‘BBC Micro’ project – Response Requested

Message from Keri Facer, Manchester Metropolitan University

Invitation to contribute

The BBC is exploring the possibility of developing a new ‘BBC Micro’ project to encourage an interest amongst young people in computers, computational thinking and computer science. Manchester Metropolitan University is working with the BBC to draw on the views of teachers, lecturers, computer scientists, programmers and others with an interest in computational thinking in the UK today. We would appreciate your assistance in helping to inform the early stages of this process.

First, a bit of background:

In the early 1980s, the BBC started what became known as the BBC Computer Literacy Project in response to predictions of a coming microcomputer revolution and its likely future impacts on UK economy and society. The BBC based its project around a computer and programming language capable of being used to perform various tasks which would be demonstrated in a TV series The Computer Programme. The list of topics in the TV programme included graphics, programming, sound and music, controlling external hardware, artificial intelligence and teletext The computer selected was the Acorn Proton, which was then re-badged the BBC Micro. The government funded the purchase and distribution of 12,000 of the computers to UK schools for use alongside the TV programme. In turn this stimulated a significant growth in domestic use of the Micro.

Today, there is criticism of the ICT curriculum and the teaching of programming (or computational thinking) in schools. The Royal Society, amongst others, believe that design and delivery of ICT and computer science curricula in schools is so poor that students’ understanding and enjoyment of the subject is severely limited. In response to this the BBC is exploring the possibility of developing a project with the specific purpose of encouraging an interest in computers, computer science and computer programming amongst young people.

We would like to know your views on what the BBC could do in this area. In particular, what you would see as the desirable equivalent of the BBC Micro and The Computer Programme today? What technologies and processes, what tools and skills would such a project need to develop?  In particular, we would appreciate answers to the specific questions below

(NB, we use the term computational thinking rather than computer science, programming, or ICT skills because we don’t want to assume one particular view of what is important in this area. That, indeed, is what we want your views on).

Key questions
What aspects of computational thinking (e.g. understanding how ‘computers think/work’, using programming languages, understanding systems thinking  or other issues) should a BBC Micro 2.0 project focus on? What do you think people should be able to learn to do with computers today? Why?
What are the best ways to support and encourage those young people (aged 9-14) with an interest in this area, to develop their interest and skills in computational thinking ? Can you suggest any examples of resources or activities that you know of?
What are the best ways to support and encourage young people (aged 9-14) with other interests to develop an interest in and understanding of computational thinking? Can you suggest any examples of resources or activities that you know of?
What are the key obstacles to learning computational thinking  and how might these best be overcome?
If you were to make hardware available to schools in the same way as the BBC Micro in 1981, what sorts of hardware would you think was essential to develop the skills and understanding needed?
If you were designing a tv programme today that sought to have the same effect as The Computer Programme in stimulating interest in the most important new area of technological development, what area would you expect it to address and what topics would you expect it to cover? Would it still be in the field of computer science? What areas?
Do you know of any projects, resources and activities that would be examples that this project could learn from?
Do you have any other comments on the idea of a new BBC Micro project?

Thank you for your time and your help  – do let us know if you’d like to be kept updated if there are further developments.

Please email your responses to KdotFACERatMMUdotACdotUK On twitter, Keri is @kerileef

30 Comments Add yours

  1. Eamonn says:

    Too little too late. Laziness has doomed this country to technological peasantry. Look at the massive technological illiteracy in the workplace and weep for our children’s futures.


    1. Henry says:

      Exactly the wrong way to look at it. In the 80s this happened pretty much by itself in the UK, so it can happen again – there is still a lot of knowhow in this country


  2. My understanding was that there was an interesting discussion on this topic at PyConUK. What was the outcome of that discussion?


    1. teknoteacher says:

      Were you at PyconUK?

      In my talk I described my vision of what could happen *if* the BBC were to launch an initiative like they did in the 80s. The problem was I described it as a *reality*. I did then reveal that the project was not live, but was a vision. In doing so I upset a number of people present, and I regret that. However, it now appears the BBC are taking the proposal seriously – and asking for interest. So I would encourage you to repond to Keri Facer. If you have not read my BarCampMediaCity and PyconUK blog posts, I suggest you do.


