It’s been all over social media and online news the last couple of days - BBC to give out one million 'Micro Bit' computers to get kids coding. I’m a little skeptical. I’ve heard things like this before. (and blogged about it - most recently at Still More Hardware for Learning Software–But Why?) This one seems a little different. For one thing there are a lot of different partners involved. This article at the BBC web site (BBC launches flagship Make it Digital initiative) goes into some more detail and explains some of the other things going on. It is more than just a “give every 11 year old in the UK a piece of hardware.”
From a couple of personal sources I have learned that TouchDevelop, one of my favorite tools, is going to be an important part of the software for this initiative. I knew that there were already ties to Arduino in TouchDevelop (TouchDevelop Generates Arduino Code) so this does seem like a natural next step for them. And my female students seem to like TouchDevelop. I’m told that using the new ‘Micro Bot’ to make wearable technology will be easy and will interest girls. That would be nice if it works out that way. The device and related software are still being developed though so we’re going a lot on hope and theory.
On one hand I want to be optimistic about this. When I first saw this I asked on Facebook how many of these devices would get used and how many would collect dust. Reactions from friends ranged from “1 in 10 but that may be optimistic” to “does it matter as long as some get used?” I think it does matter. Big highly publicized failures make it harder to get the next innovation into schools. So I’d like something like this to have some success.
There is some teacher training attached though I’m not clear on what is for teachers and one is part of the larger program and may not be part of the schools. Teachers are going to need some training in this stuff. And not just how to use it in the abstract but how to use it in the context of their schools. Cross curricula efforts would be ideal.
But there are other concerns. They are saying there will be a million of the devices and no more after that. My first question is why? But more concerning is that of ongoing support. And what about the next year’s Year Seven students? There is also the issue of what do these students do next? What will there be for them in Year Eight? I know that the UK is working hard of getting more CS in the curriculum but is that in place? Is there a natural flow from year to year? Or do they expect that after one miracle year thousands if not hundreds of thousands of kids will become computer science autodidacts? That seems unlikely. It also seems unlikely that these devices will keep kids going for years until they get to the next real CS course.
So while I see things to love about this, in fact I’d like one myself to work with, there is a lot to be concerned about. We’ll have to see what happens I guess. What do you think?