A team of students from Warwick are getting out and about to share their computing knowledge and skills.
Technology Volunteers are running workshops with schools and community groups keen to develop a deeper understanding of computer science and engineering.
At one half-term workshop at Coventry’s BBC centre, young children rubbed shoulders with pensioners as they tried their hand at creating games and animations.
Key to the success of the workshops are Scratch sensor boards which allow the development of animations that respond to light or sound. For instance children can enjoy building an aquarium with dancing fish. Or they can learn how to create an alarm which sounds if someone tries to sneak open their lunchbox.
Margaret Low, senior teaching fellow at WMG, said: “It is a chance for everyone to get hooked and build up an understanding of the relationship between hardware and software.
“I became aware that children often had ideas for games, animations and interactive stories that they wished to create on a computer, but weren't able to by using the standard ICT materials they had exposure to in school. Wishing to encourage them to become creators using technology, rather than simply consumers, I investigated various software tools, including Scratch (produced by MIT).
“Our Technology Volunteers come from many faculties – we have students of computer science, maths, physics, engineering, statistics and even Classics. We are getting access to people who wouldn’t normally choose to come to a computing class."
“The mobile phone and iPod have also allowed us a way in. People love the hi-tech gloss of their phones but actually have no idea how they work. They don’t realise that phones are fitted with sensors and get quite excited when we explain what is going on in there.
“The long term objective of the workshops is to raise the profile of engineering as a possible career by engaging school pupils in engineering problems with a discussion that sets them in the context of the professional engineering discipline.”
A £6,000 grant from the National HE Stem programme (Engineering for Society) supporting the EYE (Encouraging Young Engineers) project enabled the purchase of popular Scratch sensor boards and development of workshop resources.
Technology Volunteers are supported by the university’s Warwick Volunteers, who provide a general framework, CRB clearance and safeguarding training. The volunteers also have the opportunity to become STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Ambassadors for the national organisation Stemnet.
Girls are finding that computing is not just for boys who love on-screen action. It offers them a chance to develop their creative talents.
Feedback from girls who have come into contact with Warwick’s Technology Volunteers (go.warwick.ac.uk/techvolunteers) has been overwhelmingly positive. The problem is getting them to classes in the first place.
Many would not consider joining an after-school computing club. But when the team went into a classroom to teach a mixed group in the school day, they found the girls engaged just as well as the boys.
While the boys enjoyed using technology for chasing and shooting, the girls spent a great deal of time on the look and feel of their creations.
In another venture, the volunteers organised a workshop for the 7th Coventry Girls’ Brigade at the Holyhead Road United Reformed Church. The girls were so enthusiastic that they entered two teams for the BCS Challenge IT 2012 contest. One designed an app called Celebrity Takeover, where players lived the virtual life of a celebrity. The other created an app called House in Your Hands, by which people could control different functions in a home, such as lighting, the TV and even the bath!
Their exhibition stands, complete with fairy lights and Barbie dolls, was one of the star attractions of the finals exhibition event (http://www.flickr.com/photos/78195623@N03/sets/72157629268770400/show/).
The girls said: “Our favourite thing was sharing our ideas with others – even though we were nervous of the judges at first! It was a great learning experience and we liked working in the different teams with people we don’t normally work with.”