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Getting girls into digital on BIMA Digital Day 2021

Photograph of Amelia Groen

Amelia Groen

Developer

BIMA Digital Day 2021 offered a great opportunity for Ten4 to work with young minds and get students excited about digital careers.

Promoting digital careers

According to BIMA (British Interactive Media Association), while the digital economy is growing at more than double the rate of the broader economy, a lack of skills holds this growth back. Enter the BIMA Digital Day, where companies and schools work together to give 11-16 year olds insight into what a digital career might look like. And hopefully encourage more young people to pursue a career in digital.

On BIMA Digital Day, companies and schools are partnered up and given a challenge to solve together. Over the course of the day, the students learn about how a digital company works and the types of roles that can be pursued in a career in digital. At the end of the day, students should have a feel for how a digital product or service comes into existence and the steps it takes to get there.

We were partnered with the Eden Girls School in Waltham Forest and a class of 33 Year 9s (13-14 year-olds). On November 10th, we packed our bags full of sharpies, post it notes, dot stickers and the BIMA brief, and off we went to meet our charges for the day.

A class of year 9 girls in the computing room

For this year’s challenge the students were shown a short video by WWF explaining the four biggest ways we can reduce our carbon footprint: by changing the way we eat, what we buy, how we travel and the energy we use. The brief posed the following question:

“How can we use technology and digital solutions to make it easier for people to understand the true environmental footprint of products and services, allowing households, schools, universities and businesses to make choices that are good for the planet?”

The students were split into groups of five. For their idea they were free to use any type of technology, from apps to games to artificial intelligence and virtual reality.We were sent a pack for the day, which outlined the structure the day should take. In much the same way we tackle projects at Ten4, the challenge was divided into three steps: Discover (research the issue), Design (come up with ideas and bring them to life) and Deliver (prepare and deliver a presentation).

While we had incredible fun on the day, it did not come without its challenges. Here are some lessons that we took from that day, to take into account the next time we step into a class full of teenage girls.

It’s hard to know who’s more scared of who.

Yes, it can be challenging to talk to a group of teenagers who may have fully turned their back towards you, might have headphones on, and only be half engaging with what you have to say.

Yes, it is devastating to have a teenage girl roll her eyes at you in the way that only a teenage girl can roll her eyes at you. (All the girls in our class were very polite and well behaved, so instead of rolling their eyes at us, they would sometimes make meaningful eye contact with another student. Also devastating.)

It helps to learn their names quickly and address them directly to turn around and pay attention, for them to please take off their headphones, for them to stop using the computer for a minute. Watch how the teacher holds the room. It helps to put on your public speaking hat. Speak in a clear voice, make eye contact and don’t ever let them see you’re scared.

Three Ten4 team members address a class of year 9s

Speak in a clear voice, make eye contact and don’t ever let them see you’re scared

The room you’re in can make a big difference

What we had visualised before coming to the school, was that the kids would be able to move their tables around so that they could sit in groups and face each other during the discovery and brainstorming phases of the project. That might have been a little naive on our part. The room we actually ended up in had rows of tables, each with a computer on it. This is understandable — ’digital’ means ‘computers’ to lots of people. There was no option to move anything around, or to use any real table space.

For most brainstorming and collaboration this may have been the worst possible set up. Having a computer right there distracts, and it’s hard to write and draw when there’s limited surface to do this on. Next time we will know to tell the school what type of room we need, even if just for part of the day. If that’s not possible, we will have to come up with creative ways to hold effective brainstorming sessions in the room we’re given.

The computer room of an East London secondary school with rows of tables and monitors

Rows of computer monitors don’t make for a perfect collaboration space

Keep them away from PowerPoint

From the very beginning, despite the fact that we encouraged them not to, we saw PowerPoint presentations pop up with every single group. Of course the students were focussed on the fact that they had to present something at the end of the day. But we were caught off guard by how quick they were to pick out backgrounds, fonts and page transitions.

When we do another Digital Day, we will make sure that the students save the PowerPoints for the Delivery phase, or even help them think of alternative ways of presenting their ideas.

Add structure, then break it down, then break it down again

We came to the school armed with the assets and documentation given to us by BIMA and a general idea of how we would tackle each phase of the challenge. We broke the brief down and encouraged the students to pick one of the four key climate-centred behaviours: eating, consuming goods, travelling and using energy).

We started with a run-through of the three stages: discovery, design and delivery. Of course, none of us having worked with teenage students before, we quickly discovered that they would need more direction. As the day progressed, we became better at supporting them, parcelling phases into smaller tasks and setting clear goals and expectations for each.

If we could do it all again (and likely we will this year), we would know how to prepare for the day much better.

We would start off by breaking the different phases down into even smaller blocks, setting fixed amounts of time for brainstorming, researching and refining ideas accordingly. A quick brainstorming session with the whole class would be a great place to start, to have them get a feel for the process and see the types of questions we tend to ask our clients during research.

A quick brainstorming session with the whole class would be a great place to start

Because the BIMA brief came with the example of an app, the students were very quick to decide that they also wanted to make an app. For a next challenge, it would be helpful for us to collect some more ‘out of the box’ examples as well, to help the students really tap into their creativity and show that solutions to problems come from unexpected places.

For the design phase, we would again show examples of the ways an early idea can be illustrated. Moodboarding, wireframing, paper prototypes. We’d want to show that the value of an idea can be demonstrated in very simple designs, and that you don’t have to be great at drawing to do it.

The same for the presentation phase. It would have helped to give them more structure as to what purpose a presentation like this serves, what questions it should answer, and to save creating a PowerPoint for the very, very last stage. Or maybe even forgo PowerPoint altogether.

Ideas rule

We got to see the students work through several iterations of ideas, discarding dead-end concepts, pushing themselves to come up with something even better. Really getting stuck into the brief. They came up with some great concepts:

  • A travel booking app that promotes low emission travel over cheap, dirty flights.
  • A peer-to-peer clothing rental app to reduce fast-fashion (this one was voted best by the class).
  • A smart food-waste caddy that tells your supermarket what food you waste most often.
  • An app and points system to help you buy food with fewer food-miles.
  • A labelling and advocacy campaign to alert supermarkets when you are willing to accept odd-shaped fruit and veg in your online shop.

We thoroughly enjoyed our first outing at BIMA Digital Day. Perhaps it’s no surprise that we learned as much (if not more than) the students we worked with. I would definitely do it again, this time with more confidence and more planning!

Exterior of Eden Girls’ School, Waltham Forest

Hopefully we gave the girls a good snapshot of how challenging, fun and rewarding a career in digital can be. There are so many different disciplines working together to create digital products and services: creative, design, user experience, research, project management, coding and technical development … the list goes on. As BIMA research shows, agencies of all sizes up and down the UK need young people to get excited about digital.

If the students of Eden Girls School are any indication of what’s coming our way, we’ll be in good hands.

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