      1. “When one dreams and leads others to dream the same dream, very soon the dream becomes reality” (anon)

        Seeds were planted by Alan at PyconUK and the tree has grown


      2. teknoteacher says:

        Well to be fair, these ideas have already been banded about for some time – I can’t really claim any credit for them. I just absorbed them, stored them and strung them together in a different form at the BarCampMediaCity event and then later at PyConUK.


      3. I was in the talk at #BCMCUK, and led the previous discussion on the state of computing teaching in UK schools at the moment. I’ll admit I was disappointed that the vision was revealed to not be a reality, but I envisage I am not the only person who has had this in their mind ever since!

        I’ll be putting my thoughts together in more detail soon, and I’ve bookmarked this blog for further reading!


  3. Leon Cych says:

    I have already submitted a response and I think it far from too late – I think we are at the cusp of very interesting times. I don’t share the view of Eamonn – I suspect we are now in pole position to make this a very interesting project.


  4. Very much agree with Leon. Ok, they are not the first and e-skills etc have all being on this for a while but there is a hell of a lot to work on here and with the BBC’s history, finance and credibility, they are a vital component IMO


    1. teknoteacher says:

      I think it would be great if the BBC *do* move forward with a project like this. However, it is important that there is an alternative backup plan in case for whatever reason the corporation cannot proceed.


  5. Anthony Harrison says:

    Last night’s (10th October) Newsnight had an item on the demise of games programming in the UK (apparently UK has fallen from 3rd to 6th in the world). It pointed out that ICT had really become business usage rather than anything really technical because less than 20% of computing teachers had any computing qualification. This is leading to a reluctance in teaching programming skills.

    The role of the BBC in the 1980’s was to kick start computing in support of Government’s request; if the BBC is to be engaged again it must be to lobby Government (in particular Dept of Education) to ensure that it is going to get the skills necessary for the future. Other parts of industry must also support this time otherwise Britain will decline and be overtaken by more enlightened countries.


  6. Beep says:

    Make it reminiscent of the original, but updated.
    Dual Core ARM CPU so teachers/department won’t be distracted by MS Windows.
    Linux based OS, talk to departments in Spain and other places that have rolled out educational machines.


  7. Benjohn says:

    In terms of a hardware platform, I’d very much suggest looking at the Raspberry PI: http://www.raspberrypi.org/

    From their own description:

    “The Raspberry Pi Foundation is a UK registered charity (Registration Number 1129409) which exists to promote the study of computer science and related topics, especially at school level, and to put the fun back into learning computing.

    We plan to develop, manufacture and distribute an ultra-low-cost computer, for use in teaching computer programming to children. We expect this computer to have many other applications both in the developed and the developing world.

    Our first product is about the size of a credit card, and is designed to plug into a TV or be combined with a touch screen for a low cost tablet. The expected price is $25 for a fully-configured system.”


  8. Stuart Barkworth says:

    Great idea – definitely not too late – align the computer with something like the Arduino (http://www.arduino.cc/) and you could inspire a whole new generation.

    Backed up with the quality documentaries and education programmes as was the case in the early 80s – I would watch and I am sure my children and grandchildren would


  9. A good idea, I think. We had a lab of BBC Micros on which we delivered ICT training for language teachers at the National Centre for Computer Assisted Language Learning (NCCALL) at Ealing College, which was funded by the equivalent of the DfE from 1985 to 1990. I was Director of NCCALL. We demonstrated commercial programs and programs that we had created ourselves, as well as raising awareness about computer programming. I wrote a book on non-numeric programming, “Talking BASIC”, which was published by Cassell in 1985. The NCCALL project was a great success. We trained around 400 teachers per year for the duration of the project, and then the centre was closed as the government felt that it had done its job and cut off the funding.

    Our work did not stop there, however. Thanks to funding provided by the European Commission under the TEMPUS programme, we we able to set up a similar centre in Hungary, the East European CALL Centre (EECALL Centre), which we maintained from 1991 to 1996. And in 1999 to 2000, again with the aid of European funding, we were able to initiate the ICT for Language Teachers website (ICT4LT), which is still going strong and receiving around 13,000-15,000 visits per month. Have a look: http://www.ict4lt.org

    I feel that ICT in schools has been watered down over the years. In most schools it’s just about learning how to use apps rather than understanding how computers work and how to program them.

