Mission Discovery was out of this world

The space dust has now settled on Ayrshire’s first ever Mission Discovery programme and what an event it was.

200 Ayrshire secondary school pupils and college students came together for the week-long space school, where they worked in teams to create space experiments.

Under the guidance of the International Space School Educational Trust (ISSET) team that included former NASA astronaut Michael Foale CBE, they challenged themselves to think creatively and work as part of a cohesive team.

Using our social media content from across the week, here’s a round-up of exactly what happened at Mission Discovery Ayrshire 2016.


With our teams in place and mentors briefed, ISSET Director Chris Barber got the show on the road at our Ayr campus!

The Mission Discovery Ayrshire participants were split into 24 teams and their first mission was to come up with team names.

We then had the first sighting of our astronaut! Michael Foale CBE, a recently retired veteran of six Space Shuttle missions and extended missions on both Mir and the International Space Station, spoke to the teams about his journeys into space and the importance of communicating with every member of the team.

Monday 3

Suitably inspired, the teams then got to work on designing a ‘Mission Patch’ to go with their team name. A Mission Patch is a symbol that represents a space team and is an integral part of any space mission.

The Ayrshire College Foundation had tasked primary schools across Ayrshire to design the Mission Patch for Mission Discovery Ayrshire 2016, with Mauchline Primary School’s Kaitlyn Lodge designing the pick of the bunch.

Sarah Murray, NASA’s Assistant Chief of EVA, Robotics & Crew Systems, then gave her first presentation to the group on the importance of teamwork and making sure everyone in the team has their voice heard.

In the afternoon the teams were told they would take part in an experiment called ‘The Mars Lander’. This involved using different objects to safely transport an egg from the top of the Riverside Building of the Ayr campus to the ground. Safely of course meaning that the egg was not to smash.

The groups were given an egg, a balloon, one sheet of A4 paper, a pair of scissor and a ruler to make their Mars lander. They could buy further materials but the winners would be the team who spent the least amount of dollars to land their egg, so they couldn’t be reckless.

After creating their Mars landers, there was only one thing left to do. Throw them off the top of a building.

To finish off the day, the teams were shown actual footage of Michael’s time in space as he talked about what makes a great space experiment.


Day two began with a glimpse into how Michael became an astronaut, featuring tales of living in Russia, meeting President Bill Clinton and how to have fun in space.

After hearing about Michael’s time on board the Russian Mir Space Station when an unmanned supply vessel crashed into it – described this week as the ‘worst collision in the history of space flight’ by the BBC – the groups were tasked with writing a short story about the experience.

Tuesday 3

After a few selfies with their new hero Michael Foale, the teams then heard from Dr Julie Keeble, ISSET’s Chief Scientist, who explained the criteria for experiments at the Space Station.

The teams got to work on formulating their experiment ideas – with the assistance of Michael, Julie and Sarah – before hearing Professor Steve Harridge’s presentation on an astronaut’s muscles in space, via Skype.


Halfway through the week now and the teams were hearing all about the International Space Station, where the winning experiment from this week would be carried out by real astronauts. Michael provided the guided tour as he explained where everything was stored, where the astronauts worked out and even how they slept in space. This was followed by a Q&A, surprisingly featuring plenty of questions about going to the toilet in space…

Wednesday 1

At this stage, most of the teams had proposed two or three ideas each, and this was the day that the teams decided on which of their ideas they would be pitching at the end of the week.

After working on their experiments for a while, the teams took part in the Skittles Challenge.

Wednesday 2

This experiment proved the importance that the sense of smell has on taste. Most people were unable to guess which colour of skittle they had in their mouth when they had their eyes shut and their nose pinched. Within a split second of breathing in through their nose though, everyone knew which flavour they had.

A couple of team members who guessed correctly when at their tables were invited to do it again in front of everyone – unfortunately both participants were incorrect when the pressure was on!

Wednesday 3

To conclude the day, the teams broke up into classrooms for the first time to really get to work on their experiments, before joining back together for a showing of One Direction’s Drag Me Down video. Why? Because it was filmed at the Johnson Space Center!


