12 Nov 2021

Tech firms urged to inspire future generations

Employers offered guidance and training for classroom lessons

Tech employers are being encouraged to bring their industry to life for young people through an innovative series of live lessons being delivered in Scotland’s schools.

Tech Industry in the Classroom sees employers from across the digital sector using their industry experience to offer pupils an insight into their day-to-day work.

With Scottish Careers Week taking place from 15-19 November, energy firm SSE is delivering a live lesson with Johnstone High School in Renfrewshire focusing on data security.

Tech employers are also now being invited to join the first in a series of training sessions explaining the resources available for taking part in live lessons, including a best practice guide to virtual engagement, and to make use of a new online toolkit offering further support.

Tech Industry In SchoolsMark Logan, author of the Scottish Tech Ecoystem Review, is amongst those encouraging employers to take part. He said: “Partnerships between school and industry are essential if we are going to strengthen the talent pipeline.

“Engaging schools in this way provides young people with a richer idea of what a career in tech could offer them. It brings the curriculum to life and shows the real-world applications of what is taught in the classroom.

“I’d ask tech employers of all types to consider how they could play their part in attracting the next generation of talent.”

Next Tuesday’s lesson involving SSE and Johnstone High School will focus on the role data security plays in tackling climate change, with the lesson aligned to the National Progression Award (NPA) in Cyber Security.

Michael Wallis, SSEplc Group Chief Information Officer, said: “The biggest challenge facing us all is the climate emergency and it is the young people of today whose future is really being threatened by this.

“At SSE we are reimagining the world of energy so we can protect their future and the planet. That’s why I am proud of our support for the Scottish Careers Week where we can share our vision with those who want to join us on our journey to net zero.

“Emerging digital technologies, artificial intelligence and cyber security sit at the heart of our response to climate change. We’ll be holding a live teach-in to showcase cyber security – just one of our many career opportunities.

“I hope it will encourage young women and men to consider a career in technology and see how it is helping to create a better world of energy.”

Tech Industry In Schools

Next Thursday also sees the first of a series of employer training sessions looking at the different resources employers can use to deliver classroom sessions, covering topics such as Ethical Hacking, Digital Forensics, Software development and also looking at our Best Practice Guide for virtual engagement with learners.

Each of the three sessions will be different, covering different topics and are free to attend.

Employers can also make use of the Tech Industry in Schools toolkit launched last month which aims to make it as easy possible for the tech industry to sign up to the myriad of education-related programmes available.

Claire Gillespie, Digital Technology Skills Industry Manager at Skills Development Scotland (SDS) added: “The success of our pilot programme of live lessons showed this concept has a great deal to offer. It gives young people a genuine insight into the tech sector and helps employers engage with potential new talent.

“As the adoption of new technologies continues to accelerate, it’s hugely important that tech employers grasp the opportunity to show young people how digital skills can unlock an increasingly vast array of exciting new careers.”

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05 Nov 2021

Dundee Digital Fortnight aims to inspire the future tech workforce

Chris van der Kuyl, one of Scotland’s leading entrepreneurs in the technology, media, gaming and entertainment sectors, has helped kickstart the Dundee Digital Fortnight, as city partners prepare to showcase the skills needed by young people to develop a career in the local technology sector. He is issuing a rallying call for pupils and students to get ready to play their part in the exciting opportunities that lie ahead for the city.

Van der Kuyl is co-founder and chairman of Dundee-based 4J Studios – best known for developing Minecraft for Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo games consoles – as well as Principal of Chroma Ventures alongside his business partner, Paddy Burns. Chroma Ventures is one of Digital Xtra Fund’s key Gigabyte Partners with Burns also sitting on the Fund’s Board of Trustees.

Dundee Digital Fortnight aims to inspire the future workforce needed to take the local industry to the next levels. 

Meg Brough, Cheryl Torano, Chris van der Kuyl and Mark FlynnChris van der Kuyl said: “The global games industry is bigger by revenue than every other entertainment sector combined and Dundee has more games developers per head of the population than anywhere else in the world. We have a real opportunity to lead the way in this and other technology-based sectors but it will require a focus on developing skills and talent over the next decade and beyond. Initiatives like Dundee’s Digital Fortnight will play a part in inspiring the city’s next generation of coders, games developers, and data analysts. Well done to the whole team involved in creating this programme of events.”

Dundee Digital Fortnight is being organised by the city council along with a range of partners including Abertay and Dundee universities, Dundee & Angus College, Amazon Web Services, Waracle, Developing the Young Workforce Dundee & Angus, Skills Development Scotland and Showcase the Street. Both Amazon Web Services and Skills Development Scotland are also key Gigabyte Partners for Digital Xtra Fund.

The initiative is designed to encourage young people to aim for a career in the city’s digital and technology industries by showcasing the opportunities available now, and the prospects that could be open for them in the local sector in the future.

That could be games, apps, cyber security, or the many ways that local companies use tech for their everyday business.

Dundee City Council city development convener Councillor Mark Flynn said: “We are using this fortnight to harness the power of technology to encourage young people to develop the skills they will need to play a part in the digital future.

“Dundee is a city where great things are already happening and we want as many people as possible to be able to take advantage of exciting opportunities in this wide and diverse sector.

“That is why it is vital the partners can encourage them into appropriate training pathways to prepare them for the years ahead.”

The fortnight will take place between November 8 and 21 and will include in-school events, online sessions and other activities. These will explain the skills that are required to work in the digital sector and showcase how they are applied to real life projects.

It will coincide with the  Dundee esports league to spark gaming revolution in Scotlandevent at Dundee Contemporary Arts, as well as taking in a range of activities to be delivered by Amazon Web Services (AWS).

