It’s funny how some things stick in your memory. One of my earliest memories is hearing the screeching and beeping coming from by brother’s bedroom as he waited patiently for the programme on his Commodore 64 to load. Back then, in the early ‘80s, I was listening to music on my portable Walkman and perfecting my roller-skating technique. Computing was way off my radar, something for my brothers to do in their spare time; it didn’t feel relevant to me.
At school, the ‘state of the art’ computer room was kitted out with BBC computers. The room was hot and stuffy. I only recall one lesson, using Logo, in which we explored how to “PU” (PENUP), “PD” (PENDOWN) and “ST” (SHOWTURTLE). We lacked any context. Why was this relevant? I wasn’t sure.
At university, training to be a Primary teacher specialising in Science and Technology, I was introduced to the PC. I remember visiting the World Wide Web for the first time. It was predominantly text in those days, it was … ‘interesting’. But then I started teaching, and things really did start to get interesting.
We had two BBC B’s and an Acorn, housed on enormous, unwieldy trolleys with an old curtain draped over each. The students were really keen to explore Granny’s Garden and Badger Trails. Students who didn’t get engaged in traditional activities were eager to learn – focussed and engaged. Wow, this technology could enhance my teaching and their learning!
Shortly after I arrived at the school, we were given the opportunity to participate in an IT project. This would include connecting the school to the internet, new PC-style computers for each classroom, and training for all staff. I was given the opportunity to lead ICT and I was very excited. I became the master of fixing printers and plugging cables into the right holes (no tech support in those days!). I revelled in the opportunity to create a scheme of work, to choose software and to start to see my students developing new skills and approaches to learning.
And it was at this time that I started to learn one of the most valuable lessons that I’ve learnt so far. You see, not all the adults in my school were as excited about the new technology as I was. It didn’t seem relevant, it didn’t seem interesting and it certainly didn’t seem exciting. Did this sound familiar? Yes. You see, I had been on that journey myself. My colleagues needed time to understand what this new stuff was, time to get their heads ‘round it; they needed the opportunity to explore how it could make their learning environment even better. That’s the key: it must be relevant.
With my new-found passion for technology-enhanced learning, I left the classroom and joined a team of talented educators and technical experts at MGL, based in the North West. Together, we supported hundreds of schools to make technology relevant to their learners and their teachers. We recreated Shakespeare, animated science concepts, programmed lighthouses and created an array of digital art and music. We brought technology into every scheme of work, exploiting its pulling power to engage every learner, every teacher and many parents.
In 2009, with a growing family of my own, we relocated to the South West and I joined the South West Grid for Learning Trust. It was my job to help teachers across the region explore how the online world could impact positively on teaching and learning. Merlin brought online learning spaces to around 2,500 schools in the South West and was the largest implementation of its kind, outside of the US. I was privileged to work alongside some immensely talented educators and share some remarkable journeys as students and teachers had their own “lightbulb moments” with technology.
With the introduction of the new Computing curriculum in 2014, I became involved in the Barefoot Computing Project, initially recruiting and training industry volunteers across the South West and facilitating workshops for Primary schools, and later introducing the project into Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as the national partner. Barefoot has already reached over 1.5 million Primary learners in the UK and is set to continue to go from strength to strength.
I joined BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, in May 2017 as Head of Public Affairs, moving to Director of Education six months later. At the heart of the BCS Royal Charter is a mandate to ensure everyone has access to the widest range of educational opportunities necessary to become creative, empowered, capable and safe citizens in a digital society. That means that everyone, regardless of gender, ethnic or social group, has the fundamental right to a computing education.
Part of my role is to lead the education strategy at BCS. I am also responsible for Computing At School (CAS), our mission being to provide leadership and strategic guidance to all those involved in Computing education in schools in the UK.
I love working with so many hugely talented and passionate people. We have some fab debates which I really enjoy. I really like getting out into our communities, and particularly enjoy spending time in schools, hearing from teachers and learners, understanding the challenges they face and how what we do here can make (and has made) a difference.
I’m passionate in my belief that digital skills generally – and computer science in particular – will become as essential to our young people as reading and writing. At BCS, through CAS, I can help to shape an environment where teachers are helped and supported to inspire and enthuse the next generation to thrive in our digital world. That’s why I’m passionate in trying to make sure that everyone, no matter who they are, their gender or upbringing, gets the chance to follow their passion and develop a great, well-paid and rewarding career in technology.
Look at us now! Can you even imagine teaching without tech? Planning lessons without the internet? Can you imagine your life without tech? No Click & Collect? No Instagram? It impacts each and every one of us every day. It continues to impact on how we communicate, how we learn, how we teach, how we parent, and how we are.