Young Digital Makers: How can we align formal and informal methods?
Last week we brought together the digital making sector to discuss our report 'Young Digital Makers', and how we can move this activity forward across the UK. Digital anthropologist and open tech consultant Kat Braybrooke kindly facilitated a workshop looking at the geographic challenges faced, and here reports on the ideas discussed to address these.
Earlier this month, a motley crew of policymakers, educators, learners and creatives met at Nesta to discuss the future possibilities of digital making education for young people across the UK as informed by the release of Nesta’s recent 'Young Digital Makers' report.
As a young person who has benefited deeply from a mixture of both formal and informal education in my own journey to become a digital anthropologist and coder, I am keenly aware of the importance of such opportunities for the next generation of young minds.
Progressive changes in formal education, coupled with the BBC’s forthcoming 'Make It Digital' activities, are now providing UK leaders with unprecedented opportunities to raise this kind of knowledge to new levels. However, challenges remain.
Nesta’s research has found that while schools are still the most reported spaces for digital making, with 60% of young people saying they have learned about technology in class, there are only 130,000 face-to-face learning places outside of the classroom to service the 8.2m young people interested in such opportunities across the UK.
Furthermore, while 99% of parents told Nesta they would like their children to learn these skills at school, only 3% of teachers said they had an ICT or Computing qualification, and 71% said they were unaware of nontraditional learning opportunities for youth outside of the classroom.
It is evident that communities and civil service providers need to step up and help bridge these gaps - but the question of how to do so remains elusive in the context of these emergent spaces.
To tackle the issues, my collaborator Luca Damiani (an educator and artist who manages the Taylor Digital Studio, a new learning space at the Tate) and I convened a small group of 30 brave souls to think about creative solutions together, using an equally creative method graphic facilitation.
Introducing “formal” providers as schools and educational institutions, and “informal” providers as NGOs, community groups and companies, we started with a quick icebreaker to help participants identify their own backgrounds. 75% of those involved associated themselves with the informal space, while about half said they came from a more formal environment (50%).
This helped us understand that many formal educators may be already engaging in informal practice in their free time.
We then divided participants into groups to tackle the issues through two key lenses:
1. Digital learning in strange new places
How can we ensure digital making education doesn’t only happen for young people lucky enough to be near a Code Club or receive it in class, but also in parks, estates, libraries and high streets across the UK?
2. Digital learning pathway diversity
How can we ensure digital learning moves beyond general computing or ICT classes in school, and into a wide variety of interest-led subject areas, for example, music, sport or art?
To outline their ideas, we gave groups the additional instruction to apply a classic hands-on “informal” method by summarizing outcomes through graphics alone. As we handed around butcher paper and markers, there was a bit of initial trepidation at the unexpected creative requirements, but all involved soon rose to the task, delegating graphic facilitators and getting to work. The results were inspiring, reflecting both the diversity of backgrounds and the multitude of thoughtful (and wild!) ideas represented by participants.
The groups that focused on digital learning in strange places brainstormed a variety of possibilities for creative and unexpected interventions to inspire young people to get involved and engaged outside of class, from hands-on “space-themed” hackathons to coding in theatres and public spaces, and from augmented reality apps to geocaching-focused scavenger hunts. Meanwhile, the digital learning diversity groups dug into the deeper linguistic and schematic issues underlying existing characterizations of ICT and Computing education as “technical”, pondering new ways to recognize skills like digital collaboration, openness and an understanding of privacy through interest-led pathways.
In conclusion, the outcomes of our workshop identified a clear need for teachers of all levels to be supported in their quests to provide digital making activities across all curriculums, with extracurricular opportunities made easily available for all.
The provision of space, resources and professional development opportunities are also a big necessity for formal educators, as is informal support in the form of mentorship and co-facilitation from society at large.
We genuinely hope to see these recommendations in action one day, as we suspect the UK would be much better for it. Lastly, we would like to thank our workshop’s participants for their willingness to get creative with us, and especially for their wonderful graphics and insight.