About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Collaboration in digital making

Put aside the caricature of the lone programmer sat at a computer screen when you think about digital making. Often, people see creating things with computers as a solitary activity, but in our education work at the Raspberry Pi Foundation we are seeing the importance of collaboration.

As an educational charity, we work to put the power of digital making in the hands of people all over the world. Our low cost Raspberry Pi computers are one of the tools for this. We also run educational programmes to encourage people to create and solve problems with a variety of software and hardware.

Often, people see creating things with computers as a solitary activity, but people collaborate all of the time in digital making

Our 'Astro Pi' competitions have allowed young people to compete to write code to run on Raspberry Pi computers on the International Space Station. The first competition saw teams collaborate to create science experiments and fun utilities for the astronauts.

We've been encouraging collaboration in our other educational programmes as well.

'Pioneers' challenges 12-15 year olds to work as a team to make digital projects on a series of themes. Working with a mentor, teams solve problems using their different skills and interests.

Educators see the benefits of collaboration. We've trained more than a thousand of them now to take a project based, problem solving approach to computing and digital making. In our training, they spend a day working together on an open ended project, learning in context through failures and successes. This is something many of them are keen to bring back to their schools.

However, our annual survey of this community showed that taking the collaborative approach typical of professional software and hardware development back to schools can be hard.

Assessments structured around tightly defined objectives, learning time split into relatively short blocks, and a need to evidence tangible individual progress regularly, can make real problem solving hard to set up in class.

We need a greater understanding of the effective teaching of collaborative problem solving in the classroom

Unstructured group work is much maligned by many educators taking approaches based on recent developments in cognitive psychology and education research. However, we hear all of the time how much we need young people who have the skills to collaborate well.

Developing any skills requires a comprehensive understanding of how they work. The knowledge of what successful collaborative problem solving looks like is much less widespread than the content of curriculum subjects.

As a charity encouraging and supporting people to learn about computing and digital making, we are keen to grow the understanding of how we can develop collaborative problem solving. Building a structured understanding of how these skills work and are acquired is important to make sure that people are supported to develop them in a reliable way, whether in formal education or informal learning.

Oliver Quinlan will be speaking at the launch of Nesta's new report Solved! Making the case for collaborative problem-solving on Tuesday 7 March.


Oliver Quinlan

Oliver Quinlan

Oliver Quinlan

Head of Impact and Research, Raspberry Pi Foundation

Oliver was a programme manager for Nesta’s digital education projects. He is now Head of Impact and Research at the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

View profile