    Graham Davies
    Emeritus Professor of Computer Assisted Language Learning


  10. Keri Facer says:

    Hi folks – just collating responses now. Lots of interest. There is lots of goodwill. Need to remember that the govt funded first Micro, so any suggestions on how to leverage funding for hardware out of current austerity environment, much appreciated 😉

    In the meantime, thanks to those who’ve responded. I will post a summary of the suggestions/comments here. Needless to say, there’s been lots of interest in Raspberry Pi, Arduino… but also a lot of suggestions of other resources that would be useful to this group.

    In the meantime – check out this ITV programme – should make some of you happy http://www.itv.com/citvonline/coolstuffcollective/futuretech/



    1. teknoteacher says:


      So kind of you to comment here on this blog, thank you. I am genuinely grateful for that. You might be interested to note that on this single blog topic ‘BBC Micro Project’, there have been 2,516 visitors to this page from Oct 6-Nov 5th. That statistic alone is staggering and clearly demonstrates an immense amount of interest and support in this area.

      In collaboration with others, I am now working on the assumption that the BBC will do something, but it could be a long while off, 3 – 4 years or more. I believe that no matter how important this initiative is to the BBC, it is a huge organisation that sometimes moves at the speed of a large container ship. Even then, 12 months from now – there is still the potential for this project to stall due to change in leadership, policy, etc.

      I decided to follow Nolan Bushnall’s (founder of Atari) inspirational quote and get “out of the shower, dry off and then do something about it”

      Since my BBC CodeLab (hoax) talk at BarCamp MediaCity a huge amount of activity has been generated. Now with support of others we have held two (out of school) engagement events and are now planning the next one on a massive scale, soon to be replicated in regions around the UK. More details on this blog. Feedback from children and adults has been outstanding.

      At our next event, our biggest yet- ‘Hack To The Future’ we will have 200 children (developers of tomorrow) engaging with 50 digital creators of today. I would love for you to commit to attending on Sat 11th Feb as an impartial observer, perhaps with some of your colleagues and associates (and perhaps some from the BBC that have not signed up yet) to see the power that computing science has to harness the interest and enthusiasm of children. It would be even better if you were prepared to speak to a group of these children as well, or lead a discussion to gauge their interest.

      In particular, this event will seek to engage a larger proportion of girls than any other computing science based event has to date. You will see that there are some very high profile female speakers who have already expressed a desire to speak at the event. I sincerely hope that you will join them.

      I look forward to reading the outcome of the consultation – I imagine it will be provide a very worthy contribution to this debate.

      In answer to the funding question you raise, I make two very bold suggestions.
      1. Although it grieves me to say it – there is perhaps some potential in PM David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ ideals that can be applied to this. Each event I have organised thus far has attracted enough sponsorship from interested organisations that are keen to see this project develop further, they see that their future depends on it.
      2. You may know that the BBC still has somewhere deep in it’s coffers, a significant amount of money that was set aside for ‘the digital takeover’ that has not been spent yet. To use this funding for a BBC Micro II project may require some government/parilamentary intervention. If a BBC Micro II project does not constitute cannot be described as a ‘digital takeover’ – what does qualify?

      Diane Coyle (vice chair of BBC trust) is a good ally to have and Dr Sue Black has a knack for making the impossible happen.

      What a fantastic achievement it would be to look back in 5 years time at the key women who enabled the BBC Micro II project to happen. 😉

      I wish you every luck with this endeavour and look forward to hearing you speak on Feb 11th at ‘Hack To The Future’.



  11. Jim Wood says:

    I was interested to read this post, and there certainly is nostalgia for the BBC micro for us almost 40 year olds. I can remember it well, and for me and most of my contemporaries also the Spectrums or C64s, and the lucky few (not us) Apple IIs leading eventually to Amigas or Macs.

    Actually I never did any real ‘computing’ studies while I was school, which I regret now, but it was never really offered. So that leads me to the point and comes from reflecting about that time and (re-) reading about Silicon Valley’s pioneers Jobs and Woz et al recently. This idea of the personal computer (the Woz version) is powerful and poetic even. That lead to the desktop PC, the Mac, which has been great, but what next? Mobile phones are now essential computers, some rather too much like PCs. Would the BBC sponsor a smartphone or tablet? Is that the right way to go?
    Or even if its a very efficient cheaper GNU/Linux box. Is the box computer, keyboard and desktop the way to inspire young learners to get programming and kick-start the future of computing?