These include a Deep Racer Championship and a Get IT event to encourage girls aged 12-13 to consider a career in tech by challenging long standing gender stereotypes. AWS will also be launching their reskilling programme, AWS re/Start, with a reception for local tech employers.

Cheryl Torano, business development manager of Abertay University cyberQuarter, added: “Since the start of the pandemic, we have all become more dependent on technology in our daily lives, with remote working becoming the ‘new normal’ and people of all ages using connected devices to keep in touch.

“As a result of this, cyber-attacks in the UK have doubled within the past year, so young people should be empowered to use technology safely and responsibly, or even to consider cybersecurity as a career option.

“Cybersecurity offers an interesting, meaningful and well-paid career path where people can make a difference to the lives of others, and graduates coming out of courses like Abertay University’s Ethical Hacking programme will quickly progress into jobs that are both highly-skilled and personally rewarding.”     

Gillian McGovern, Head of Sector for Creative Cultural and digital at Dundee and Angus College, said: “The increasing need for digital skills is becoming a major priority both local and globally. As a college we are constantly looking for new ways to increase awareness and to educate both students and parents of the job opportunities in this sector.

“Some of the initiatives have included establishing partnerships with local business to create talent pipelines and arranging early intervention programs for schools to promote the wide variety of digital courses and job opportunities that sit alongside these skills sets.

“We are extremely excited about being a part of the digital skills fortnight.  We will be showcasing at DCA from November 18 to 21 where people can meet lecturers and students, find out about studying Computing and Esports and take part in a variety of fun games and competitions. These include Design a game Character, Esports and Gaming Jargon, VR game competitions, Retro games Competitions, Mini Gaming Tournament and Robot Assault course.”

John Davies, Director of Regional & Devolved Government, Amazon Web Services, said: “AWS is delighted to be rolling out digital skills programmes in Dundee for every age and stage.

“The past 18 months have seen a reshaping of the world of work, with more focus on digital skills in every part of the economy. Tech is a sector which is constantly evolving, and the demand for digital skills is increasing. We’re launching digital skills programmes for schools, for colleges and universities, and for people who are looking to retrain for a career in tech, so that everyone can play a part in building the future.”

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26 Oct 2021

Digital makerspaces could change the present and the future for young people in Scotland

The following was written by Hilary Phillips, Senior Development Officer at YouthLink Scotland, and originally posted at digitalyouthwork.scot.


Creating places where young people can enjoy exploring digital technology is a fun – but also serious – route to developing the skills that young people need for life and the expertise that our economy is crying out for.

Makerspaces are a global movement, shown to create positive “third spaces” in people’s lives. Digital makerspaces provide a way for youth workers to engage with young people, supporting them to learn key skills around coding and computer science. IT skills can provide excellent routes into a wide range of employment opportunities but being involved in a makerspace can also mean developing confidence, resilience and relational skills.youth driven drawing

There are already models for clubs and activities that are ideal in the makerspace setting: makey makey kits, dojo, raspberry pi and much more besides.

In addition, makerspaces are associated with enterprise and entrepreneurship. They often include 3D printers and access to other pieces of equipment that enable people to quickly take a business idea all the way to market. Basically they create places where people can try things, where it’s OK if they don’t work, and where there’s plenty of support to try again.

In Ireland, TechSpaces is a national project which is helping more and more young people get involved in digital. Could we do the same in Scotland, creating places where young people choose to get involved, learning skills that will change the future for them and for the nation? We think so.

A new Digital Makerspaces Learning Community

Starting in September 2021, youth workers in Scotland can take part in some peer-to-peer learning, as part of a new digital makerpaces learning community.

The learning community is being organised by YouthLink Scotland and supported by Education Scotland’s Enhancing Professional Learning in STEM Grants Programme through the Scottish Government STEM Education and Training Strategy. YouthLink would love to hear from other youth workers (staff, volunteers) in Scotland who are interested in developing the maker practice. If you are interested joining this group please contact Hilary Phillips at YouthLink Scotland at [email protected].

We asked some of those who are planning to get involved in the learning community to share some inspiration, and here’s what happened.

Digital clubs and activities at Heart of Midlothian Football club

Tanya Howden has been involved in developing a digital makerspace at Heart of Midlothian Football Club’s Innovation Centre. She says:

“Digital Makerspaces are a place for anyone to play with different tools and technology to create projects that are interesting to them. These projects might have no particular aim or outcome other than to explore topics, interests or see how things work. Makerspaces are a fantastic way to let young people lead their own learning and see the value in the mistakes that they make along the way to give them a deeper understanding and love for the subject.

“I think my first encounter of how people were doing cool things with makerspaces was when I came across a talk by Caroline Keep at an education conference. She has set up a makerspace in her school to promote learning about STEM.

“When we think about makerspaces, you maybe think about a room full of exciting gadgets and tools like 3D printers and robots but at the heart of it, a Makerspace is simply providing a safe environment where young people feel comfortable to tinker and play with different resources and maybe even collaborate with others who have a similar interest to them!

“In 2019, Heart of Midlothian FC launched a ground-breaking community initiative called the Innovation Centre. Part of this community work provides free digital education clubs and programmes to young people in the community with the aim to change how young people perceive studying and working in STEM subjects to highlight that anyone can have an interest in computing or coding. A big part of this initiative is about providing an environment where young people can get hands-on with different technology and resources that they may not have come across in school or at home with the support of friendly mentors from industry.

“I think Makerspaces can be a fantastic way to grow a community to find new interests and learn new skills to support the next generation of makers and creators!

