By the end of 2011 the GIST Foundation – a not-for-profit I co-founded to support Sheffield’s grassroots tech community – was becoming hugely stretched. Its programme of peer learning meetups and other digital events was well established, but unfunded and running on volunteer effort alone, it was high time to focus growth areas on what we could reasonably support.
Code thinking, data literacy, user experience, and startup innovation: these became the broad learning priorities I wanted to promote in the programme of events, activities and usergroups in 2012.
This is not simply coding, but all that comes with it, from understanding whole systems, applying logic and creative problem solving techniques, demystifying the illusion of technology as magic; imagining and exploring the possibilities that come with being able to wield technology. In practice, also pair programming, learning in teams, having the confidence to show’n’tell to peers, and of course, being able to envision and make things.
Unsurprisingly this applied to the Geek Cadets (the GIST Foundation’s kids coding club) as much as it did to adult practitioners. Interestingly, exposing non-technical parents to code thinking (if not coding) improved their confidence supporting their children too – striking that balance with UTC students who major on the Human Sciences specialism can be invaluable when they inevitably get involved with technology-driven teams in the work environment.
absolutely not just the technical skills to collect, harvest, and manipulate data (or to support the platforms that host data), or the analytic skills to assess and evaluate data and data gaps. This was also about learning to assess and evaluate data, to understand what stories data tells us – and what it doesn’t, or can’t – and being able to articulate that, whether through reportage, programming or visualisation (or another form).
Ahead of a growing demand for big data analytics and data science, the driver for this priority was the open data agenda to promote transparency, enable civic and democratic engagement and stimulate innovation. And increasingly as big data processing technologies allow for more insights, there are ethical considerations about digital rights that any future technologist need to consider.
Making usable and useful technology puts users (whether people or other systems) at the heart of the production process. Implicit is that this is about having processes to design and deliver products and services. It’s about user-centric approaches and typically that involves collaboration with multiple stakeholders. It’s about being focussed on understanding customers and meeting their needs when developing products, rather than developing technology solutions in a vacuum.
It’s also about designing the kind of elegant experiences with technology that we expect in the post-Jobs era. Visual thinking – more universal for global communication than through regional language constraints – plays an important part. Let’s be clear though – this is not simply about making pretty interfaces.
Purposefulness – making things with technology to solve real problems is the driver here. Using lean processes to set goals, design validation experiments, and learn quickly from them; using agile methods to build just enough useful product quickly and efficiently (and without creating unnecessary technical debt); customer development and business modelling; understanding how to determine and deliver sustainable social and commercial value; learning to scale and to fail; being entrepreneurial and practicing how to innovate; being part of a global community that shares its learning and endeavour.
This is outcome-oriented – it compels the application of technology to be very practical and value generative.
A Jumping Off Point
These are broad areas that cover a lot of material. They don’t fully reflect the other activities GIST supported (including nurturing very successful Hackers & Makers and Raspberry Pi communities that play very nicely with the engineering priorities of the first UTC in Sheffield).
In terms of high level principles to frame the Applied Computing programme’s content and processes, and to shape the students learning experience, this is just a jumping off point. It’s clearly not wholly comprehensive – and there’s plenty of detail to flesh out.
If you’re involved in the industry (as practitioner or employer) or in technology education, your feedback is very welcome. Please leave your thoughts below or join us at one of the curriculum development workshops