02 Nov 2022

Scottish tech organisations join forces to bridge the digital skills gap

The following thought piece originally appeared in ScotlandIS Blog on 2nd November 2022.


A new partnership has been formed by ScotlandIS, Tech She Can, and STEM Ambassadors (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) to address the Scottish technology skills gap.

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.

For details on Digital Critical Friends specifically, visit: https://www.scotlandis.com/blog/help-us-help-them-critical-friends-programme/

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31 Oct 2022

Top skills you need for your tech recruits

The following piece was written by CodeClan and originally appeared in FutureScot on 17th October 2022.


Most software developers need specific ‘hard skills’, otherwise known as technical skills. They include things like programming languages and software testing. But developers also need ‘soft’ or essential skills – the ones probably already acquired through past work experience.

Take a look at the top three soft and hard skills young people need to become an effective software programmer. This list is not exhaustive, but it makes an excellent starting point.

Soft skills for software development

1. Problem-solving or analytic skills

As a software developer, they will frequently face technical problems to resolve. They will often encounter bugs in code. They might also need to develop new software solutions.

People with strong problem-solving or analytic skills are well-suited to this line of work. Good developers can analyse and summarise a problem before considering several angles and finding a solution.

Analytical skills are not unique to people who work in STEM. Most professional roles require critical thinking and gauging the best way to respond to an obstacle.

2. Time management 

Software developers often need to meet tight deadlines. They also need to keep abreast of the latest technical developments in their area of expertise.

Balancing deliverables with self-teaching requires strong time management skills. Organising and prioritising tasks are important though often overlooked aspects of a developer’s role.

Time management is an essential skill. How often do your recruits need to exercise time management skills in their role?

3. Communication skills

Developers rarely work in isolation. Rather, they are part of a wider team tasked with delivering a set project. That team will usually need to collaborate with other groups.

This makes strong communication skills highly desirable in a software developer.

Knowing how to ask the right questions, bring up challenges, propose solutions and get along with teammates are integral to the development process.

If they have ever had to give a presentation, contribute to a meeting or participate in teamwork, then this is a way to see how they have exercised their communication skills. The question is, How strong is their communication and does it fit into your organisation?

Hard skills for software development

1. Programming languages

There are literally hundreds of programming languages, which can make learning how to code seem a little daunting.

The five most popular programming languages for developers are JavaScript, HTML/CSS, SQL, Python, and TypeScript.

But that does not mean your new recruit needs to know all there is to know about these languages to become a software developer. In reality, most developers know a handful of programming languages, and they are constantly updating their knowledge of how to use them.

The best way to start? Learn the basics of one programming language. This is how CodeClan supports our career changers and upskills our partner network. We have a whole range of courses to help you.

2. Software testing and debugging

It is one thing to write code; it is another thing entirely to make it work.

Testing software is another key part of a developer’s role. There are specialists whose role is to design test procedures – often, developers must learn how to apply them.

Testing often reveals bugs in software. Developers need to identify what is causing the bug – they can then begin to find a solution – often by asking other teammates or turning to online forums.

3. Data structure

Data structures are methods of organising data to make performing operations more efficient.

Just like programming languages, there are different types of data structures, including arrays, stacks and queues.  Getting to know different data structures and learning which to choose is a key technical skill for software developers.

Final thoughts

Just like any other profession, software development requires a range of soft and hard skills.

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28 Oct 2022

Winners announced for first-ever Scottish Games Awards

The following piece was written by George Miller and originally appeared in European Gaming 28th October 2022.


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)

Audio

  • SOLAS 128 (Amicable Animal)

Best Educational Programme

  • Dundee & Angus College: HN Games Development

Best Educator

  • Dr Lynn Love

Best Large-Budget Game

  • Cloudpunk (ION LANDS)

Best Small-Budget Game

  • The Baby in Yellow (Team Terrible)

Creativity

  • Cloudpunk (ION LANDS)

Diversity Champion

  • Tanya Laird

Lifetime Achievement

  • David Jones

Stewart Gilray Award (Community Spirit)

  • Colin MacDonald

Technical Achievement

  • From the Depths (Brilliant Skies Ltd.)

Tools and Technology

  • Dislectek

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.

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24 Oct 2022

Incremental provides continued support to Digital Xtra Fund

The following was published by Incremental Group on 19th October 2022 following the announcement of the 2022/23 grant recipients.


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”.

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17 Oct 2022

Digital Xtra Fund awards 35 grants to drive digital skills initiatives for young people across Scotland

Digital Xtra Fund, a Scottish charity backed by both the public and corporate sectors, has awarded 35 grants to drive digital skills initiatives for young people across the country.  The 35 grants cover 24 different local authorities, including 23 primary schools, 3 secondary schools, 3 colleges and universities, 2 libraries, and 4 educational bodies, totalling £150,000.  The grants, which will help deliver digital skills initiatives throughout the current academic year, are up from 22 last year when total funding was £100,000.

Kraig Brown and Maha Abhishek of Digital Xtra FundKraig Brown, Digital Xtra Fund’s Partnerships and Development Manager, said: “We’re extremely pleased to be able to support many more initiatives this year, as well as a wider range of activities. This year’s applications show a renewed appetite for digital skills initiatives after a challenging couple years. We know we need to positively engage more of Scotland’s young people with digital tech to help them reach their potential in the future economy and an increasingly digital world, and extracurricular activities are the perfect medium to do this.”