Helping girls get in to tech

Ryan McKay has been helping get a makerspace off the ground at The Citadel in Leith. He says, “This summer at the Citadel we have been busy developing our new Girls Makerspace pilot group. Our primary aim for this group has been to support the girls in updating our art room, transforming it into a custom makerspace. The girls have taken part in Innobox training sessions to explore innovative ways of developing their ideas. They have also engaged in various STEM activities while working towards gaining their Young STEM Leader Awards.

Having their ideas for the new makerspace genuinely taken on board has instilled a huge sense of confidence. Our young people have also gained valuable employment and enterprise skills.

Moving forward I am excited to be part of the new Digital Makerspace Learning Community and I am keen to highlight the many benefits other youth organisations can have in implementing their own activities.”

This project is funded by the SSERC as part of the Young STEM Leaders Programme.

A lifeline at a critical moment

YMCA Paisley run a successful digital makerspace. Their project was co-created with local young people whose views and needs have shaped and led the activities. The Paisley Makerspace is an award winning local project which provides an exciting model for others to emulate.

One young person, David aged 18, was referred to the Paisley ymca makerspace through a referral from another youth organisation who were supporting young people just being released from HMYOI Polmont through their employability programme. One of the more challenging aspects of David’s release was trying to avoid alcohol and substance misuse which had led to his offending in the first place.

When David first started attending sessions, he was very quiet and reserved and had never created or built anything using technology. David first took part in a ‘Bare Conductive’ session where he built his own drum machine using conductive paint, cardboard, tinfoil and with this he recorded a number of stranger sounds with a sampler. David was so blown away by what he created that he wanted to take a video of it to show his family at home.

David soon felt safe and at home at the makerspace and did not feel the need for his key worker to be in attendance as he started to make friends and help out others on their projects or creative concepts. Best of all it focused David’s mind to such an extent that he did not feel the need to be distracted by drink and drugs as he believed he had found his new passion.

David attended the Makerspace for seven months and commented “Makerspace has provided me with a lifeline at a time when my head was all over the place”.

The project helped David to prepare for work by attending sessions at the makerspace developed his time keeping, project management skills as he organised much of the Synesthesia event (a public music event). Ultimately, David’s success in dealing with the transition from custody to life on the outside was due in part to his participation at the Makerspace. Once he had managed to stop using drugs, he was able to start thinking about getting a job and rebuilding his life.

Funding the future

Kraig Brown is the Partnerships and Development Manager at the Digital Xtra Fund, where their goal is for every young person in Scotland to have access to innovative and digitally creative activities regardless of their gender, background, or where they live. Describing digital makerspaces in an article in the The Herald Kraig says, “They would be fun, safe spaces where children and young people could get hands-on and learn about tech. They could discover and explore at their own pace while trying out various coding platforms or kit. The learning is informal, but educators and volunteers would provide lessons and structure just like all the other extracurricular activities we support. However, there isn’t the stress of a test or essay at the end which puts a lot of young people off trying computing when they get to Secondary.”

Many of the projects funded by the Digital Xtra Fund, including the Heart of Midlothian Innovation Centre are promoting this very concept of digital makerspaces as the best way for young people to get creative with digital.

It’s an exciting moment. If you are interested in developing digital makerspaces for young people we’d love to hear from you. Do get in touch if you’d like to know more.

Hilary Phillips – Supporting digital youth work at YouthLink Scotland

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11 Oct 2021

Digital Xtra Fund selects 22 initiatives to drive digital skills for young people in Scotland

Digital Xtra Fund, a Scottish charity that is backed by both the public and corporate sectors, has selected 22 initiatives to help drive digital skills for young people aged 16 and under in Scotland. The funding ranges from delivering coding clubs at four schools across Angus, a ‘Games for Good’ initiative for teens at Heart of Midlothian FC’s Innovation Centre, introducing hundreds of young people to cyber security at Aberdeen Science Centre, and a COP26-related collaboration around climate tech with SCDI’s Young Engineers and Science Clubs.

Kraig Brown, Digital Xtra Fund’s Partnerships and Development Manager, says the Fund’s goal is “for every young person in Scotland to have access to innovative and digitally creative activities, regardless of their gender, background, or where they live. This year’s grant awards are valued at over £100,000 and will now help around 7,250 young people across the country learn about the vast opportunities with tech.”

“The past 18 months have really proven the importance and value of what we’re doing, but also shown us we need to increase our ambitions now if we want to reach our goal before it’s too late. We want educators, youth workers, and others across the country to be confident in starting a coding club in their community so all young people have an opportunity to learn about digital tech regardless of what courses their school may offer. One thing we’ve been looking at is how to scale up the fantastic work we’ve seen over the past five years and support the development of hundreds of ‘tech clubs’ where kids could learn various skills and try different types of kit in informal and creative ways.”

Since being launched in 2016, Digital Xtra Fund has awarded £725,000 of funding to digital skills initiatives across Scotland, helping schools and organisations engage over 35,000 young people. “Our model is very simple – we work with our industry partners to identify, finance, and assist tech initiatives across the country. The more industry backing we have, the more initiatives we can support, and the more young people we can engage with tech.”

Major funders include AWS, Baillie Gifford, CGI, JP Morgan and, most recently, Chroma Ventures. Other funders include Accenture, BT, Cirrus Logic, Fujitsu, Incremental Group, Micro:bit Educational Foundation, ScotlandIS and Skyscanner.

CGI, one of the largest IT and business consulting services firms in the world, which has offices in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and the Borders, has continued and increased its support for 2021/2022.

“We are delighted to maintain our strong support for Digital Xtra Fund,” said Lyndsey Teaz, Vice President, CGI in Scotland. “As an organisation we believe passionately in supporting the communities in which we live and work and it has never been more important to encourage talent and innovation in our sector. It is tremendous to see so many young people being helped on their journey and we look forward to seeing the results over the coming months.”