The final day before the presentations. But before they all went off to their classrooms, Ayrshire College’s Developing the Young Workforce Project Lead, Kirsty Taylor, spoke to the groups about Foundation Apprenticeships.

A Foundation Apprenticeship is for S5 pupils and gives them the opportunity to learn both at college and in the workplace to achieve an industry recognised vocational qualification alongside their other school subjects.

Thursday 1

Michael then delivered his final presentation – Earth from Space!

Thursday 2

The main part of the day was taken up by working on their experiments. They weren’t completely left to their own devices though – they could ask Michael, Julie or Sarah a question if they were stuck.


Finally, we were at presentation day.

Teams were divided into rooms where two judges would hear their initial presentations. Once each team had delivered their idea within the 8 minute time limit, the judges deliberating over which six would make it to the final stage.

Team 2 (with their experiment ‘Nanoparticles’), Team 3 (‘Enzyme reaction experiment’), Team 10 (‘Foam to treat internal bleeding’), Team 14 (‘The speed of slime mould on different materials), Team 19 (‘Flatworm freefall’), and Team 23 (‘Investigating Krill in space’) were announced as the finalists.

The final stage involved delivering their presentations in front of the judges again, but also the 23 other teams at Mission Discovery Ayrshire.

Team 10 got us underway, while Team 14 finished.

And it turned out to be a case of saving the best until last as Team 14, made up of James Abbott, Pip Abramson, Laura Borthwick, Dylan Goldie, Robyn McMahon, Jas McNee, Lynne Mitchell, Ania Myskowska, triumphed!

Friday 3

Their idea will go to the International Space Station within the next year.

In a final treat before the Mission Discovery Ayrshire participants finished for the week, another Skype call was made – this time to Jay Honeycutt, the former Director of the Kennedy Space Centre! Jay had been involved in the Moon landing, so obviously the students were keen to ask him questions about that.

Friday 4

After final presentations were made to the mentors who had helped out across the week and to the primary school pupils who had won the design competitions – that was that! Mission Discovery Ayrshire 2016 was over, with ISSET’s Chris Barber declaring it one of the best programmes they have ever been involved in!

Friday 5


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Spotlight on women in computing – Claire Beattie

Claire Beattie 2Claire Beattie works as a service desk analyst for brightsolid, an award winning company which provides data centre and cloud services. In this article, Claire shares her passion for computing and hopes it will inspire other young women into the digital sector.

In school I really enjoyed Computing and Technology Studies, however, as no girls took these classes I didn’t take them and I ended up taking Office Information Studies and learned to touch type. We did a test in high school with a series of questions that would determine the right job for you, to help us pick what we would like to do for work experience. I was given fishmonger as my top job! I hate fish and could think of nothing worse! I ended up doing office work.

I was in my 20’s when I decided to finally study what actually interested me. I wasn’t happy working in administration – I found it boring. I was given an old computer which I took to a local repair shop and they advised me that it would need a better CPU (Central Processing Unit) and more RAM (memory). These terms meant nothing to me, but I was curious. I learned how to install these in my own computer and couldn’t believe how easy it was! I felt a great sense of achievement. This was a huge deal to me and I knew then that this was what interested me.

I started at college doing NC Digital Media, which was a fantastic introduction to just about everything you could think of. I did a bit of programming with Visual Basic, basic web design, Microsoft Office applications, Microsoft Desktop/Server support and computer networking. I thoroughly enjoyed this course and it showed me that my strengths were with computer networking, and not with hardware and programming like I hoped. I then completed HND Computer Networking and my CCNA, which is the foundation Cisco certificate.

At brightsolid, I’m a Service Desk Analyst and here is what I actually do in my job.

I’m the first point of contact for all of our customers, and internal support for our colleagues. Some days I could be dealing with run of the mill issues like helping with customer changes, then the next day we could have a serious issue regarding a customer’s service which means we are all hands on deck to resolve the problem as quickly as possible.

The coolest part of my job is being able to work on and learn daily about different things. I find technology interesting and being able to learn something new every day is probably what is best for me. But what about you? Could a career in the digital sector be for you too?

