Can, added: “We’re proud to be working in partnership with STEM Ambassadors and ScotlandIS to inspire more young people across Scotland to consider a future career in technology. Our Tech We Can Champions are all STEM Ambassador trained and we’re delighted that Digital Critical Friends can now also use our resources to inspire students about tech. Collaboration is key to improving diversity in technology and we’re excited about the potential of this partnership.”
The partnership is actively seeking volunteers from across Scotland to join the programmes, there are currently Digital Critical Friends programmes running in the South of Scotland, South Lanarkshire, West Dunbartonshire, Inverclyde, Renfrewshire, and East Renfrewshire still have some spaces in the Borders, East Dunbartonshire, and Glasgow.
Karen Meechan added: “In particular, we are looking to hear from tech experts across all digital professions who might be interested in helping. If you feel passionate about STEM education in our schools, get in touch.”
ScotlandIS, STEM Ambassadors and Tech She Can can be contacted for further information on how to get involved or take a look at the partnership page here.
The winners of the first-ever Scottish Games Awards were announced following a gala ceremony which took place on Thursday, 27th of October. The inaugural awards ceremony took place at Malmaison, Dundee and was the climax of Scottish Games Week, which saw events take place all over the country in a bid to showcase games as Scotland’s secret weapon in the tech sector.
Celebrating the very best of the games industry across Scotland, the winners include Dundee studio Team Terrible whose title ‘The Baby In Yellow’ was crowned Best Small-Budget Game, Aberdeenshire’s Brilliant Skies Ltd who won the Technical Achievement award, and BAFTA-winning Amicable Animal who have now lifted the Audio trophy for its work on SOLAS 128. With a Glasgow-based lead writer and artists from Edinburgh, ION LANDS’ epic Cloudpunk won three titles- Art and Animation, Creativity and Best Large-Budget Game, while Dundonian games industry veteran David Jones won the Lifetime Achievement award.
The Scottish Games Awards winners in full are:
Art and Animation
Cloudpunk (ION LANDS)
SOLAS 128 (Amicable Animal)
Best Educational Programme
Dundee & Angus College: HN Games Development
Dr Lynn Love
Best Large-Budget Game
Cloudpunk (ION LANDS)
Best Small-Budget Game
The Baby in Yellow (Team Terrible)
Cloudpunk (ION LANDS)
Stewart Gilray Award (Community Spirit)
From the Depths (Brilliant Skies Ltd.)
Tools and Technology
Chaired by renowned journalist and author Chris Scullion, the award winners were selected by a jury of games industry experts with a deep knowledge of the sector, including:
Brian Baird: Technical Director at Bethesda Games Studios Austin
Joe Donnelly: Feature Writer at GamesRadar+
Alisdair Gunn: Director at Glasgow City Innovation District
Steven Hamill: COO at Scottish Edge
Keza MacDonald: Video Games Editor at The Guardian
Jim Trinca: Games journalist and video producer
Jo Twist: CEO of UKIE
Chris Scullion, journalist and author of The NES Encyclopaedia said: “It’s been a huge honour to chair the judging panel for the inaugural Scottish Games Awards. The quality of the nominees is a perfect indicator of the enormous degree of talent that can be found in the Scottish games industry, and I’m looking forward to the awards (and Scottish Games Week as a whole) acting as a catalyst to help the industry grow from strength to strength.”
Angus Robertson, Culture Secretary, said: “Scotland has a world class reputation for games development as the winners of the first Scottish Games Awards have clearly demonstrated.
“The focus this week on the dynamism of the games sector and its growth potential shows the important role the industry has in supporting our economy. The technology and creativity that drives the sector has also brought benefits to other key areas such as education, healthcare, energy and financial services.”
Brian Baglow, Director of Scottish Games Week and Founder of the Scottish Games Network said: “The level of creativity and technical expertise across Scotland is outstanding, as is the passion, enthusiasm and commitment that we see from so many people across the whole games ecosystem. Today we are celebrating those achievements and turning the spotlight on the individuals, organisations and games that make Scotland’s games community such a vibrant and fun place to be.
