Digital Making Educators: A look into the community

Raspberry Pi Certified Educator group

Since 2014 the Raspberry Pi Foundation has been building a community of educators committed to bringing digital making to young people. More than 1500 educators have now been through our Picademy training and become Raspberry Pi Certified Educators, creating a community across the UK, North America and the world who can tell us a lot about digital making in schools, libraries, youth clubs, museums and beyond. Each year we run an in depth survey to find out more about the work they are doing, the young people they are reaching and the challenges they face.

Originally published in Issue 5 of Hello World: The computing and digital making magazine for educators. Available free at helloworld.cc (Shared under Creative Commons CC BY NC SA).

The full report on our website has lots of interesting information about how people are using their training, but here we wanted to share some things we found out that might help other educators to see how their experiences compare with those of others.

Student interests

Educators told us about the interests of their students in different aspects of technology, and not surprisingly they rated this interest very highly. They report that students are more interested in using technology generally, and being creative with technology than specific skills like programming or physical computing. We think this shows the importance of framing the broad benefits of learning skills like programming, allowing students to work on using programming to solve problems they care about rather than teaching it as an abstract set of skills.

Qualifications

Only a third of the educators surveyed had a degree in computing, computer science or a similar subject. This is relatively low amongst a group of people who are providing lots of innovative experiences of computing and digital making to the young people they work with. Although technical knowledge is useful, educators who don’t have a degree in the subject should feel confident that they can also create similar opportunities for young people.

How are people teaching?

The most popular approach to teaching computing was visual programming, with 81% of educators surveyed using this compared to 72% using text based programming. Physical computing was also very popular with 73% of those surveyed using this approach, but only 1% reported using unplugged approaches to computing. Everyone has different areas they are confident in. While nearly 90% of educators we surveyed said they felt confident teaching programming, the more specific areas we asked about like visual or text based programming had less confidence reported. Computing is a big area and educators should feel OK that they are not confident in every area of it, many are still learning.

Languages and tools

We asked about programming languages and tools used, and it wasn’t surprising to see Scratch and Python dominating, with over 80% of educators using each of them. There is a long tail of languages though, with educators using everything from HTML/CSS and Javascript to C++, VisualBasic and even languages focused on creative and arts applications like Processing. There’s lots more information about languages and IDEs used by teachers in the full report.

Equipment challenges

One of the biggest challenges people reported was getting access to the equipment they need to cover different aspects of computing. Although it might sometimes look like everyone but you has access to the best equipment, many people are making do with small numbers of computers, Raspberry Pis or resources for physical computing. Some educators in our network have been using crowdfunding initiatives such as RocketFund to generate funding for more equipment. Others are innovating in the way they teach and rotating small groups around specialist equipment so that they can all cover physical computing.

Finding time

Another big challenge for educators is time, particularly the time it takes for them to learn new skills that they can pass on to their students. Even those who have been on training courses feel they need more time to focus on particular skills like mastering Python or Scratch. To support with this, we’ve created a range of online learning courses focusing on particular skills educators need. Over a four week course of a few hours per week, educators can further develop their skills, and share ideas and practice with other educators. There are lots of courses available at raspberrrypi.org/training/online.

Sharing the learning

It’s really interesting to see that people who have been on Raspberry Pi training are sharing what they have learned with many others. 75% have passed on their learning, but our survey seems to show they often focus on doing this at events such as TeachMeets and conferences outside of their organisation. We know that teachers sharing learning with their immediate colleagues through staff meetings, coaching, or planning together can have some of the biggest impact. We’d encourage educators who have had training on computing (or any subject area) to make a plan to share what they learn with their own colleagues. As well as spreading the impact of the training, it also gives you an opportunity to revisit and embed what you have learned. Planning with colleagues soon after training makes you commit to putting things into practice, before the busyness of the day to day routines take over again.

We found out so much from the educators we surveyed, if you were one of them thanks for your feedback. At the Raspberry Pi Foundation we’re using this to shape the work we do with educators, but we hope it’s useful for others to find out what is happening in the community.

You can read more from our survey of Raspberry Pi Certified Educators, as well as other research carried out by the Foundation at http://rpf.io/research.

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Also published on Medium.

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