Creative Technology Day: group discussions

Chair AXJ

A common thread running through the projects shown at Creative Technology Day was the aesthetic and affective qualities of the work. As makers, who are actively engaged in combining digital stuff (software, code, data…) with material stuff (sensors, fabric, micro-controllers…) and space (physical, virtual, hybrid), the importance of creative engagement and critical inquiry was evident in the work of all participants, including BBC Learning, Nesta, Microsoft Research, V&A, Thornhill School, Winton Primary School, Calvium and Technology Will Save Us.

Along with the show and tell sessions, presentations and making workshops, a set of discussions took place on the day. This article provides an insight into the conversations amongst participants from the educational, technology and cultural sectors.

Alvise Simondetti shows Arup's latest work

Alvise Simondetti shows Arup’s latest work

Discussion Group  –  Tips, tools, and technology

Since the introduction of the new computing curriculum there is much pressure on schools to teach coding, but students and teachers alike are often not clear why. It was generally agreed the communication was vital and that programmes for sharing best practice (like the master teaching programme) can be helpful for developing expertise among teaching staff. It was suggested that campaigns aimed at parents were also important.

It was generally agreed that it’s not just about coding – it’s about using coding or computer science as a lever to teach transferable skills. Computer science is highly inclusive because you just need the internet and a computer. Coding sometimes provides a kind of platform for lots of children with special needs, and it has become cool to be very good at something ‘nerdy’. However, sometimes teachers are less familiar with coding than the children.

Islington are using tech specialists but ones that are well versed in pedagogy so they can get the message across. It was agreed that the people with a natural aptitude for CS were often not the best people to be doing the teaching. Lots of schools said that they invited representatives from industry or the cultural sector to talk to pupils about careers in tech. They also took students on visits (for example to see how tech is used in the NHS). Both staff and parents are often baffled about the way careers in the tech industry are developing, so these visits are about trying to find real world examples of how tech is used and what jobs are out there. Schools agreed that making those links was really important but it was time consuming to so, and there were issues with sustainability as many relationships were described as one hit wonders.

Some useful resources:

  • Unplugged
  • Phil Bagge’s website
  • London Grid for Learning
  • Twitter – TES used to be the place to go but now teachers are searching on twitter.
Pupils describe their experience of coding

Pupils describe their experience of coding

Discussion Group – Careers in creative tech

It was agreed that there are enormous opportunities in the tech industries. In 2011/12 DCMS data identified about 2.5m creative technologies jobs in the UK, or one out of twelve jobs. The creative tech industry is reputedly the fastest growing sector.

However, in such a fast moving world it can be bewildering for teaching staff, students and parents alike. Many parents and teachers grew up in a world where it was usual to train for a specific career and to work in that career for a life time. But in schools and universities it is assumed we no longer training students for a traditional career – at least in the creative  industries. The jobs market is an open market so entrepreneurship is celebrated, which works for some people, but it can be overwhelming for others. Graduates are now more likely to be working in a portfolio career than working for a single employer or in a single type of job.

Hence, those training in the creative technologies today, could be working in a variety of institutions, such as museums, the broader cultural sector or working for a creative start-up. Given this is the case, a portfolio of skills was considered more important – thinking laterally, working in teams, leadership and general tech skills that could take you anywhere.

While it was felt there is an immense pressure on children to be able to code (they are told from an early age how important coding is) teachers are still fairly confused about the range of careers available in tech. They think it is all about Google, Pixar and Facebook and don’t know how to communicate the breadth of what is out there.

A number of routes were suggested for training pupils for the future. There was agreement that technology or computer science shouldn’t be seen as a separate section of the curriculum, but as an integrated part of all subjects as increasingly tech lies behind everything we do. Vocational education – learning real world stuff – was considered to be important, and the democratising effect of the digital revolution was discussed. You don’t have to get an expensive education to be able to start building things (and a career) in the digital world.

Winton School pupils explain programming to Merlin John

Pupils explain programming to Merlin John

Discussion Group – Apps, creativity and education

A number of products for building apps were discussed including:

  • QApps – a shop front for student apps and for building and producing apps through to commercial app development
  • App Furnace – an app builder for use in schools
  • AppShed

Queen Mary University of London is developing apps from scratch, with students using algorithms, coding and open framework structures but they can be quite tricky to get a hold of, and this level of app development is more suitable for universities than schools.

The app Tune Trace was demonstrated. It’s an app that scans line drawings and makes them into music. It was developed to try to get young people to think about programming in a symbolic way. It is basically a visual representation of programming. You see the image processing happening. This was really well received by primary school teachers in the room.

With the change in the curriculum there is clearly an emerging market for companies that make drag-and-drop app creators. There are also some Unplugged activities you can do around apps in terms of computational thinking. They are all very low-fi using post-it notes. This sort of low-fi prototyping mimics how products like apps and web sites are developed in industry.

It was also important to think about the production of personas of the audience you think will be using the app. Apps for Good have some exercises around this. It is critically important to remember that in app development, and programming in general, it is the people as much as the technology that are the drivers. That’s why Apple is so successful, because they have engineered a smooth user journey.

It was agreed that small steps are the best way forward in primary schools, where they should concentrate on low-fi prototyping rather than trying to build the the actual app. As the coding part of producing an app is really only a tiny part of the overall design and development, even these small steps would help to prepare children for the next steps.

Another way of introducing children to the technology, without scaring the horses, is to work with existing codes rather then developing new ones. If the children can see and alter the source code they can get a good idea of how code works without having to learn to write it from scratch. This was described as ‘looking behind the curtain’.

Using these techniques it was possible to keep the progression going so children can pick up on the required language and build up on their computational thinking. Again the importance of computational thinking as a life skill – a way of looking at life – was emphasised. It’s about learning how to break down a problem and think it through.

What can this award be? Berit and Nanda from Ghack, with Jo Morrison

What can this award be? Berit and Nanda from Ghack, with Jo Morrison

Indeed, learning how to interrogate a problem, to transgress and take risks, to creatively circumvent rules and expectations, and to probe disciplinary boundaries are at the heart of what goes on in art and design teaching spaces, such as workshops, seminars and libraries.


Thanks to Judy Willcocks, Head of CSM Museum, for leading the Discussion Groups and writing such useful notes.

Useful Links

Creative Bloq
Creative Bloq Tutorials 
BBC Learning
School of Everything
Computer Science for Fun 
E-skills UK 
Mozilla Webmaker 
Technology Will Save Us 
W3 Schools 
Learn to Code 
Apps for Good 
Code with Chris 
Code Club 
Raspberry Pi
Adobe TV 
Tableau Software