“As the culmination of Scottish Games Week, these awards are a stake in the ground which proclaim that games are important, that we have a significant role to play in Scotland’s future and that we are going to be a far larger, louder and more prominent part of Scotland’s digital future.”
The Scottish Games Awards concluded Scottish Games Week, an expertly curated week of events across Scotland, with events focussing on onboarding the uninitiated, bringing together educational institutions and the games ecosystem.
Scottish Games Week is being delivered by the Scottish Games Network and is supported by the Scottish Government’s Ecosystem Fund, delivered as part of its Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review (STER) programme. Scottish Games Week is sponsored by 4J Studios, Blackadders LLP, Johnston Carmichael, YAHAHA, Aream and Co, Escape Technology, 4Players, NLAE and The SQA. Scottish Games Week is supported by partners Barclays Eagle Labs, Barclays Games & Esports Team, CodeBase, Dimoso, GT Omega, Digital Xtra Fund and Citizen Ticket.
Incremental’s continued partnership with Digital Xtra Fund contributes to digital skills initiatives for young people in Scotland.
Incremental is proud to provide continued support to Digital Xtra Fund – a Scottish charity aiming to give every young person in Scotland access to digitally creative activities, regardless of background. Since the charity’s conception in 2016, Digital Xtra Fund has granted £875k of funding, backing digital skills initiatives in schools and public organisations.
This year, Digital Xtra Fund has been able to award 50% more funding than in 2021 due to funders like Incremental. The charity’s £150k of fundraising this year has been distributed via 35 grants in 24 local authorities throughout Scotland – spanning primary schools, secondary schools, colleges, universities, libraries and other educational bodies – reaching around 7,500 young people. Some examples of these fantastic digital skills initiatives include extracurricular clubs dedicated to coding, robotics, digital creators, engineering and inventing.
Incremental is dedicated to investing in Scotland’s young people, believing that learning digital skills is crucial in an evolving digital world. Alongside other funding partners like ScotlandIS and J.P. Morgan, Incremental hope to inspire the next generation through digital technology by working with Digital Xtra Fund to remove some of the access barriers that previously existed.
In 2021, only 16% of those enrolled in computing degrees at university were women, and Incremental’s partnership with Digital Xtra Fund seeks to narrow this gender digital skills gap by encouraging girls and young women into STEM subjects. For example, two of this year’s grant beneficiaries include a ‘Girls in Gaming’ club at North Berwick Library and an all-girls robotics club at Kirkliston Primary School in Edinburgh. Overall, the 35 initiatives funded through Digital Xtra Fund will reach 3,800 girls and young women. This aligns with Incremental’s commitment to gender inclusion in the workplace – you can learn about Incremental’s collaboration with Microsoft’s TechHer initiative, encouraging more women into careers in the tech industry here.
Kimberley Watson, Senior People Business Partner at Incremental Group said “As we enter the era of the digital imperative, it is crucial that the next generation are equipped with the necessary skills to thrive in a digital world. Digital Xtra Fund is doing an amazing job of inspiring young people to broaden their digital skills through meaningful (and fun!) digital initiatives, and we are proud to support this”.
The following piece was written by Polly Purvis OBE, a Trustee and Chair for Digital Xtra Fund as well as Deputy Chair at Converge Challenge. She is also a former CEO of ScotlandIS and Chair of CodeClan. It originally appeared in FutureScot on 7th October 2022.
When Apple CEO Tim Cook made a rare appearance in London last month, he had one simple and very powerful message to share: we need more women in tech, and there is no excuse for failing to achieve gender equality.
Everyone wants a more diverse workforce and equity of opportunity, but there are some very specific reasons for requiring more women to join the sector.
At the most basic level, it is a simple matter of understanding and respecting your customer base. At least 50 per cent of global consumers are women, so when new products are being developed it is essential that women are involved from the design stage right through the process.
I’ve seen some software teams that really have no clue about how women will interact with their systems, and it is easy to see how AI can go on to perpetrate unintentional bias if the data on which they act is incomplete or worse still incorporates stereotypes.
We also need more women starting businesses. That is true not just of tech but across the board. One of the issues is that women tend to be more risk averse, but we need to consider how to harness that. More encouragement would also be welcome. Women are often early adopters of products, whether they be new foods or new tech, so there is an opportunity to actively engage with women and support them as entrepreneurs.
