This week sees the launch of the next phase of BBC’s Make it Digital campaign. Beginning today, and continuing throughout September and October, the organisation will be using its much-loved channels and entertainment brands to shine a spotlight on the world of digital creativity. The aim – to inspire a generation of young people across the UK to get involved with coding, programming and digital making – reflects Nesta’s own ambition. So it seems only natural that we would work together closely, alongside partner organisations Freeformers and Mozilla, to develop the concept and interactive content for the BBC’s new Mixital platform.
Mixital is one of the pillars of Make it Digital; an experimental BBC site that gives young people the tools to make, publish and share digital creations online - and then remix the work of others. The site, which is launching in beta this week, comprises different BBC branded channels - and offers fans a new way to engage with the characters and programmes they love. For example, the Vizii channel from BBC Introducing gives young people a chance to ‘VJ’ - creating digital visuals to accompany a range of music from popular artists - while Eastenders’ Soap Factory, will enable users to create animated story lines using the cast and set of the soap. It’s new ground for the BBC (and indeed most major entertainment brands), giving audiences the tools and free license to take their assets and create new digital content.
In developing the Mixital platform, the BBC drew on learning from Nesta’s Young Digital Makers report. One key finding was that technology is a means to an end, not the sole interest, of most young people. So it was vital that users of Mixital could create something of genuine interest to them and their friends (be it cool, funny or downright bizarre), whilst also manipulating technology and hopefully learning some new skills. Our report also highlighted that music was an underserved thematic area for online digital skills provision - hence it features strongly in the Mixital tools.
We were also keen that the growing grassroots community providing young people with digital making opportunities would be represented on the Mixital platform. So we co-funded Code Club to create ‘Robo-Dancers’ - a Strictly Come Dancing branded channel where animated versions of the the show’s leading characters (in bot form, of course) can be programmed to dance using basic html code, and then shared.
This activity has also prompted Nesta to look again at the role of our Make Things Do Stuff initiative. Launched in 2013, with our partners the Nominet Trust and Mozilla, the platform has been helping young people to access resources and learning tools to help build their abilities as digital creators. We like to think it paved the way for some of the BBC Make it Digital activity.
Our Young Digital Makers survey found a significant gap between the 8.2m school age children who are interested in digital making, and the 130k face-to-face learning opportunities offered in 2014 by grassroots organisations. So Nesta’s focus is now on supporting the digital making ecosystem to scale up and meet the high demand from young people (demand that is only likely to grow thanks to Make it Digital). Some of the organisations we have worked with on Make Things Do Stuff - like Code Club, CoderDojo, Technology Will Save Us and Apps for Good - are now extremely influential and doing great work.
But we know that in order to meet demand it’s vital that more opportunities for young people to engage with digital creativity are scaled up. To that end we’re currently working on some changes that will position the Make Things Do Stuff platform (the website and social channels) as a destination for those providing digital making opportunities for young people (or those interested in supporting or funding them) to find out about other learning provider organisations, and share information and resources relevant to those in the field. If that describes you – or even if you just find the idea of digital making interesting - we would love to hear thoughts on what might be useful to see on the platform.
At Nesta it is our goal that digital creativity becomes a habitual, lifelong activity for young people – and for this to happen we need to demonstrate that digital making is not only an academic subject, but is relevant to their interests and passions. It is only then, we believe, that the next generation will develop the skills needed to power the UK’s increasingly digital economy and be personally empowered to shape the tech-enabled society that they are inheriting.
And that’s why we’re delighted with the work the BBC are doing with Mixital, bringing the weight of its brand and creative capital to engage and access new audiences of young people - and perhaps even educate a few parents along the way.