Education, the alternative theme of dConstruct 2012
The official theme according to the dConstruct website was “Playing With The Future”.  Perhaps it’s because of my recent interest in ICT and STEM Education, or perhaps simply because of my career, I spotted another theme in all the talks.

This is a follow up to my earlier post, dConstruct 2012: A quick review, so it’s probably a good idea to read that first, where I emphasised parts that relate to the post below.

Let’s start with a problem.

Scott Jenson described the issue with mobile apps, and where the future was heading in terms of software development.  It’s interesting to note that projections suggest that the economy of Mobile Apps is due to increase for the next few years at a terrific rate, but Scott himself believes they have a limited shelf life.  He sees a paradigm shift, and demonstrates an alternative.  However, he ends his talk with a catch 22: Nobody is developing these “Just In Time Interaction” devices for phones to discover and interact with.  He gives a call to action – for developers to help make it a reality.  But the truth is, while adults should be able to lead the way here, children may prove to be just as important.  After all, they have grown up with this technology, with smart phones in their pockets, iPads, laptops and always on internet connections.

STEM Education, Education, Education

But Jenn Lukas has the obvious solution – people may want to learn to code, but they need to be shown in a way that is not a waste of time.  They need to be taught the basics, the terminology and to be pointed in the direction of trustworthy sources.  While she spoke about her experiences teaching adults, the same approaches are clearly in line with the goal of schemes such as CodeClub, and other STEM Ambassador activities that encourage children into the technology field.  They learn more by giving them a goal and making it fun to achieve, than by talking to them or getting them to read from books.  Giving them the tools and the knowledge to understand the technology they are using, and to go forth and develop their own projects is vital, if we’re to push technology through future generations.

Learning through play

From here, we begin to understand the importance of play and hacking for fun, as described by Tom Armitage, Seb Lee-Delisle and Ariel Waldman.  By letting children play and create, they are “doing” rather than being read or talked to.  Children are imaginative, and this is a perfect chance for them to imagine their own futures.  Get them to just build things, get it out of their heads and into the real world.  Once it’s there, as James Burke and Ariel Waldman pointed out, others can take what you’ve created, and use it in ways you may not have even considered.

And it seems that this answers Scott’s problem.  To me, an improved ICT curriculum, along with  hacking and experimenting with Rasperry Pis and Arduino boards, may actually be the answer to providing the UK with the boost to the technology sector that it cries out for.

Learning from the past

But, to do this, children do still need an understanding of the past.  For this, we turn to Jason Scott, Lauren Beukes and again to James Burke whose talks focussed on the importance of knowing history so that you can make a better future.  Children need to understand the technology and why it is the way it is today, so that they can challenge the status quo and not repeat the failings of previous generations.

As Ben Hammersley points out, to see the beauty in something, we need to understand it. There is beauty in logic and maths, and it’s perhaps the role of STEM Ambassadors and CodeClub volunteers to help children understand and find the beauty in STEM subjects and ICT.

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