Mark Griffiths - 10.01.2011
Our idiscover project aims to show how different learning experiences can equip young people with the skills they need to thrive in an innovation economy.
On idiscover, we’ve recruited the energy, talents and experience of people who do not normally work in the formal education system to deliver learning experiences to school-aged young people.
Each term the fourteen-year-olds participating in the project are given ‘credits’ which they use to access inspirational learning experiences which give them a taster of a range of exciting career options as well as opening their eyes to the potential that a good education can afford.
The organisations vary widely, from big names like the National Theatre or Manchester United, to small independent local traders. The use of the term ‘learning experience’ is important as these experiences have been selected to offer something different from the traditional classroom lessons most of us experienced growing up.
Rather than chalk and talk we want the students to be explore real-life problems – how to design a school, how to build a robot, the business aspects of putting on a theatre production - as a way of engaging them in learning and allowing them to develop more of the skills and attributes they (and we all) need them to have.
Just before Christmas we saw the power of these ideas when we accompanied some of our students to the Royal Veterinary College for a haptic experience.
Haptic - from the Greek word haptikos, meaning pertaining to the sense of touch – is the technology that makes it seem that you are pressing a keyboard key when typing a text message on your smart-phone.
The college have been using haptic technology to give trainee vets the opportunity to experience what it feels like to diagnose that a horse has colic, or that a cow is pregnant, without having to put a real-life hand into the uterus or bowels of a real-life animal.
With support from NESTA, the college has designed and now delivers idiscover learning experiences based around this haptic technology. It’s a great example of an experience that conflates so many good things – technology, computer programming, maths, science, biology and animal care and career awareness.
I've nothing but admiration for the inspirational Sarah Baillie and her bright and energetic team that make this possible, but what did the students think?
The feedback was incredible: “It was so unbelievable and interesting”; “It was great!”. And to the question 'What was different about this experience compared to school?', one girl wrote: "everything!"
The point here isn’t just that the students enjoyed their day, but more importantly they were engaged in learning new skills to tackle real-life problems.
(As an afterword I should share this anecdote. We are also delivering idiscover in four (very) rural schools in the Highlands of Scotland. I was talking excitedly to some teachers at these schools about the haptic experience, but was keen to set expectations that the technology isn’t portable so we wouldn’t be able to put the experience on in Scotland. ‘That’s alright’ said one of the teachers, ‘our kids have mostly already done this stuff – for real.’)