Just look at the technological advances the world has made in the last 30 years? We have the internet for a start! Without that you wouldn’t have your social media and be able to share your endless selfies, hashtags, pictures of your food and share cat videos! Now we are using our phones to take pictures, videos, text, facetime, email, use social media, banking and shopping – the list goes on. Then there’s gaming. Everyone’s a gamer these days, from Candy Crush on a mobile/tablet, to people who use Steam or a games console.

All of these cool things that we take for granted every day have people behind the scenes making it possible.

You need networking engineers around the world to create and administer the complex networks that create the internet, this is what allows us to connect with one another.

We need server engineers to make sure that our servers are up and running smoothly, our data is safe and for simple things like maintaining our gaming servers. Server and networking engineers that maintain our gaming servers, and the connections to them, limit the amount of times we are screaming about ‘lag’ and ‘glitches’ when playing Call of Duty and I, for one, am extremely grateful.

We need programmers to write all of the programs for the websites/social media applications/games that we use daily, and then there are games designers. The people who design all of the game content for things such as GTA V, or the likes of Until Dawn. Games are becoming more and more lifelike, through the amazing art that is possible with the use of computers and the fantastic software created to make it possible.

I was just speaking to someone today about the oculus rift. Virtulisation is becoming possible now. Virtual gaming? I mean wow! How cool would that be? Let’s remember how excited people got about the Nintendo Wii, as you could use the remote and fitness board to physically take part. Now we can immerse ourselves fully into our games. This would have taken people who understand hardware, software, programming and game design to make a single device. Albeit a really cool device of which I’m sure every home will have, much like a home computer.

How cool would it be to be a part of something like the creation of the oculus rift? The latest computer game? Or to be behind the scenes, like me, helping everything tick over so that we can take advantage of what we now see as normal?

The digital sector is just going to grow and grow. IT jobs are paid well and the more you learn, the more you can do and the more your salary will increase. Working in IT can give you a level of flexibility, although the internet never sleeps – everyone wants to be connected at all times of the day, which means there needs to be people out there on hand to support them. If you were to work in an office, administering its internal IT, then you might be a bit flexible during office hours. However, if you work for a Data Centre like me, we need staff to be readily available all day every day.

According to economists, there is lack of young people interested in computing, meaning that that we don’t have enough people going into the growing IT sector. The government believes that part of this to be due to the lack of girls interested, as working in the IT industry is seen as predominantly a man’s job.

I would say to any girls reading this article – if technology or computing interests you, go for it! Don’t be put off due to the lack of girls taking a course you like the sound of, and don’t give into peer pressure to go for the supposed ‘norm’ of being a beautician, hairdresser, nurse – or like me, an office administrator! I’m in no way having a go at people who have/are taking these courses or that work in these fields. My point is that you need to do something that interests you.

People think that computing is for geeks. Well, given that being a geek is now becoming cool/trendy, there is no better time to jump on board! Do you think that Bill Gates cared about being a geek when he created the Windows operating system and is one of the richest men in the world? Do you think that Steve Jobs cared about being a geek when every teen in the world seemed have an iPhone? And do you think that Mark Zuckerberg cares that he is a geek given how widely used Facebook is and how wealthy he is? Without them, home computing wouldn’t be as it is today, and we wouldn’t have the social media network or the convenience of using it on the move.

I hope to be working as a networking engineer in 5 years time, although I’m not sure in which capacity yet as there are different avenues I can take. I’m thinking of going down the route of internet security, but I guess I’ll just have to wait and see what becomes available to me and what interests me the most!


Meet Lauren Brock, HNC Computer Games Development student

Lauren Brock (2)Lauren Brock studied physics at university after leaving school, but changed direction with her career, opting to study computer games development at Ayrshire College. We asked Lauren about her journey into the gaming industry.

What did you do before going to college?

At secondary school, my interests were always geared towards animation. I started studying physics at university, but quickly realised it wasn’t what I wanted to do.

I was more interested in finding out what happens ‘behind the scenes’ of games, the art of CGI and graphics.

I took a few years off to start a family, but always knew I’d go back to pursuing a computer games career, so 5 years later I started the HNC Computer Games Development at Ayrshire College.

What attracted you to a career in computing?