Commenting on Mark Logan’s Scottish Government-commissioned Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review in 2020, Kraig Brown adds: “Mark Logan spelt things out again recently when he described the state of computing science in our schools as an educational emergency.  It really is that important and we want to be one of the key parts in the ecosystem that brings about real and effective change.  On the plus side, it feels like we’re at a watershed moment and things are starting to move in the right direction.”

Digital Xtra Fund brings together businesses, organisations, and individuals with a common goal to help young people succeed in a digital world through an annual grant awards programme. Key Partners include AWS, Baillie Gifford, CGI, Chroma Ventures, J.P. Morgan, Scottish Government, and Skills Development Scotland as well as Accenture, BT, Cirrus Logic, Fujitsu, Incremental Group, Micro:bit Educational Foundation, ScotlandIS, and Skyscanner.

For further information about Digital Xtra Fund and this year’s grant recipients, please visit: www.digitalxtrafund.scot.

About CGI

Founded in 1976, CGI is among the largest independent IT and business consulting services firms in the world. With 78,000 consultants and other professionals across the globe, CGI delivers an end-to-end portfolio of capabilities, from strategic IT and business consulting to systems integration, managed IT and business process services and intellectual property solutions. CGI works with clients through a local relationship model complemented by a global delivery network that helps clients digitally transform their organizations and accelerate results. CGI Fiscal 2020 reported revenue is C$12.16 billion and CGI shares are listed on the TSX (GIB.A) and the NYSE (GIB). Learn more at cgi.com.

 

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28 Jun 2021

Schools’ lack of computing teachers is a major error

The following Editorial appeared in The Herald on Thursday 28 June 2021 as part of their ongoing series about the Future of Education.


Scotland’s shortage of classroom coding experts means tech clubs funded by Digital Xtra Fund may be the only way for some pupils to learn the skill.

We may finally be at the point where the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic is behind us. We will not, though, be returning to things as they were before: the world has changed, bringing huge opportunities for new thinking.

This is particularly true of Scottish education. This was badly affected by lockdown with schools closed, teaching moved online and extracurricular activities largely halted.

With young people hopefully back in classrooms for good, the moment is ripe for bold new approaches to be introduced. One area where these are needed is in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) learning.

In particular, there is a serious problem facing computer science in Scottish schools – the number of secondary school teachers having this as their main subject has dropped by more than 22 per cent since 2008 giving young people less opportunities to take up computing.

Digital Xtra Fund, a Scottish charity created in 2016, is working to address this problem.

Backed by business partners including Baillie Gifford, AWS and CGI, it provides grants for extracurricular activities that focus on inspiring the next generation to understand and create with technology.

The shortage of computer science teachers means the coding and tech clubs supported by Digital Xtra Fund are often the only form of regular opportunity some young people have to learn about computing.

However, the organisation’s Partnerships and Development Manager, Kraig Brown, says that unfortunately many of these activities were cut during the pandemic, and continued uncertainty around next year has also meant the number of grant applications received by the Fund was down this year.

“Schools are still in pandemic mode and working on delivering their core programmes. Their main focus has been on getting core teaching back up and running. As a result, many who would have normally applied for funding for tech clubs have elected not to as they still don’t know what is going to happen next year.”

Kraig does welcome the recent commitments outlined in the Education Recovery: Next Steps programme announced by Scottish Government earlier this month in the wake of the pandemic, though he has some reservations.

The blueprint includes a commitment to ensuring every schoolchild has access to the technology they need to support their education and recruitment of 3,500 additional teachers and classroom assistants. Kraig said: “The commitment to ensuring every schoolchild has access to technology really stands out for me, but let’s make sure this isn’t just a box ticking exercise. It’s great to give youngsters a Chromebook or iPad, but they need to know how to use it – and I don’t mean just tapping apps – but actually know how these devices function.

“Children should be able to code simple tasks and control other devices with them – the hardware is only a means to the digital skills they require to make full use of the wider technology spectrum.”

Kraig also whole-heartedly welcomes the commitment to new teachers and classroom assistants but is unsure what subjects they are going to teach.

He also wonders what level they will be at – primary or secondary – and how much expertise in digital skills they will have picked up during their training. “Every university needs to be teaching new teachers these skills.”

He also wonders if such a large recruitment is even attainable, especially in computer science. In a post-Covid world even more reliant on technology, how will bright undergraduates with an interest in STEM be enticed into teaching rather than industry.

“Will they organise a targeted recruitment drive for new STEM teachers? They tried that and only had limited success, especially recruiting new computing teachers. There’s not much difference in salaries between teaching and industry at the start, but progression in industry is so much faster. I don’t see how enough talented people are going to be inspired to teach computing science without a complete rethink. It’s a serious concern.

“One answer may be to incentivise computing science teachers more, but that would cause a rightful uproar as they are not necessarily working harder or achieving more than their non-computing colleagues. It really is a challenge.”

Although it is not a perfect solution, another possibility is to recruit and train industry experts to come into classrooms. Digital Xtra Fund is very active in this area recently hiring a Community & Grants Officer to facilitate engagements between their industry partners and grant recipients.

Another initiative adopting a similar approach is the Digital Critical Friends programme run by ScotlandIS, the membership and cluster management organisation for Scotland’s digital technologies industries in partnership with the young workforce development organisation DYW Glasgow.

This project ensures every Glasgow City secondary school will have at their disposal a senior tech expert from a leading technology business – the so-called critical friend. “It’s a very, very exciting approach and I know that there are plans to roll this out beyond Glasgow”, Kraig says. “Overall, we need to ensure consistency of coverage, ideally across the whole country – there has to be more collaboration over this.

