Using tech to help develop creativity

Shanhneila Saeed, former teacher and Director of Digital Schoolhouse, talks to ET about turning the job-seekers of tomorrow into creative job-makers

For years, we have seen headlines declaring the insecurity of our jobs, with technology advancements putting certain careers at risk of becoming redundant.  However, on the other side of that are the huge opportunities technology will bring us in the new jobs it will create. In order to reap the benefits, we must ensure the workforce is fully prepared and the next generation enters the job market with the skills we need. And that means understanding the interests of the next generation, and applying this in a creative way in the classroom. 

Research conducted in 2015 found that the most popular jobs children aspire to, although including some stereotypical mentions of astronauts and firefighters, now also feature scientist and engineer higher on the list. Add to this the fact that the fastest-growing careers are those within software development and app development, and it’s clear that we have the potential to harness this interest to create exactly the types of employees we will need in the future.

However, when polls suggest that two third of teachers across the state and independent sector feel they cannot effectively teach coding to children aged eight to 15, we also need to support educators in building confidence and knowledge themselves. If we don’t get this right, we risk losing the interest of children in these in-demand skills, simply because the content hasn’t engaged them. The good news is that if we do, we can inspire students to continue to develop their computing skills past GCSE. So how do we do it? Well, it’s about how the content is delivered, and through creativity we can equip them with the right skills and keep them enthused throughout their education – from primary to secondary school and beyond.

A creative solution

Computing lessons don’t actually have to be desk-based and online. The concepts and skills, such as computational thinking and problem solving, can be taught without the use of computers (unplugged) to demonstrate to pupils the behind-the-scenes element of technology and how it can apply to the real world.  

For primary schools in particular, these creative workshops help to engage pupils with those skills, but also in using the skills online and through technology. The key is laying a strong foundation and taking advantage of learning-through-play techniques.

If children understand and engage with the foundations of computing in an offline setting, applying it online will seem less daunting and like an achievable goal.

One method for an unplugged lesson would be to encourage children to solve jigsaw puzzles. These support logical reasoning and problem solving through decomposition. Each child may have a different strategy for approaching the puzzle, and recognising this is a vital lesson for algorithmic thinking when applied online. For example, children may group puzzle pieces according to colour, shapes, sizes, or proposed location in the final image – and this is similar to how algorithms are used in applications, such as when social media platforms highlight posts that could be of interest to you, or how game sequences change if the player chooses a different action or levels up in a certain way.

If children understand and engage with the foundations of computing in an offline setting, applying it online will seem less daunting and like an achievable goal. Technology supports the lessons learned in an unplugged environment, by putting them into context and offering a creative outlet for ideas, solutions or strategies for everyday life.

The next step is to demonstrate how computing lessons are valuable to the world of work in a creative way, too. We need to provide children the chance to aspire to jobs they may not come across otherwise, and that means working with industries in the technology sector more closely.

Turning job seekers into job makers

Teaching should also be conducted in parallel to inspirational career guidance. There is a stereotype that careers in technology are bland or for people who are just interested in programming, when the reality is quite the opposite!

Digital Schoolhouse therefore launched a careers event that highlights this. The UK’s first ever schools’ esports tournament, the Digital Schoolhouse Esports Tournament, has returned for a second year with over 20 schools competing for a place in the Grand Final, which takes place in April 2018. This is an immersive careers event designed to engage students with the skills and careers in the games industry by working with business partners. As well as competing with one another using the popular game by Blizzard, ‘Overwatch’, students will benefit from inspirational talks by industry professionals and network opportunities to speak to them one-to-one about the careers available within the sector.

Children remain unaware of the vast options available to them and within the games industry in particular, there are numerous creative roles that go beyond coding. From games design to storytelling, there are careers available to suit different strengths and aspirations. By using both online and offline methods of teaching and doing so in a creative way, we can also explore children’s interests and inspire them to not only use technology, but to consider what brought it into existence, asking important questions like, “How does this work? How can I build something better?” and potentially plant the seed to grow into the next big idea.