I see gaming as a blend of technical knowledge, problem solving and creativity – which really appeals to me. I think there’s a notion that working in gaming is all about the design side of things, but there’s so much more to it.

You’d be amazed how many different jobs go into producing a computer game. The wide range of jobs available really appeals to me.  RAISING ASPIRATIONS | INSPIRING ACHIEVEMENT | INCREASING OPPORTUNITIES

Meet Shireen Robb, HND Technical Support student

Shireen RobbAfter starting at the College on the uniformed services course, Shireen Robb had wanted to become a police officer but health reasons prevented her from pursuing this. We asked Shireen why she chose to get into computing instead.

What attracted you to a career in computing?

It seemed the next natural option for me. I’ve always liked working with computers and liked finding out about new technology, so I decided to start with the NC Digital Media course, which led to me getting into the technical support side of the industry.

What has been the highlight of the course for you so far?

I’ve just got back from an educational trip to Disneyland Paris, which was fantastic. I was able to relate subjects I have learned during my time at college, and see how they are used in the real working environment – all in the Disneyland setting!

It was an opportunity to look at the way computing is used in the theme park industry. This was not something that would have crossed my mind before, but the amount of computing involved was amazing – everything from data security, motion, lighting, safety and special effects.

It was also really good to mix with students from other computing courses at the college too. As well as a great trip, I’ve made new friends.

What would you say to encourage young girls to think about a career in computing?

One of the things I’ve found with a career in computing is that there are so many doors to open and explore. There’s so many different aspects to the industry and so much involved, that the options are vast. I like to have a choice and there’s definitely that!

What’s coming up next for you?

I’ve got an interview soon with Dell in Glasgow as a Technical Support Associate. Long term, I’d really like to progress and get more industry accreditations.


23 years and still learning!

gillian dochertyGillian Docherty is Chief Executive of The Data Lab. She has over 23 years’ experience working in the IT sector and is responsible for delivering the strategic vision of The Data Lab , the aim of which is to create over 250 new jobs and to generate more than £100 million to Scotland’s economy.The Data Lab is one of eight innovation centres funded by the Scottish Funding Council and it supports the development of new data science capabilities in Scotland.

Working in the technology industry for almost 23 years, every day I learn something new.  The pace of change has increased significantly and technology is changing everyone’s lives.  The way we interact with our bodies, our friends and family, our doctors, our peers and colleagues is changed by technology advances and, with the internet of things, connected fridges and washing machines are on the way.   In fact, it is predicted that there will be 20.8 billion connected ‘things’ by 2020.

I will share some of my journey to my current role as Chief Executive of The Data Lab and some of the fantastic opportunities I have had along the way and those I think are still to come.

When I was at school there were no computing courses until I was in my 6th year, but I really enjoyed sciences, maths and problem solving so it was a natural progression to take a module in computing when it became available.  I was excited about the new opportunities computing enabled but wasn’t as visionary as Steve Jobs unfortunately.  I followed that course by taking Computing at university and secured a graduate role at IBM. If I’m really honest, I wasn’t fully aware how important that decision was and how a whole world of opportunity would open up.

I started with IBM in Portsmouth, which seemed such a long way from Glasgow at the time, but I enjoyed joining with a graduate cohort where there was as many women as men. We had a lot of fun, the jobs were varied and we had lots of opportunity to move around and experience new departments. My role was as a technical specialist supporting systems from IBM and their clients, and the teams I worked in were some of the best in the world at what they did. So I had a great grounding in systems which ran FTSE 100 businesses.

I then took the opportunity to spend 3 months in IBM’s Almaden lab in San Jose when Silicon Valley was full of semi-conductor and manufacturing capabilities. Coming home an expert in a particular IBM product, I was asked to work directly with customers in IBM’s sales teams. I found getting to know different clients every day, understanding their problems and challenges really excited me and kept me motivated to keep learning and deliver value to the clients.  

Working in London and Edinburgh I supported many clients, coached and mentored many new colleagues and every day was enthused by the possibilities of technology and I was amazed as it changed the world a little bit every day.  For the last few years before joining The Data Lab I ran various parts of IBM’s business in Scotland including the hardware and software businesses – growing those businesses and building the right teams to support our clients.