Education is a key challenge. For years women have been underrepresented in STEM university courses and occupations. It is estimated that only about 19 per cent of computer science students are female, and it is the same picture for engineering and technology. Female students make up more than a third (37 per cent) of mathematical sciences students, which is a relative improvement but still not good enough. Apple itself only has about 35 per cent women in its workforce.
One problem is that girls and young women, particularly around the late primary school and early high school stage, are receiving the wrong messages as part of careers advice. This isn’t always via the school – it can also be from parents who view other occupations as more appealing, for example financial services and law – so we need to redouble our efforts to promote computing science and technology as attractive, well paid career options.
And, despite the best efforts of the Scottish Government, we don’t have enough computing teachers. Graduates can earn three or four times more by going straight into software development and engineering, so it is not difficult to see why teaching is being left behind. But it is vital that we boost numbers and make computing as accessible as possible if we are to address the gender gap.
Extracurricular opportunities must also be supported. Digital Xtra Fund is a brilliant scheme that provides grants to organisations delivering digital and tech activities to young people across Scotland, such as dressCode, a charity which delivers lunchtime clubs for girls aged 11-23, focused on games design, web development and cyber security. SmartSTEMs is another excellent third sector organisation inspiring young people aged 10-14, especially girls, by hosting and organising events in schools. Making computing fun and exciting is important if we are to successfully engage with girls and other underrepresented groups – so let’s see this continue and expand further, as part of the plans.
Sadly, we still don’t have enough senior women in tech in Scotland but having positive role models in place is definitely helping to drive change. And we need to ensure women are at the forefront in all areas of tech from usability to software engineering, sales to project management – not just the areas which have traditionally been dominated by females such as HR. On a positive note, there is early evidence that more women are coming through in data science, but greater representation must be across the board. If that means embracing an element of positive discrimination, so be it.
Change isn’t going to happen overnight. There are many positive initiatives underway in Scotland, but societal shifts take much longer than we think and need a great deal of reinforcement. The next 10 years are crucial and what we do now will determine our future success as an inclusive digital economy that recognises and creates opportunities for all.
The following post by Skills Development Scotland and originally posted in The Herald.
An innovative series of live lessons are inspiring Scots pupils to choose careers fit for the future
NEW project Tech Industry in the Classroom sees employers from across the digital sector using their experience to offer pupils insight into their day-to-day work.
Participants get to co-create and design lesson plans with teachers, and talk directly to school pupils about their role, their company and their sector.
The initiative is led by Skills Development Scotland (SDS), who are working with a range of partners to give young people a better understanding of the range of tech careers which are now available.
Phil Ford, Head of Digital Technologies and Financial Services at SDS, said: “People actually working in technology have unique real-world experiences which resonate really well with the pupils, and they can give them unrivalled insight, in the most passionate way, into what it’s really like to work in the exciting world of the digital economy.
“By getting involved, technologists can help pupils and teachers better understand the digital world, and by talking about their team members and colleagues, they can help introduce them to the huge variety of roles available in digital tech. From cyber security to software development, and gaming to AI and beyond, the variety of career options open to those with digital skills is amazing, and many of those jobs pay well above the average salary.”
Technology firm BJSS were one of the first companies to get involved in Tech Industry in the Classroom. Laura Casci, head of delivery for Scotland said: “We got involved as it aligns with our belief in helping young people from all backgrounds to develop the digital skills they need to thrive in the future. It’s also become increasingly important for organisations to create a rich digital talent pool.”
Virgin Money also took part to help promote tech careers in financial services. Scott Fraser, a cyber security specialist with the bank, said: “This programme is a fantastic initiative.
“There is a wide range of career paths within financial services, so this is a great opportunity to provide schoolchildren with insight into the important role cyber security plays in delivering cutting-edge digital experiences for customers.
“It also gives the children some awareness of data protection and privacy which is a really important life skill as well.”
SDS has been a long-time provider of digital skills awareness and education in schools. It’s award-winning Discover Cyber Live programme reached a quarter of a million users, and has now been expanded to include other digital skills such as data management, app development and software engineering.