“We don’t want to create a postcode lottery leading to children in smaller towns or rural communities being unlikely to get access to computing science education. All young people having access to technology post-Covid creates almost unlimited opportunities to explore these new kinds of lateral thinking. Ensuring young people have opportunities to learn digital skills must now be as much a right as their right to learn how to read and write or their right to physical exercise.”

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28 May 2021

Why the term ‘digital native’ does not compute in Scottish classrooms

The following Editorial appeared in The Herald on Thursday 27 May 2021 as part of their ongoing series about the Future of Education.


Although today’s young people are often thought to be naturals when it comes to technology, Digital Xtra Fund believes such thinking undermines the pressing need for more Scottish pupils to take an interest in computing science. By Andrew Collier

TECHNOLOGY is ubiquitous: it surrounds us to the point where we use it intuitively and virtually without noticing. We ask it to do remarkable things and it complies, usually immediately and uncomplainingly.

That’s both a blessing and a curse. Computers and IT are simultaneously our best friend and an inhibitor to our advancement. We know things will happen when we click an app without ever really thinking about how it works or remembering that skilled people have worked to create and polish that app.

This creates an assumption and an entitlement that acts as a barrier to learning when it comes to learning computer science. If youngsters in particular grow up with technology all around them, the thinking goes, then why should they feel the need to build that technology themselves?

Today’s children are generally (and erroneously) regarded as what are known as ‘digital natives’ – young people who have grown up with computers and the internet as an integral part of their lives and as such, they are all comfortable and confident using these things.

But the challenge is getting them to realise that if they don’t develop a consciousness and a curiosity about the technology in their hands, it’s hard to convince them that they should consider a career in the science underlying it.

To put it another way, if someone is having a smooth ride in a modern car, they really don’t need to think about what is happening underneath the bonnet in the engine compartment. There’s an assumption because modern vehicles are so comfortable and reliable, we really no longer need mechanics. Until, of course, the car breaks down.

When applied to computer science, this assumptive ethos is of concern to educators and in particular to Digital Xtra Fund, a Scotland-wide charity working to build interest in computing and technology among those aged 16 and under through extracurricular activities.

Kraig Brown, the Fund’s Partnerships and Development Manager, believes this attitude is creating problems when it comes to getting students engaged in programmes such as the ones supported by his own organisation and others such as dressCode, which works to inspire Scottish girls to learn computing.

“The term ‘digital native’ implies that computer users don’t need to take computing science. It also assumes that they will automatically have the skills they need to enter the sort of tech-centric careers we are trying to encourage students into.

“That might be the case for a minority, but it certainly isn’t for a majority. In fact, the phrase ‘digital native’ diminishes the work that we do by suggesting the programmes we support for young people aren’t really needed.”

He adds: “They can go through school thinking that all they need to do is pick up an iPad and they can find everything they need on the internet.

“But when they get beyond school and into university or an apprenticeship, they find they do need some computer science skills for a lot of careers in the world today – and not just tech-based roles. Once they realise they don’t have the necessary skills to get into many job markets, what do they do then? They can reskill or upskill but it’s much easier if we instil these computing skills earlier.”

Kraig makes the point that previous generations using popular early domestic computers such as the Commodore 64 or BBC Micro generally had to learn something about programming.

“You had to know about computational thinking just to use them! Modern computers have eliminated that need. That’s good in many ways, it makes technology more accessible, but it also means many modern users don’t have those skills anymore.”

The declining numbers of computer science teachers in Scottish schools over the last 15 years hasn’t helped the situation. Even in 2021, computer science is not taught in every secondary school.

In the Highlands alone – an area nearly the size of Belgium – there are nine full-time Computer Science teachers covering 29 secondary schools. “I think most senior leadership teams in schools appreciate how important the subject is by now, but because many don’t have the staff or resources, they can’t be as proactive in promoting the subject or getting their students as involved as they would like.”

Last year’s Logan Review into education produced for the Scottish Government recommended that computer science should be treated as a core subject such as maths and physics.

Kraig supports this, though he concedes the shortage of computing teachers will be an issue. “The challenges with computer science at the secondary level is negatively impacting a lot of young people in Scotland, even if they don’t know it yet. I believe one solution is to aggressively upskill our primary teachers and introduce computing skills at an earlier stage to give them the foundational skills they need as well as excite them about the possibilities of tech.”

Digital Xtra Fund Round VI AnnouncementRecruiting more computer science teachers or introducing these skills earlier won’t help if there isn’t uptake from young people in secondary and beyond. How can the question of exciting students about building computing skills be successfully addressed? He believes the learning must be directly connected to real life.

“In my opinion, the best way is to get industry involved – ideally young experts or professionals, but really anyone who can talk about their career, the skills they use, and how technology impacts this. So much of what we do in daily life is based on technology and the pandemic has only amplified this. It has also highlighted the growing importance of having technology and connectivity in place for all.”

Many people born before 1980 have recently learned new digital skills as a matter of necessity. Kraig believes that the same kind of urgency and thinking is now required to inspire today’s generation of young people to take the next steps to become digital creators and digital leaders, not simply ‘digital natives’.

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30 Apr 2021

Digital Xtra Fund is looking for a Community & Grants Officer

Digital Xtra Fund seeking Trustee

UPDATE: It is important Digital Xtra Fund finds the right person for this role as they will play an important part in expanding the Fund’s impact and increasing our future success. As such, applications for the Community & Grants Officer have been reopened until 20 May 2021.

An exciting and unique opportunity is available for a highly motivated individual to join Digital Xtra Fund as a Community & Grants Officer.

The Officer will support grant recipients in achieving their targets, outcome and objectives and explore new opportunities to engage young people in tech. The ideal candidate will have experience working with young people or in schools/organisations who deliver STEM lessons/programmes and a passion for technologies.