In 2015 I had the possibility to make a big change, so after 22 years with IBM I resigned to join The Data Lab as chief executive. The Data Lab is an innovation centre helping Scottish businesses leverage the opportunity of data science and analytics with the intent of driving economic growth and high value jobs. 

The opportunity to make a fundamental change to the Scottish landscape and work with some many diverse industry partners both in size and focus was too good to turn down. Each and every day I speak with new start-ups, to growing scale-out companies to large global corporates and evangelise about the possibilities leveraging data in new ways can open up.

You may be wondering what I mean by data science and analytics so a few examples may help.

Netflix is a data driven business, and a recent example of their data analysis drove what House of Cards trailer you may have seen. They created 10 trailers and you will have seen the trailer that was most relevant to you based on your viewing habits. They collect billions of data points every day and build algorithms to analyse everything you do and recommend new shows and also show you the most suitable and attractive trailers for shows that may be of interest.

IBM’s Watson (a cognitive system) was created as part of a research project in 2011, and its first outing was to win the US game show Jeopardy. It is now working with oncologists helping analyse and understand more complex cancer cases, ingesting data from every research paper, clinical trial and previous case histories.  It helps oncologists diagnose complex cancer cases and recommend treatment pathways.

New Scottish startup Sansibles has developed ‘LiveSkin’ intelligent sensors for use in contact sports such as rugby. The sensors are fitted in players’ shoulder pads to capture data from collisions on the playing field. The data can then be wirelessly transferred in real-time to a specially designed app that sport coaches, physiotherapists and medics can use to monitor the force exerted by the athletes in a tackle or a scrummage, as well as examine how their bodies recover from injury. This information can be used to improve training regimes and rehabilitation programmes to better reflect how players recuperate.

Every day I come across Scottish companies using data in new and innovative ways and I am extremely positive about the opportunities to get involved in some exciting projects. Every day I continue to learn and appreciate how technology and data in particular is changing every aspect of our life.

Find out more about The Data Lab in this short film

Bringing Virtual Reality to the classroom

Russell Wilson, Learning Technologist

Hi, and welcome to April’s Learning Technology blog post. Remember back in the early 1990’s when most people’s perception of Virtual Reality was that of entering a world similar to the 1992 film ‘The Lawnmower Man’? Subsequently, what people think about the term ‘virtual reality’ (VR) is that they imagine a scene where somebody is wired up to a computer wearing an odd helmet and making weird movements in the air. However, in 2016, things could start to get a little different …

First off some major companies are backing the use of Virtual Reality from a consumer standpoint this year. Already released and available to purchase are Samsung’s Gear, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, with Playstation releasing its version later in the year.

So why are we telling you about VR? Well, the fact is this form of technology has many applications now, and in the future, for the learning environment. Just as the use of iPads in the classroom far exceeded expectations, VR could go the same way. At a school in the Czech Republic pupils have taken part in a ground-breaking experiment. Instead of paper and pens they used VR and gesture control to drop them into a fascinating, immersive and educational experience. Take a look …

Nearpod which is a classroom iPad app already available to the staff at Ayrshire College via the Learning Resource Centre’s iPads in a box, and the company behind them is backing the launch of virtual reality lessons in Schools across the US. Take a look at the full article here: Virtual Reality Learns How to Get Into the Classroom

As a tool for the classroom many of the statistics have yet to be gathered, but what is clear is the thirst from students to utilise technology in the classroom and the benefit they get from this. VR tools have already been used to collaboratively to construct architectural models, recreations of historic or natural sites and other spatial renderings.

Lecturers have used VR technology to engage students in topics related to literature, history and economics by offering a deeply immersive sense of place and time, whether historic or evolving, to take them to places related to their studies that are inaccessible in real life. Such as Space, the inside of a Nuclear Reactor or an inhospitable part of the planet.

Knowing this our department has invested in some affordable VR to start researching and piloting any applications that may be beneficial to our students and staff. VR headsets that can be used with smartphones are a cost effective way of starting to embrace this technology. We now have these in our college.4These are also available from Amazon just now but if anyone wishes to try an even cheaper alternative then perhaps Google Cardboard is for you.

