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).
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