Digital Xtra Fund is happy to discuss flexible working including working from home, reduced hours, compressed hours, and flexitime.

 

Role Title: Community & Grants Officer

Salary: £25,000 PA (one year initial FTC with potential to renew dependent on funding)

Hours: Monday – Friday, 09.00 – 17.00 (happy to discuss flexible working options)

Location: Combination of Remote and Office-based working (Linlithgow) (the role will be entirely remote until mid-August 2021 at the earliest)

Report to: Partnerships & Development Manager

Application closing date: 20 May 2021

The Officer’s main focusses will be to i) help foster increased collaboration between the Fund’s industry partners and grant recipients and ii) assist grant recipients to better explore and understand concepts such as ethics of technology, tech for good, and the importance of meta-skills, such as adaptability and creativity, alongside technical skills.

The role’s responsibilities will include, but not necessarily be limited to:

  • Helping facilitate increased collaboration between industry partners and grant recipients including employee engagement opportunities or in-kind donations (33%);
  • Developing materials and assisting grant recipients to better understand concepts such as ethics of technology, tech for good, and the importance of meta-skills alongside technical skills (33%);
  • Assisting the Partnerships & Development Manager with optimising the end-to-end delivery of the grants cycle including planning, promotion, delivery, evaluations, and reporting to ensure targets are met (10%);
  • Assisting with the Fund’s marketing and communications (8%);
  • Assisting the Partnerships & Development Manager with organising events or similar opportunities with supported initiatives/partners/key stakeholders to facilitate networking and knowledge sharing (6%);
  • Exploring any other opportunities or collaborations to support digital skills for young people in Scotland (10%)
  • Please note that occasional travel within Scotland will be required.

 

Required Skills

  • Experience working/volunteering with an organisation that actively engages young people in science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM) or a teacher/educator with experience in STEM. It is essential that you can demonstrate experience in this area or an above average knowledge of digital technologies.
  • Excellent communication skills with the ability to relate to a variety of organisations from grassroots community groups, charities, and schools to larger businesses, industry partners or government departments
  • Excellent administrative and organisational skills
  • Innovative with the ability to take initiative and work with a team and independently
  • Excellent computer literacy with knowledge of Outlook, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint

 

Desired Skills:

 

Personal Qualities:

  • Passionate about the importance of STEM education for young people
  • Proactive self-starter
  • Enthusiastic and positive
  • Methodical and strategic thinking in approach to work
  • Projects a professional image of the Charity at all times

 

Benefits:

  • £25,000 per annum (one-year full time contract with potential to renew dependent on funding)
  • Flexible working options available including working from home, working outwith normal working hours and reduced hours/days (salary would be prorated accordingly)
  • Match employee pension contributions to a maximum 5%
  • Onsite parking and gym at office in Linlithgow
  • Holiday entitlement of twenty-five (25) days per year in addition to eight (8) Scottish public holidays

 

A full job description is available on request. Please contact the Fund at [email protected] if you have any questions about the role.

To apply, applicants should submit a CV to [email protected]. Applications will close at 23:59 on Thursday, 20 May, 2021.

 

 

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21 Apr 2021

Investors click with Digital Xtra Fund’s bold vision for learning in Scotland

The following Editorial appeared in The Herald on Wednesday 21 April 2021 as part of their ongoing series about the Future of Education.


WITH new financial input from a prominent Scottish tech investment company, Digital Xtra Fund’s annual awards will be boosted considerably this year – support which has also opened up a new job opportunity within the charity. By Andrew Collier

Scotland may be a relatively small country, but it has a real opportunity to be a global leader in the digital economy. We have the drive, the knowledge, the skills and also  the ambition.

One area where we could improve, however, is education. Specifically, our young people need to become enthused by, and engaged with, the various opportunities technology offers.

If they see exciting and worthwhile careers are available in tech and go on to fulfil these roles, it will build the critical talent pool required.

Digital Xtra Fund is targeting exactly this goal. A Scotland-wide charity, it is increasing interest in computing and technology among those aged 16 and under by supporting extracurricular tech activities that inspire young people to follow this path.

The Fund has been highly successful and continues to grow. It is winning new financial support and expanding its ambitions further to the point where it is now seriously contemplating a future where there is a tech club in every school or community in the country. “We have new partnerships in place and a new role within the Fund”, says Kraig Brown, the Fund’s Partnerships and Development Manager. “It’s all very positive.”

In a major boost, the Fund has most recently partnered with new Scottish tech investment company Chroma Ventures, which has donated £25,000. This means when the Fund’s annual grants are announced in June, it will award £100,000 rather than the £75,000 originally announced.

The charity is also hiring a Community and Grants Officer to help take it to the next level. This person will focus on fostering collaboration between industry and grant recipients.

They will also help those receiving financial awards to understand concepts such as ethics in technology, how to use tech as a force for good, as well as the importance of meta-skills – skills to create, collaborate and empathise with others – alongside technical skills. Kraig Brown says the new role is part of a wider strategy to help industry enthuse youngsters about tech and develop their understanding of the digital world.

“We want to get more professionals in front of young people talking about their careers. If young people can connect what they’re learning to these jobs, it will help exponentially long-term.”

One example he gives occurred during a recent online session he attended at Heart of Midlothian FC’s Innovation Centre, a community-based initiative offering courses to help participants learn digital skills.

“There was a User Experience Designer from Sky who was giving participants some really useful feedback on things like how their app’s buttons could stand out better and where the back button should be to make it more intuitive.

“I think these types of interactions are hugely valuable because it relates the learning to ‘real life’ while also informing young people what a UX Designer does. This doesn’t happen enough, but this new role will encourage and facilitate more of these interactions and share examples of best practice.”