Or take a leaf out of McDonalds and Coca-Colas book and create VR headsets from their packaging:

“Coca-Cola has not yet released their cardboard virtual reality headset, but McDonalds has. If you didn’t know this existed it is probably because it is only available in Sweden. They, much like Google and Coca-Cola, have produced a virtual reality device that is centered around cardboard. McDonalds, however, produces theirs with Happy Meal boxes. For a limited time only, they are offering this to their customers in Sweden. They are dubbed Happy Goggles, and they are created by tearing off a specific part of the box and folding it. After that, VR lenses are inserted and then it can be used with a smartphone.”

We hope you have enjoyed this brief introduction to this newest incarnation of VR and we do hope to demonstrate some applications for lessons soon. 2016 so far does seem to be the year that VR will make an impact on the world.

In the meantime if you wish to see the VR in action or want to know more about its practical applications for the classroom please contact the Learning Technology team at moodle@ayrshire.ac.uk.

Google IT – Do Cool Things That Matter!

At Google, the staff (Googlers) solve complex problems every day in a mission is to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible. What is it like to work for an organisation like Google and what kind of jobs do they actually do? We caught up with Heather Traher, Senior User Experience Researcher who works in the San Francisco office to find out more about her job and what it’s like to work for Google.

What do you actually do?

My job involves researching how people use technology, and looking for opportunities to make it easier and more helpful for Google’s tools to fit into their lives. Sometimes this means just interviewing people, or going out in the field and observing how they work or do things at home. Other times it’s testing out new ideas and prototypes in a research lab before they are turned into real products for the general public. There’s also surveys and other research tools that feed into how Google thinks about product development. I focus on qualitative research, which is the “why” side of things that complements the “what” that we can see in user logs.

How has your career taken shape between leaving school and now?

After school I did a degree in fine arts. From there I started working in interactive design firms, and was exposed to user research from a colleague practising in the field a few years out of uni. I was really inspired, and was mentored on the job to transition my career into doing research full time.

What attracted you to a career in technology?

It wasn’t something I pictured myself doing when I was applying for university, but during my time studying new media I started coding HTML and doing other things like that to complete my art projects. I became really interested in how people use technology, and how design can make people’s lives better.

What would you say to encourage girls and young women to think about a career in technology?

Girls can do a lot to help other girls – look for a professional mentor who can help answer your questions. Don’t be afraid to build things based on your own ideas! Google is a great workplace for women. Google empowers women to succeed by providing academic scholarships to future leaders in technology and supporting employee resource groups like Women@Google.

If someone had an ambition to work for Google where can they find out about careers?

Google has over 70 offices in more than 40 countries and is always hiring somewhere! Current positions are online at www.google.com/careers. In the UK there are offices in Manchester and London. The company also runs a robust internship program that students can apply for while studying for a degree, masters or PHD courses. If you fancy being a Googler and working for one of the coolest organisations in the world, check out our website and learn about our teams https://www.google.co.uk/about/careers/teams/

People have taken all kinds of paths to get a job with Google. You can start right here in Ayrshire by enrolling on one of our computing courses http://www1.ayrshire.ac.uk/courses/all-courses/business-and-computing/?duration=Full_Time



Guest post – Why coding is the new must have creative skill!

At a recent meeting of BCSWomen, Ayrshire College vice principal Jackie Galbraith met a young web developer, Carole Rennie Logan, who works at a digital agency in Glasgow. Jackie was a developer 25 years ago and was interested to hear from Carole how things have (or haven’t) changed for women in the computing industry in a quarter of a century. Sadly, Carole confirmed that being a female developer is still a bit like being part of an endangered species! 

However, Carole is determined to change this and mentors at CoderDojo computer coding clubs in Glasgow, where she makes coding skills available to people who wouldn’t usually get the chance to learn them. Carole is particularly enthusiastic about encouraging more girls into science, technology, engineering and maths.  

Read what Carole has to say.

Coding has quite rightly been attracting more attention in the last few years as an essential skill in an ever more techy world. But it’s still often pitched only to people who are into science, maths and engineering – and not to creatives.

Yet, arguably, coding is becoming the essential creative skill to have. 