Supported initiatives include a coding club at Hillside Primary School in Aberdeenshire, an all-girls after school robotics club at Kirkliston Primary School in Edinburgh in partnership with Scottish startup Robotical, a LEGO Leaders Code Club at St Joseph’s RC Primary School in Dundee, a coding club at Stromness Academy in Orkney using Otto robots, and a joint coding club with Cadder and St Mary’s Primary Schools in Glasgow.

Since being launched in 2016, Digital Xtra Fund has awarded £875,000 of funding, helping schools and organisations engage over 40,000 young people.

From the corporate sector, major funders include Baillie Gifford, CGI, Chroma Ventures, J.P. Morgan, and Scotland Women in Technology as well as Accenture, Cirrus Logic, Incremental Group, ScotlandIS, and Skyscanner.

Southmuir Primary School All Girls’ STEM Club and Digital Xtra FundSam Pattman, Philanthropy Manager, Baillie Gifford said: “Baillie Gifford is very pleased to continue its support of Digital Xtra Fund. Through our business, we know the importance of digital skills and ensuring young people are prepared for what’s ahead of them. Extracurricular activities can reach and engage a wider range of young people, as demonstrated by the variety of grant recipients this year. We have always been impressed by the charity’s ambition and its reach across Scotland, and look forward to hearing more from the supported initiatives as the year moves forward.”

Last year, Digital Xtra Fund also secured funding from the Scottish Government and Skills Development Scotland to match fund industry’s support, on the back of 2020’s Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review by Mark Logan which recommended that school stage extracurricular tech activities be strategically supported.

Business Minister Ivan McKee said: “The Scottish Technology Ecosystem Review called for action to encourage more young people and girls into Computing Science.  The Scottish Government’s £100,000 funding will support these 35 projects to drive digital skills development.  We hope this will inspire a new generation of tech entrepreneurs by boosting digital skills for young people across Scotland.”

The full list of grants awarded by Digital Xtra Fund this year can be found here.

 

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07 Oct 2022

It’s time to stop making excuses. Getting more women in tech must underpin efforts to create an inclusive digital economy

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.

CodeClan, Scotland’s industry-led and only SQA-accredited digital skills academy, has made good progress in recruiting and training women but the split is still about 60/40 in favour of male students.

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.

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30 Sep 2022

Developing Scotland’s Tech Skills – Karen Meechan

The following thought leadership piece was written by Karen Meechan, CEO at ScotlandIS and Trustee for Digital Xtra Fund. It originally appeared in The Scotsman on 30 September 2022.


This has been a year of change for Scotland’s tech sector. Costs are rising and a recession is forecast; businesses are trying to balance what works best on the spectrum of office to home-based working; talent is not as available as it might have been previously yet the desire to adopt new technologies and digitise the economy is stronger than ever.

Last week saw our first gathering of the Scottish tech sector at our annual event, ScotSoft, where we considered these challenges, and the opportunity that they could represent. ScotSoft brings together academics, researchers, students, visionaries, technologists, business leaders and managers working in digital companies and end user businesses in Scotland, the UK and further afield.

As part of the event, we recognise some of the best minds coming from our universities that demonstrate the strength and breadth of tech talent being developed within Scotland in our Young Software Engineer Awards.

An Abertay University student, Daniel Gearie, took first place at our annual Young Software Engineer of the Year Awards for creating software that can physically locate the position of a drone operator, as he and three other students were recognised for creating ideas which show an impressive combination of innovation, creativity and scalability.

From the discussion that happened throughout the day, it was widely agreed that the future business environment remains very challenging, and whilst the sector is set to continue to make significant contributions to Scotland’s economy, it is not immune to macro influences.

Indeed, the Scottish tech sector has already been subject to a long-endured skills gap, but the attractiveness of Scottish talent to London and Silicon Valley, and labour shortages elsewhere, are adding further complexities to the labour situation in our sector.

Just before ScotSoft, we conducted a pulse survey of the Scottish tech leaders amongst our membership. The results emphasised this challenge, while showing that the sector is working to address it. Three quarters of Scotland’s tech companies have increased benefits for their workers in the past twelve months, with nearly every single one (95%) doing so to make them a more competitive employer. For half, it was to help them retain existing employees too.

This challenge is just one reason why we cannot sit still. The good news is that there are a range of ways we can collectively contribute to the digital sector’s success.

Our digital technologies companies have always depended on Scotland’s excellent academic institutions to supply a steady stream of talent; on Government support and funding for innovation; on collaboration within the sector to solve common challenges; and on us as a trade body to create solutions for the issues that are most pressing.

That is why with Skills Development Scotland we created CodeClan and the Digital Xtra Fund, and why we are currently working on the roll-out of our Digital Critical Friends programme, which has been developed to help inspire and educate school aged pupils on STEM subjects.

With over a thousand of Scotland’s tech community under one roof last week, it was made clear that the appetite to work together to support and invest in our sector remains strong.

We must now harness that appetite to provide the sector with the talent, investment, and space for innovation that it needs to continue to thrive.

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30 Jun 2022

Scottish pupils’ interest in tech sector reaches new heights

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.”

Visit digitalworld.net/industry/get-involved to sign up for Tech Industry in the Classroom

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28 Jun 2022

How a Kirriemuir school’s STEM club for girls is breaking down gender stereotype

The following post was written by and originally posted in The Courier.


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.”

The club launch received a £5,000 grant from the Digital Xtra Fund, supported by IT and business consulting service CGI.

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.”

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16 Jun 2022

Ethical Dilemma Cafe Kicks Off Community Ethics In Tech Project

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.

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