It's official. The BBC gets behind 'making and coding' for schools and families, writes Tony Parkin
Howard BakerBBC’s Howard Baker (photo Leon Cych)The 'will they, won't they' debate over the BBC launching a major initiative to support a new generation of coders has been resolved at last. A packed crowd at the recent Edmix session at Hackney College (Thursday November 7) heard that 2015 will definitely be the Year of Making and Coding at the BBC, although there are few details available yet.

The informal confirmation came from the BBC's innovation 'guru' Howard Baker and amplified the curiously low-key announcement back in October on the BBC's own news website — "BBC plans to help get the nation coding"

Howard Baker is innovations editor at BBC Learning Research and Development and is a familiar and respected figure at education conferences and events, and always happy to tell everyone that he has the best job in the world. At Edmix he took the opportunity to prove this, sharing some of the exciting tools and projects that he and his team are involved with up there in Salford's MediaCity UK.

These included an extremely exciting web-based coding platform that has been successfully piloted in a small number of schools. But before everyone got too excited, he did point out that these 'proof of concept' pilots may well not be the finished products that are used in the BBC's 2015 initiative. But they will undoubtedly influence the thinking.

Big news for educators

For the educators in the crowd, however, the big news was that the long wait was nearly over, and the BBC is definitely getting behind the coding and making movement. It ends the conjecture that has been rumbling around for some time — it was two years ago that we reported consultations between the BBC and the education community about whether it was time for a new campaign along the lines of the 1980s’ hugely successful Computer Literacy programme.

Even earlier in 2011, as Eben Upton launched the now hugely-successful Raspberry Pi computer, he made no secret of his hopes that the BBC might adopt it as a computer for the already under-discussion new computing initiative. And over the next few months various staff from the BBC were noticeable at a number of events, sounding out people on whether they thought a new initiative around programming would be a good idea, and well received. Things certainly don't move swiftly in some parts of the BBC, and teachers will be implementing the new computing curriculum in schools in England in September 2014. However, the website announcement by director general Tony Hall pledges to "bring coding into every home, business and school in the UK".

But what is clear is that Howard's innovation team has continued to come up with new pilots, tools and activities, and ‘making and coding’ is now firmly on the 2015 agenda. The Edmix crowd got particularly excited by some of Howard's ideas around the use of tools like Mozilla's Popcorn to add value to BBC Learning clips and resources through curriculum tagging, with an interface to allow teachers and others to add additional value. And quickly the Edmixers and teachers were discussing the potential of shared playlists of learning resources.

Innovation team will take open badges to FE and less-traditional learners

The innovation team is also interested in the potential of Open Badges, and possibilities around using these not only with schools, but to extend their reach into further and higher education, as well as supporting some of the less-traditional learners in society.

The underlying ambition of the BBC's strategy for learning is "to inspire a life of learning for everyone", so Edmix was hosting three speakers from the world of BBC Learning at this special event, explaining their ideas, roles and challenges in supporting the BBC's education remit. The scope and breadth of the BBC Learning influence always impresses, ranging as it does from clearly education-focused activities like BBC Bitesize, to less obvious aspects such as looking at the motivational value that big-name BBC brands such as Doctor Who and CBeebies can bring to the world of learning.

Myles RunhamMyles RunhamMyles Runham, is head of online at BBC Academy, the internal training section at the BBC, and he was quick to point out that a key part of his role with online was to shift the corporate mindset from 'training' to 'learning'. He gave the audience some fascinating insights into the space between mere collections of clips and the formal online course, and his ideas on the roles of curation, and social interaction around the collections of resources to add extra value.

Sadly much of his work, being for internal development programmes at the BBC never sees the public light of day. However the thinking behind it certainly influences other aspects of the BBC Learning activities.

The third speaker, Andrew Lees, is co-founder of Damn Fine Media, a 'spin-off' company formed by two of the BBC Learning team that did not fancy moving north to the new base in Salford. Andrew is an ex-BBC Bitesize director, and he described his time there, and the decisions that shaped Bitesize into such a well-received product in schools and homes.

Tim Berners-LeeDamn Fine Media's profile of Tim Berners-LeeThe success, as he told it, appeared to be down to two key approaches: looking at what BBC Bitesize does well, then refining it to do it even better; asking users what they like, and what they wish to see, and then satisfying their needs. A great lesson for everyone working in education technology. His strong views on appealing to the users, and the addition of quirky humour, were clearly evident in Damn Fine Media's profile of Tim Berners-Lee.

Mark MartinMark Martin @urban_teacherThe evening had opened with a special Teachmeet TechCity (#tmtechcity on Twitter) hosted by Mark Martin (@urban_teacher). The Edmixers clearly enjoyed hearing from teachers about how the tools that they were creating were actually used in real classrooms. Edmix is a great opportunity to bring together educators, those making educational digital resources and the community of entrepreneurs helping bring all their ideas into existence.

People left buzzing, as ever, but it was particularly gratifying to know that the long hoped for BBC initiative is coming, even if we still have another year to wait.

More information 

BBC Learning
BBC at MediaCityUK
Damn Fine Media
Raspberry Pi launch
BBC consultation on Computing
BBC announcement of year of coding 

Tony ParkinTony Parkin, former head of ICT development at the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (The Schools Network) and now an independent consultant, describes himself as a 'disruptive nostalgist'. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or on Twitter via @tonyparkin



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