How often do you hear “there should be an app for that” or “I have a cool idea for a website”? Most people have to leave it there as they don’t know where to start in bringing these ideas to life. With coding skills you can turn your cool idea into a reality!

When people picture a developer they often picture someone in the movies watching 1’s and 0’s fly across the screen, not a typical creative type. Being a web developer, I am guilty of describing myself as “just the developer, I didn’t do the design … I’m not that creative”. 

This needs to change. Developers have the new must have creative skill – coding!

Personally, I think the most valuable skills in knowing how to code is not being expert in a specific language, but learning and having the desire to pick up new skills. You may not have experience in building a phone app or the language used for this but, if you know the concepts of programming which are usually the same across languages, you just need to learn the syntax. So, if your awesome idea needs to know a language or framework you haven’t used before, you can do some research and have a play around with it until you can build what you need.

This is why coding clubs like CoderDojo are so important as they give young people the opportunity to learn and share their ideas with other coders. One of my favourite things about being a CoderDojo mentor is seeing the ideas that people have and how they just throw themselves into coding without the fear of “what if I break it?” that sometimes we adults suffer from. 

So, let’s encourage people who shy away from ‘geeky’ things in favour of more traditional arty hobbies to give programming a try – it might just be the tool to turn their vision into reality!

Want to find out about other women challenging gender imbalance in the digital world? 

Loraine Johnston leads on our computing curriculum at the College and established CoderDojo Ayrshire in November 2014 in partnership with CoderDojo Scotland. Like Carole, she mentors young coders and runs coding clubs all over Ayrshire throughout the year.

Dr Claire Quigley is a Project Officer for CoderDojo Scotland at the Glasgow Science Centre, where she supports the CoderDojo network of computer coding clubs for young people across Scotland. She worked in partnership with Loraine to establish Coderdojo Ayrshire.

On a mission to get more girls and women into computing

Jackie Galbraith is Vice Principal for Strategy, Planning and Performance at Ayrshire College. She started her career in computing in 1988 as a programmer in the manufacturing industry. Here, she reflects on this week’s activity around International Girls in ICT Day.

Spotlight on women in computing

Ayrshire College is on a mission to challenge gender stereotypes in career and learning choices!

We take every opportunity to encourage females into male-dominated subjects and they don’t come much more male-dominated than computing! For example, each year we run a week-long campaign around Girls in ICT Day to promote and encourage women in and into computing. This year, throughout the week we heard from women who have forged a career in computing – in industry from Maggie Morrison, Caroline Stuart and Jean McInnes; and in education from Loraine Johnston and Lynsey O’Connor. Maggie, Caroline and Jean highlighted the variety of jobs they have had throughout their careers in computing and the many benefits they have experienced like travel, high salaries and flexibility. We also showcased women at the start of their careers in ICT – 19 year old apprentice Lisa Watson, as well as Ayrshire College mature students Jean Anderson and Carol Maguire, who talked about the life-changing possibilities offered by a career in ICT.

Throughout my technical career, I was completely unaware that women had played pioneering roles in the history of computing. When I was doing my degree in the 1980s, I was introduced to programming languages like Ada and Cobol but had no idea of their association with female computing pioneers! Our first blog post this week introduced readers to Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper, a couple of the forgotten women in computing. In her blog post, Dr Hannah Dee reminded us that until the 1970s computing attracted equal numbers of men and women.

It was good to see media coverage during the week about a forthcoming comic book about Ada Lovelace by graphic artist and illustrator Sydney Padua. Padua uses her humour and art to demonstrate the extraordinary contribution of a young woman born 200 years ago, long before the first computer was invented! Find out more at  http://www.biography.com/news/ada-lovelace-facts-book-sydney-padua. It was also good to learn about another connection between art and computing with 22 year old fashion model Karlie Kloss who aspires to be a computer programmer. Listen to Karlie here http://youtu.be/Bwiln7v0fdc.