Kraig is also delighted with the additional funding provided by Chroma Ventures.

“It made an immediate impact. It means we can now disburse £100,000 this year – that’s fantastic. It also puts us back on track with where we were pre-Covid; I’m proud of that too.”

This increased confidence is enabling the Fund to think more about how Scotland can become a global tech leader. Kraig would like Digital Xtra Fund to lead on developing a network of ‘Techspaces’ for every school or community across the country. Modelled after Makerspaces – these would be informal learning spaces designed and dedicated to giving young people the opportunity to get creative with tech.

“They would be fun, safe spaces where children and young people could get hands-on and learn about tech. They could discover and explore at their own pace while trying out various coding platforms or kit. The learning is informal, but educators and volunteers would provide lessons and structure just like all the other extracurricular activities we support. However, there isn’t the stress of a test or essay at the end which puts a lot of young people off trying computing when they get to Secondary.”

“Techspaces would also operate outwith the curriculum meaning they would be flexible and could more easily involve industry volunteers. Non-curriculum programmes such as ‘do your:bit’ from the Micro:bit Educational Foundation, iDEA Badges, or Apps for Good – which are proven to engage young people – could be easily incorporated as there’d be no set curriculum. This would give participants opportunities to try new things and essentially play around without a fear of failure.”

This approach addresses several of the challenges facing Computer Science in schools. “First and foremost, there aren’t enough Computer Science teachers in Secondary Schools and the ones who are in place have to keep an eye on the curriculum.

“At the Primary level, teachers are already often at capacity so asking them to include more during class time isn’t always viable, not to mention the training involved. Even if we overcame this, many schools don’t have the kit or budget and even if they do, it is often restricted by firewalls set by the Council.”

“We need make the idea of playing with technology exciting and not stressful. This could be done in the classroom – there are some brilliant examples of this across Scotland – but there are many challenges doing it that way and we need to start winning young people over more quickly.”

Kraig is under no illusions the magnitude of this vision. With 2,476 schools in Scotland, it would require significant investment. However, he does not believe this all should come from the Government either.

“Digital Xtra Fund has successfully brought industry and Government together to award £660,000 over the past five years. Yes, education is ultimately the responsibility of the Government, but it is industry that needs this to happen and will directly benefit from an increased talent pool. As such, we need to work together. I believe this is the easiest and quickest way to create a generation of inventors and innovators to make Scotland a global leader in the digital economy.”


Scots entrepreneurs share Fund’s aim to inspire youngsters

THERE is no doubt that the Digital Xtra Fund’s vision of digital learning is a highly challenging and ambitious one. But Kraig Brown believes in thinking big. His mantra is that if there is a will, there is a way.

Bringing Chroma Ventures on board is undoubtedly a big step forward. The company was established in Scotland earlier this year by entrepreneurs Paddy Burns and Chris van der Kuyl.

It is the investment arm of 4J Studios, the multiple award winning video games company best known for developing Minecraft for Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo games consoles.

It shares the Fund’s ethos that inspiring young people to understand and to create with technology is essential to the future well-being of Scotland.

The donation is one of the biggest the charity has received to this date.

As part of the company’s new commitment to the Fund its Principal Paddy Burns, who is also Chief Executive of 4J Studios, will now join as a Trustee, bringing new thinking and strengthening the charity’s entrepreneurial credentials.

Kraig Brown says that he is delighted about the tie-up. “Like many charities, 2020 was full of uncertainty for us.

“This support from Chroma Ventures has enabled us to continue supporting educators and young people at the same level as previous years. At a time when many in the third sector are struggling, this is important as it builds confidence among our grant recipients, stakeholders and other industry partners that we will consistently support talent in Scotland’s tech sector.”

And Paddy Burns comments: “Technology is a thread that runs through my own back story and the sort of initiatives delivered by Digital Xtra Fund resonated strongly. I firmly believe that improving digital skills throughout Scotland can lead to life changing opportunities for young people across the country.”

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15 Apr 2021

Digital Xtra Fund receives £25,000 donation from Chroma Ventures to support its annual grants programme

Support from Chroma Ventures enables Digital Xtra Fund to increase the 2021/22 grant awards to £100,000.

Digital Xtra Fund has received a donation of £25,000 from Chroma Ventures to support its annual grants programme. This investment will enable the Fund to now award up to £100,000 in June instead of the £75,000 announced in February.

Launched in 2016, the Fund provides grants to schools and organisations to boost interest in computing and technology among young people aged 16 years and under. Grants up to £5,000 are awarded to innovative, exciting extracurricular activities that engage young people and teach skills such as coding, data science or cyber security as well as creativity and resilience. Since its inception, the Fund has awarded £660,000 to 80 initiatives around Scotland and helped engage over 38,000 young people in technology.

Chroma Ventures is the newly-established investment arm of 4J Studios, the multiple award-winning games developer best known for developing Minecraft for Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo games consoles. 4J Studios’ ethos combines innovation, creativity and technical excellence, which aligns with Digital Xtra Fund’s belief that that inspiring young people to understand and create with technology is essential to the future wellbeing of Scotland.

Chroma Ventures’ involvement as a Gigabyte Partner will help enable these digital skills activities and initiatives for young people across the country. The donation is one of the largest the charity has received to date.

Paddy Burns, Principal at Chroma Ventures and CEO of 4J Studios will also join Digital Xtra Fund as a Trustee as part of the company’s commitment to the charity.  As well as experience of directly investing in exceptional individuals and teams, he brings an entrepreneurial approach to developing innovative ideas and technology.