SDS also offers My World of Work Live – a set of fun, interactive activities that help young people understand possible future careers. Aimed at pupils in P5 to S6 across Scotland, activities are designed and delivered by experts with a passion for education and learning.
Using the latest technology, the activities help young people identify their own skills and learn about the world of work, the key sectors and what jobs Scotland will need.
Recently, pupils at Uddingston Grammar School in South Lanarkshire were the first to try out a new activity entitled Drones in Construction.
Designed in partnership with Balfour Beatty, pupils learn how to control and safely fly a drone, discover how they are used in the construction sector, and take part in skills challenges.
The aim of the activity is to inspire young people and help them understand the future careers they could explore in sectors which offer strong career prospects, including construction, ICT and digital, and engineering.
John Cairns, Social Impact Manager at Balfour Beatty, said: “We are delighted to support SDS’s work to enhance career education for pupils. We’ve invested heavily in work-based learning opportunities at Balfour Beatty, with a breadth of apprenticeship opportunities, so we know first-hand how important it is to provide inspiration and encourage youngsters to consider a career in construction.”
James Russell, SDS’s Director of Careers Information, Advice and Guidance Operations, said: “We know experiencing the world of work at an early stage leads to better outcomes for young people. These career experiences not only allow for direct connections to the world of work, but exciting partnerships with industry experts such as Balfour Beatty help address and overcome outdated ideas of careers in key sectors across Scotland.”
Traditionally girls have been less likely than boys to go into careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. But that’s a trend that one Kirriemuir school is helping to reverse by challenging the stereotype that girls don’t engage well with STEM subjects.
Southmuir Primary School has a STEM club exclusively for girls, which provides fun activities such as coding and robotics.
Teacher Karen-Ruth Phillips started the weekly club for P4 to P7s to allow girls to enjoy coding and STEM subjects in a creative way.
With grant-funding the school bought new robots and equipment and there has been great interest.
Karen-Ruth said: “Global current research points out that if we want to increase the level of female participation in computer science at secondary school level and beyond, we need to address it within the primary school setting.
“There have been many studies which suggest that girls may be more motivated by projects where the aims were more people-focused and targeted towards their interests.
“So we chose activities with a creative element, whilst still covering the basic skills and regularly monitored engagement.
“We did this by asking the girls to indicate their enjoyment level after each block of activities we completed over the year.”
Strictly Come Dashing
Activities girls liked most included making a virtual pet and a dance party where they coded characters to complete routines.
They even held a Strictly Come Dashing competition, where they coded dances for Dash and Dot robots and guests voted for their favourites.
Karen-Ruth said: “These creative approaches to the use of the robots encouraged the girls to persist in progressing through the Dash and Dot structured puzzle challenges.”
Girls earned digital badges and certificates and were given insights into potential future careers from women like games creator Laura Molnar, of 4J Studios, and cyber security consultant Kayleigh Gall, of CGI Glasgow.
What do the girls say?
Carly, 9, said: “I liked coding the Dash robots because they made me laugh. I loved doing the dance competition.”
Stacey, 9, said: “Some parts of the Code.org course were hard but I was determined to finish it. I enjoyed building and coding the VEX GO robots the most.”
Eve, 10, said: “Making the VEX GO robots, especially the Hexbug animals, was the best bit. I liked the way they moved.”
Erin, 8, said: “I enjoyed designing a coin flipping robot with our micro:bits. I would like to become a robotics engineer.”
Mya, 11, said: “The talks have made me consider a career as a games designer.”
The start of a STEM career?
Karen-Ruth said: “It has really ignited interest in the girls and opened their eyes to a whole new way of working.
“A survey that I conducted found that more than two-thirds of the girls would now consider a career in STEM, with 13% saying they definitely would do so.
“The girls themselves feel that the project has helped them develop their team work and resilience and has given them more confidence.
“What’s especially pleasing is to see them learn and get excited about coding, their enthusiasm has been a joy to watch.”
Kraig Brown, the charity’s partnerships and development manager, said: “Our goal is for young people to have access to innovative and digitally creative activities, regardless of their gender, background, or where they live, and this has been encapsulated perfectly by Southmuir.”
