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November 2013

Getting Britain Coding

XMA, leading provider of information technology solutions, has joined forces with Oasis Community Learning and the Serious Games Institute (SGI) at Coventry University, to pilot a new education workshop designed to inspire IT innovation amongst students.

 

With concern growing over the lack of IT skills being taught in British schools and a decline in students signing up to higher education IT and computing courses, there is a national push to reintroduce the teaching of coding skills across the curriculum and reinvigorate a generation’s interest in information technology. 
 

In recognition of this, XMA decided to partner up with existing client Oasis Community Learning and Oasis Academy Hadley to enable students to conceive, design, develop, test and evaluate their own ‘serious computer game’ with the support of SGI experts in games based learning.  The activity consisted of 2 contact days at the North London based Academy designed to engage students from years 7 to 11 and ten SGI software development days. By selecting Black History Month as the theme, the students were able to combine learning about coding, the software development industry, what customers want and how to work effectively in teams with a greater understanding of the life of Nelson Mandela as their focus for Black History Month. 

Bringing in the expertise of the Serious Games Institute, the team put together two day-long workshops which encouraged students to understand coding through a series of tasks which required them to develop their knowledge of the programing languages Scratch and Python.

John Barnaby Director of IT for Oasis Community Learning said: “It’s great to see the collaboration between ourselves, XMA and the leading professors in the field paying off. By pooling all of our collective skills, knowledge, resources and contacts, we have been able to create an activity that can be replicated across schools throughout the UK and provide a kick start to the introduction of the Computing Curriculum that the Government sees as vital in delivering the IT skills our economy requires.”
 
Guy Bates, Director at XMA, said: “Utilising a games scenario to teach coding is a major step-change in the way we approach information technology learning in our schools. In line with Government recommendations to promote coding and implement the new Computing Curriculum, we have developed a focused team to trial this concept at Hadley. The initial observations show that the event successfully engaged students, whilst delivering core curriculum education, and we hope to work with Oasis and other partners to develop this model further.”

The students were given a series of tasks throughout the day, providing analysis and feedback after each session, before using their conclusions to help inform the next activity and create improvements.
Guy added: “We saw a real mix of abilities and expertise and it was interesting to see how each student used transferable skills to develop their games. Maths, Science and English all play a vital role in software development and game coding, alongside IT capabilities. Students recognised this and were able to apply their knowledge from other areas of education to aid their performance in the tasks. Creative skills were also tested when considering the end-user and a game’s potential commercial value and success.”
 
Students were thrilled to see their own serious game concept brought by the SGI team into prototype with their support.  They played their game and fed back their thoughts through an analysis session, not only looking at the pros and cons but also exploring meaningful ways in which to improve the game, utilising proven approaches to finding bugs.

The following student tasks focused on learning how to build their own games and develop them to create improved versions, understanding the design process as well as using Scratch (programing language) coding exercises to make the day practical, relevant and creative.

In recent years, the barrier to entry for anyone who wants to code has lowered significantly. Apple and others now offer free developer tools and a global store front to market and sell applications. This allows students to create and share applications on the same stage as commercial developers.

Guy concluded: “In this ten day development programme with two full contact days with SGI’s professionals, we witnessed significant improvements in the majority of students, as well as igniting an interest in coding, which as we know, is a major part of the new Computing curriculum that schools in England have been charged with rolling out in 2014. The UK is a leader in computer gaming in particular and information technology in general, providing strong benefit to our economy. Schools such as the Oasis Academy Hadley are contributing to the sustainability of this leading position by bringing through the developers, graphic designers and project managers of the future. XMA’s role in providing IT infrastructure has been extended to curriculum and enrichment support by leveraging our partnership with a leading university and this is a model we will develop further, following the success of this inspirational activity.”




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