An opportunity to nurture the future computing workforce

Amidst the UK’s current digital skills crisis, it should come as no surprise to hear that the computing industry is shouting out for more fresh talent. Many companies and professionals have expressed concerns that the way computing is taught in schools is not properly preparing students for careers in this sector, and as such, is damaging the country’s productivity and competitiveness.

Former teacher and head of computing, now head of education at video games trade body UK Interactive Entertainment Association Ltd. (Ukie) and director of the Digital Schoolhouse programme, Shahneila Saeed, explains why the situation presents a golden opportunity for the games industry to join PlayStation®, and support an incredibly innovative initiative.

First off, it’s important to say that, through little fault of their own, teachers, including senior leadership teams (SLTs) lack the confidence to teach coding and computing. Many haven’t been sufficiently trained on how to use the technology available for today’s classrooms – let alone how to teach others. As a result, decisions they make about using tech in their lessons and around school can sometimes be ill-informed and fail to make the best use of what’s available. For example, many schools have paid out huge sums of money to buy a large supply of tech, such as iPads, without first having given sufficient thought and consideration into what and how they would use and integrate them.

In addition, teachers will often ask pupils to search the internet for information on a specific topic, and then present their findings in a PowerPoint deck, for instance, rather than something more creative like a vlog. This situation, unfortunately, does little to inspire creativity amongst our young students.

Technology brings amazing opportunities for innovation in lessons, but this potential is largely untapped in schools, because to do so requires understanding of the technology, the confidence to try something different and, possibly most relevant to time-poor teachers, the adequate time to prepare, plan and implement it in the most effective way.

When students get home from school, they seem to naturally gravitate towards technology, whether that’s spending time playing video games and eSports, watching vlogs on YouTube and other video sites, editing images and videos and sharing them via social media, or reading and writing blogs online. Their use of technology at home is often more complex and far more creative than it ever is at school. All too often, students see the computing lessons they use in school as unrelated to their use of tech outside of the classroom.

Students will teach themselves if they’re interested enough 

Experience with technology is often self-taught and students are usually quite proficient at seeking out the information they need; they will explore and experiment with the tech, ask friends for help, watch online tutorials, read blogs and so on to enhance their understanding and support their learning. It’s important to recognise, however, that they don’t go home thinking, ‘I need to give myself a tech lesson’; they find something fun that they want to become better at, and to achieve this greater mastery and develop these new set of skills, they will teach themselves.

This is the attitude we want them to have in the classroom, so we, as educators, really need to tap into it. The discrepancy between their computing experience in school and after school is huge and worrying. Over the past number of years, we’ve seen an increase in teacher development which has tried to change this, but as the latest GCSE and A-Level figures show, perhaps we are not yet doing enough, or doing it in the right way; we need to connect the dots. If these activities were supported by computing education in the classroom, they could be used to engage children with technology on a whole new level: that’s where the Digital Schoolhouse Programme comes in, and your opportunity to be involved in nurturing and developing the computing talent of the future.

Ukie’s Digital Schoolhouse programme, powered by PlayStation®, uses play-based learning to engage the next generation of pupils and teachers with the new computing curriculum.

Each Digital Schoolhouse is based in a school, college or university environment, and aims to work with a growing network of local primary and secondary teachers to deliver creative and cross-curricular computing lessons using play-based learning; pupils leave feeling inspired about, and engaged with, computing and the wider creative digital industries.

One activity that has proved really popular with our students is a project based around learning to programme through the art of dance called ‘Get with the Algo-rhythm’. The project starts by creating flow charts of instructions to perform dance moves of a well-known dance such as the New Zealand and Tonga rugby teams’ Haka or Michael Jackson’s Moon-Walk. The initial objective is to develop the understanding of a sequence and appreciate the importance of accurate instructions. Students are tasked with creating their own dance, which must include four moves, at least one repeat and a pose for when the whistle blows. The dance is then written in a flow chart, and a score is given on the clarity of instruction, accuracy of sequence, use of repeats, use of a question and overall quality of dance moves.

Another one, ‘Jazzy Jigsaws’, uses jigsaw puzzles to teach computational thinking and algorithms. Most people who solve jigsaw puzzles have some form of a strategy that they use to approach the puzzle. Thought about more specifically, this strategy can be seen as an example of algorithmic thinking. Decomposition is an effective way to help us solve problems, and we often use this when solving jigsaw puzzles by focusing on a specific group of pieces first. We may choose to group a particular number of pieces by their colour, shape or proposed location in the final image. Carefully designed activities help develop strategic and collaborative thinking skills within learners, as well as all aspects of computational thinking.

Our programme has been accurately described as a ‘bridge between education and industry’ – and a good one at that. But how do we form this bridge? By bridging facilitating the collaboration between these two parties. Industry is the hotbed of innovation, and teachers know how to deliver the materials in the classroom; bringing the two together gives us a set of materials that are industry relevant, cutting edge, innovative but also practical to deliver in the classroom. Our partners engage students in a number of ways, from careers talks, to co-developing inspirational resources, lending their expertise in a range of different ways.  Furthermore, our esSports Tournament is designed to be a careers event with a difference, perfectly bringing innovation from industry into the classroom. We want to confront misconceptions about computing and technology, and by giving students a range of unique experiences, both inside and outside the classroom, it helps them to understand the digital world around them in ways they’ve not experienced before.

Getting involved

Understanding the importance of the programme and the benefits it presents to the gaming industry, PlayStation® and other games companies have already come on board as partners. Warwick Light, UK Managing Director and Vice President of Sony Interactive Entertainment UK, explains, “A great teacher can have a lasting impact on a student and not only does Digital Schoolhouse provide teachers with practical guidance and creative resources, but it gives them the confidence to be able to excite students about computing in new and engaging ways. Digital Schoolhouse helps to make learning fun and with that comes endless possibilities. PlayStation® is delighted to be partnering with Ukie to bring Digital Schoolhouse to more schools, and even more children, across the UK than ever before”.

Ultimately, this is about the future workforce of the industry and partnerships with the gaming industry can help to shape and define it, as well as increase the talent pool available to them; it’s a win-win situation where students benefit as well as the sector as a whole.

Anyone interested in becoming a Digital Schoolhouse partner is invited to get in touch via email on contact@digitalschoolhouse.org.uk / DSH@ukie.org.uk or call (0) 207 534 0580.

Shahneila Saeed, head of education, UK Interactive Entertainment Association
Image Credit: James F Clay / Flickr