The following post was written by MozFest Community member Craig Steele and originally posted on Mozilla Festival website. Image Credits: Connor B. and Craig Steele.
How much do you value your personal information? Would you be willing to hand over some personal information in exchange for a free coffee? That’s exactly what I did when I visited a café where the currency is your data.
Being part of the Mozilla community
I’ve been a fan of Mozilla (and Firefox user) ever since I first joined the web. Then, in 2013, I was awarded a “Digital Makers Fund” grant from Mozilla, Nominet, and Nesta to grow CoderDojo, a network of volunteer-led coding clubs for young people in Scotland.
Since then I’ve continued to follow the Mozilla Foundation, and have joined the community every year at MozFest. At the most recent MozFest, my colleague Daniel and I led an interactive activity where we looked at how data science is used to defend rhinos from poachers
The Mozilla Festival is a key moment on my calendar. It’s a great way to connect with likeminded technologists and creatives. I always learn something new, and usually leave filled with ideas. It’s that excitement that drew me to take part in the Ethical Dilemma Café spin-off event.
My trip to the Ethical Dilemma Cafe
The Feel Good Club on Hilton Street in Manchester, was transformed into the Ethical Dilemma Café. Mozilla and the BBC’s Research and Development department worked together to create this event to get people thinking about data consent and privacy.
So what is it? The Ethical Dilemma Cafe is a cafe with a catch. Even before stepping inside we were warned we were consenting to have our personal data tracked in the café. By opening the door, we were agreeing to those terms and conditions.
Inside, there were microphones and cameras placed beside the tables; watching and listening to everything going on inside. Some of those cameras and microphones could be controlled remotely by visitors to the website.
To get the free coffee, Daniel scanned a QR code on his lanyard, and then logged into the “Coffee with Strings” app. This is the point where you have to answer a personal question, handing over sensitive details to get your free coffee. Once you’ve answered you get the virtual token to exchange at the till.
Being spied on while you sip a latte isn’t something you’d normally expect in a local coffee shop, but the café is a metaphor for today’s Internet. Often online we’re given something we really want – the latest music, news articles, entertaining videos on YouTube – but it’s not truly free – we’re trading some of our personal data in exchange for what we want.
Other things to explore in the café
As well as the free coffee, The Ethical Dilemma Café had a bunch of things to see and do. There were installations, talks, and workshops by BBC R&D, Lancaster University, Open Data Manchester CIC, and Northumbria University.
My highlights include Edge of Tomorrow, an arcade game by Lancaster University. This game explained some of the environmental effects that can be caused by cyber attacks.
A data visualisation from Open Data Manchester got us to use lego blocks to plot our happy places. The coloured bricks representing our happiness levels, and where we placed them on the map corresponded with the place we were most happy.
Daniel and I crushed into The Caravan of the Future, an immersive design showcasing what the living room of the future might look like. Using voice assistants, we were able to speak directly to the caravan and it adjusted the lights, temperature, and environment to suit us. Based on the way we looked and our facial expressions it even tried to recommend a TV show it thought we might enjoy.
Want to help school pupils fight biased algorithms?
This research trip was the perfect start to our own new education project: we’re creating an “Ethics in Tech” interactive learning resource that will help primary school pupils learn about racist, sexist, and ageist computer algorithms. We need to prepare the next generation of digital leaders to understand the dangers of biased algorithms. To fight inequality, they need to know how to spot them, and how to tackle them.
As part of the research and development phase, I want to connect with technology professionals across the country who have experience creating algorithms that directly affect people. Get in touch with me if you want to learn more.
The “Ethics in Tech” project is supported by Digital Xtra Fund, a Scottish charity that helps enable extracurricular digital tech activities for young people, and is funded by the Scottish Government.
The Ethical Dilemma Café challenged me to think about the value of personal data, and how data and algorithms shape our world today. It was fun taking part in this small scale event, and it definitely got me more excited for next year’s Mozilla Festival.
About the Author
Craig Steele is a computer scientist, educator, published author, and creative technologist, who helps people develop digital skills in a fun and creative environment. His company, Digital Skills Education, offers digital skills training across Scotland and internationally.