    What I think the difference is that we really need to think of computing out of this PC box era now. Apple took the research from Xerox PARC for the Mac and set the baseline for PC computing, the rest is history… lets leave it at that. Not withstanding the internet being quite an important invention :P, perhaps the most important step could be a version of pervasive or ubiquitous computing. The reversal of computers-to-people numbers, where hundreds of processors are around us, available to us. How do we interact with them? What I’m interested in and researching about is this idea of computing in the same notion as a material, not hi-tech, but hi-low-tech( Beauchley et al), and ways of embodying it in everyday life and object. Constructing computation materials in the same way as paper, wood, steel. It sounds a bit arts and crafts – but not that it’s not scientific and intellectual also.

    I’ve been working on Arduino since it came out, and its a great product -remember its hardware and software, as well as the boards (being cheaper + simpler) the IDE was one of the best things for getting into it, hence its rise from design school to other arts+ design schools to computing classes to global. Still a shame you can’t buy it on the high street yet. I can make stuff and program it that I could on a Stamp or PIC. So Arduino is great success, but also where does it go next – bigger faster boards, more pins? I hope there’s a new paradigm for the next Arduino kind of thing – like a mobile, ubicomp, computational thing? A computational material, construction thing? and I think thats where the school learning of computing could be too.

    That all said I’m really looking forward to getting a RaspberryPi, and reading about that got me here actually. Much kudos to those guys, brilliant work! Looks like it could do both of those things – be a desktop, without a footprint, and a mobile, tablet, pocket thing too.




  12. Nigel says:

    it would really nice if this could relaunch the UK computer industry lets hope it happens.
    It would nice not just have Microsoft. The BBC was a very, very good machine at the time.

    An ARM CPU needs to be used with the machine this should also support
    an at least one Arduino board as well.

    With support for things like
    Assembly Language, BASIC, Pascal, C, C++ , Perl, Perlscript, Java, Javascript, PHP, ASP, Python, Ruby, SQL

    USB 3 Standard Sockets need to be used and all the other most update standards also need to be used.


  13. teknoteacher says:

    Anyone who read this post about the BBC Micro II, might like to read a recent update here… https://teachcomputing.wordpress.com/2011/12/08/the-bbc-micro-ii-news-update/

    The BBC will be bringing their prototype coding platform to our Hack To The Future event on February 11th to allow young people for the first time to experience it.


  14. The main reason that the BBC micro took off and was so popular with
    programmers was the enormous variety of inputs it had already built-in
    (not extras), such as 8? channel A/D ports, I/O ports, and the like. All
    built-in. If such things are ever extras, then not everyone will buy them
    as extras, so no one will write programs for those bits, because not
    everyone can buy the program if it wont work without them buying
    something extra.

    That is where the PC has faiked miserable: no 2 PCs alike, and hardly
    anything standardised or built-in.

    Apple got it right with the iPhone, everything built in, all the sensors
    you could need such as 3-axis accelerometers, 3 axis tilt meters, GPS,
    3-axis Hall-effect magnetometers, a video/still camera (or 2) a bright
    white LED, a microphone, a speaker, etc etc [the only things missing are thermomenter and
    atmospheric pressure sensor]. All built-in. There are hundreds of apps
    that could be written using these sensors – such as a doppler wind speed
    meter or beer cloudiness detector. The limit is your imagination.

    Similarly, any computer that is for teaching programming should have many
    these sensors as standard, built-in and also multi-channel DC input A/D
    ports and user-ports for other imaginative external uses.

    I don’t think the Raspberry PI quite fits that bill, but an Android phone
    type computer
    with many extra input/output ports might fit the bill.


  15. steve chester says:

    The raspberry pi does seem a good platform as its affordable. i would love to teach my children with a basic comp like the old days able to be programed in basic, assember, java, c and html5.

    thanks bbc for giving us the first beeb, i wrote a game with friends then i was 14. palace of magic great days.

    give us the old beeb look, backward compatability and no windows to ruin the fun


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