After-school programme equipping Dublin youth with digital skills

Future Creators introduces teens to coding, app development, robotics and social media

Participants of the Future Creators programme, which allows teenagers to get creative with technology. Photograph:  Peter Houlihan

Participants of the Future Creators programme, which allows teenagers to get creative with technology. Photograph: Peter Houlihan

 

What happens when you encourage teenagers to create with technology? Adding creativity to the mix has been a winning formula for Future Creators, an after-school programme for 13- to 16-year-olds that looks to equip young people from Dublin 8 with digital skills including coding, app development, robotics, social media, digital photography and film-making.

Established in 2011 by The Digital Hub and delivered with the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) and H2 Learning, the Future Creators programme is constantly evolving, and last year the 24 participants got to try out numerous technologies before being let loose to work on their own projects, either individually or in groups.

“We did taster sessions of everything,” says Chloe Pingol, who at age 13 took part in sessions between last November and June. “We got to choose out of all the stuff that we learned. We got to use all those skills to make our project.”

For her project, Pingol worked as part of a team to make a video of interviews that was shown at an end-of-year graduation showcase at NCAD.

“I was in charge of editing all that using iMovie,” she says. “I cut out [the footage of the] questions, I looked through everyone’s to see who gave best answers, which would make it more interesting, and I put in the funny bits. It was me, but I also went through it with the other people in our group.”

Making music videos

Other Future Creators projects included producing an album of musical tracks complete with artwork, and making a music video.

For Pingol, the free, twice-weekly programme has encouraged her to develop a more creative side and she has now started attending a computer club. “I would recommend [Future Creators],” she says. “It’s somewhat like a head start, [because] basically they start you off but it is up to you to finish it, to keep going with it and advance your skills.”

The emphasis is on fun and learning, according to Michael Hallissy, one of Future Creator’s co-founders and a founding partner with H2 Learning.

“It is an after-school activity with a serious edge to it,” he says. “The whole idea is that we want young people in the area to have an opportunity to develop digital skills.”

Hallissy hopes that the young participants will move from consuming technology to making with it, and thereby learn more about the underlying science and engineering and working as teams.

“We want them to understand you can use these tools to create,” he says. “We are trying to promote that learning is fun and doesn’t have to be all about books and can be self-directed, and we are giving them an insight into the world of work because they get to meet companies. We are interested in them developing 21st-century skills such as communication, collaboration, problem solving, resilience and ‘stickability’.”

Future Creators and other informal education initiatives such as the annual Coder Dojo Coolest Projects Awards show the power of harnessing creativity to develop technology skills, and adding arts to science, technology, engineering and maths (sometimes referred to as moving from STEM to STEAM) is gaining traction.

But if the arts and STEM are such synergistic partners, why have they historically seemed so separate? “Part of the problem is that we tend to think in silos,” says Hallissy. “We think in terms of individual [school] subjects and activities.”

Another factor in the growth of ‘STEAM’ is the increasing access to technologies such as internet-enabled devices, according to Prof Brian MacCraith, president of Dublin City University and chair of a recent Government-commissioned report on STEM education in Ireland.

Hackathons

“The concepts in STEAM have been around for a long time, and now by virtue of emerging ubiquitous technologies such as the Internet of Things [devices that can sense the environment and connect to a network], data analytics and 3D printers, people can make those ideas a reality.”

MacCraith is a fan of hackathons, day- or weekend-long events that bring people from different backgrounds together to solve challenges and problems, and DCU is working with Intel to host STEAM-related hackathons for DCU students in creative arts, science and engineering.

“When you mix science and engineering with the creative and performing arts and design, very often there are opportunities to develop new approaches to either science and engineering or arts,” says MacCraith. “It’s at these interfaces, where you have multiple and complementary perspectives coming together, that you see innovation and the potential for economic relevance. And given Ireland’s track record in both the creative arts and in science and engineering, I think we have plenty to tap into in this space.”

MacCraith says it is particularly important to break down the boundaries between art and STEM early on. “What’s important is that we speak to the creativity of the minds of young people,” he says. “We can already see through initiatives like Coolest Projects that there is a massive outlet of creativity and technological capability among children even as young as seven years of age, and these are the minds of the future that we need to encourage.”

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