Previous grant recipient Anderston Primary SchoolKraig Brown, Partnerships & Development Manager at Digital Xtra Fund, said: “Like many charities, 2020 was full of uncertainties for the Fund but Chroma Ventures’ support has enabled us to continue supporting educators and young people at the same level as previous years. At a time when many in the third sector are struggling, this is important as it builds confidence amongst our grant recipients, stakeholders and other industry partners that Digital Xtra Fund will consistently support young talent in Scotland’s tech sector. We’re delighted we’ll be able to continue our work and help inspire more young people in Scotland to pursue a career in tech. With ambitious plans, we also hope Chroma Ventures’ involvement will raise awareness and encourage further interest and support in our grants programme.”

Paddy Burns said: “Technology is a thread that runs through my own back story and the sort of initiatives delivered by Digital Xtra Fund resonated strongly. I firmly believe improving digital skills in Scotland can lead to life-changing opportunities for young people across the country, and that’s why our support for this initiative felt like a natural fit.

“I benefited from the support of experienced entrepreneurs and investors when I was starting out more than 20 years ago, and it’s fantastic to be able to give something back to a sector that is very close to my heart.”


About Chroma Ventures:

Chroma Ventures was created in 2021 by Paddy Burns and Chris van der Kuyl as a broad-spectrum investment arm. Based in Scotland, but with an international outlook, Chroma Ventures backs companies developing and deploying innovative technology and data-led businesses.  Its investment approach will reflect the Principals’ commitment to investing in great people with great ideas and supporting their growth through long-term collaboration. Chroma Ventures’ expanding portfolio include 4J Studios, TVSquared, Parsley Box, Broker Insights, Blippar, Puny Astronaut, ADV Holdings, Ace Aquatec, Team17 and the property development company Chroma Developments.

About 4J Studios:

4J Studios is a video game development studio established in 2005, based in Scotland, with offices in East Linton and Dundee. With an extremely experienced core team of designers, technology & games programmers and artists, the company’s ethos is to combine innovation, creativity and technical excellence with efficient production practices. 4J Studios is best known for developing Minecraft for Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo games consoles.

 

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24 Mar 2021

Accelerating Scotland’s tech-led recovery

The following announcement from Scottish Government was published today building on the recommendations of last year’s Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review. In September, Digital Xtra Fund expressed its support for this Review and in particular, it’s recognition of the importance of extracurricular activities when engaging young people with tech (Recommendations 7 and 25). Shortly thereafter, Scottish Government committed to implementing all 34 recommendations.

Scottish Government has been a significant supporter of Digital Xtra Fund and our grants programme since the Fund’s creation in 2016. Their support continues to be a vital part of achieving our goals and objectives. This announcement, and the recently updated Digital Strategy for Scotland, has the potential to ensure Scotland is a global tech centre. However, sufficient digital talent, creativity, and an entrepreneurial mindset are keystone to achieving these plans. 

We are very excited by these developments and hope this latest announcement ensures we will continue to work with Scottish Government to support the hard work of schools and organisations across the country engaging young people with technology both in and out of the classroom.


A leading expert in scaling digital businesses has been appointed to oversee work to establish Scotland as a world-class technology hub.

Mark Logan, former Skyscanner executive and Professor of Computing Science at the University of Glasgow, will advise ministers on implementing the recommendations stemming from his independent review of the Scottish tech ecosystem.

The programme will be delivered with £7 million Scottish Government funding in its first year (2021-22). This will include a £1 million fund to make strategic investments in organisations and activities – such as tech conferences, meet-ups or training programmes – that create the best possible environment for Scottish start-ups to succeed.

Procurement for a network of growth-focused entrepreneurial hubs known as “tech scalers” will open for bids later this year. It is anticipated that there will be five scalers in different parts of the country by 2022, with the aim of supporting around 300 high-quality start-ups over the next five years.

Progress will be supported by a gender-balanced advisory board composed of some of Scotland’s most successful entrepreneurs and digital leaders including:

  • Lesley Eccles, founder and CEO of HelloRelish and co-founder of gaming platform Fanduel
  • Roan Lavery, co-founder of online accounting firm FreeAgent
  • Sarah Ronald, founder of Nile HQ strategic design agency
  • Stephen Ingledew, executive chair of FinTech Scotland

Finance Secretary Kate Forbes said:

“Mark is one of the most respected figures in Scotland’s tech scene and his experience, passion and global profile will be invaluable in our joint mission to elevate the tech ecosystem to world-class level.

“The expertise and industry perspective of the advisory board will also be instrumental in ensuring we create the conditions and infrastructure needed to incubate a stream of start-ups that reach sustained profitability and can do so at scale.

“From attracting young people into computing science courses to supporting a community of high-growth businesses, this programme of work will be critical in determining the future contribution of Scotland’s tech sector to our economic recovery.”

Online travel business Skyscanner was Scotland’s first “unicorn” – the industry term for a tech company valued at more than $1 billion. Professor Logan joined the firm as Chief Operating Officer in 2012 until its acquisition in 2017.

Professor Logan said:

“It’s very exciting to witness the shared sense of mission and ambition across government, industry and the education sector in bringing the tech ecosystem review’s recommendations to life. I’m pleased to have the support of such an experienced board as we strive to make Scotland a leading technology economy.”

Background

Mark Logan’s Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review was published in August 2020 and the Scottish Government has committed to implementing its recommendations.

A full list of board members will be published ahead of its first meeting in May 2021.

The £1 million Ecosystem Fund is expected to open for applications in summer 2021.

A document setting out the Scottish Government’s initial expectations of tech scalers will be published shortly and used as a basis for discussions with potential bidders.

Work to develop the technology sector will contribute to the successful delivery of Scotland’s updated digital strategy which was published this month and complements the artificial intelligence strategy published earlier this week.

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