Coding for girls

Hannah Dee, Maggie Morrison and Caroline Stuart all talked in their blog posts about the declining numbers of women who choose to study or work in computing. Hannah described some of the activity taking place across the UK with schools to stimulate and maintain interest in computing amongst young people, particularly girls. CoderDojo is part of a global network of free computer coding clubs for young people. With no coding experience necessary, the club aims to promote computer science and technology in a fun, thought-provoking and inspiring way, encouraging young people to consider studying computing and recognise the rewarding opportunities available in the rapidly expanding ICT industry. Building on a strong partnership with CoderDojo Scotland, Ayrshire College hosted two all-girls computer coding clubs this week. One was an after-school club for first year pupils (12 year olds) at Irvine Royal Academy; the other took place at the college with primary school girls. Here’s what some of the girls had to say:

13 year old Irvine Royal Academy pupil, Carmen Wilson said “I was never really into computing before, but the CoderDojo club made it fun and interesting.”

8 year old Mia Hay from Dunlop said “I loved it, it was really cool. I want to come back!”

There is no doubt that there is real enthusiasm and interest amongst girls at an early age – we need to tap into that enthusiasm and find ways of translating that interest into more girls choosing computing subjects at school, college and university. However, there are some obstacles to overcome.


Look out for unconscious bias

In his blog post, Colin Crook talked about unconscious bias and the risks of unintentionally reinforcing negative stereotypes about men and women in computing. In the week that Microsoft pledged its support to the CoderDojo Foundation as part of its YouthSpark initiative, it was disappointing that a well-intentioned video used to promote coding clubs reinforced the male stereotype associated with computing (http://youtu.be/2n7dYz9E7Io). Of the 25 people interviewed in this video – young people, teachers, technologists and politicians – only 3 were female! This unconscious bias perpetuates the myth that ‘computing’s not for me’.

Converting initiatives into systemic change

I started in computing nearly 30 years ago at a time when women had started to abandon computing. In the three decades since then there have been waves of initiatives to attract girls and women into IT – thousands of well-meaning initiatives, yet the proportion of women in computing is at its lowest level since the 1970s. If we really want to tackle the lack of girls and women in STEM, we need to focus on systemic, cultural change that builds on the many good initiatives. This is the approach Ayrshire College plans to take.

Watch this space!


Guest post – Colin Crook on making STEM smarter

Colin Crook is working with a range of organisations to run the inaugural SMART STEMs event in Glasgow on 3 June 2015. On International Girls in ICT Day, he shares his thoughts on why it is so important for more girls and women to influence STEM areas like computing.

Why bother?

colinThis is written by a man who works in IT, a man who has always worked in IT, for IBM. I work mainly with men – in my own company and in my customers’ companies. You might be wondering why I care about the number of women working in IT?

The answer is that more women makes the industry better, the economy better and ultimately it makes people’s lives better. We need to do more to harness one of the Scotland’s most valuable assets. While there are many good initiatives to encourage more girls and women into computing, we need to do more to address the deficit – not just for IT but for all STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) areas. If we do this, we stand on the verge of something truly magnificent. Although my focus here is on IT, what I am saying holds equal validity for all STEM subjects.

More women makes good business sense

Reading my sweeping statements above, you may be thinking “yeah, how?” You might even be thinking “but, why?” I believe that women working in the IT industry can only be a good thing. It has been proven consistently that mixed gender teams work better than male dominated ones as reported in this New York Times article http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/18/opinion/sunday/why-some-teams-are-smarter-than-others.html. This translates not only into more work getting done, but more importantly better quality work.

Naturally, this has a positive impact on a company’s financial performance. According to research carried out by Catalyst, companies with more women on their board can deliver up to 42% better return on sales than companies with fewer female board members (http://www.catalyst.org/media/companies-more-women-board-directors-experience-higher-financial-performance-according-latest). If companies want to be the best, improving the gender balance in their workforce appears to be a no brainer.

Women represent the single largest demographic when it comes to buying power (see http://www.digitalsherpa.com/blog/men-or-women-who-has-the-most-buying-power-and-why-2/). I am not saying that every woman is going to be some sort of marketing genius but having equal representation at all levels is only going to have positive payback. If we manage to address the gap we could boost the UK economy by £2.6 billion a year. These are some of the reasons why more women is beneficial to the IT industry and economy, but the question is how do we do it?

Addressing unconscious bias

Despite a large number and variety of initiatives over many years, there are fewer women working in the IT industry than ever before. Reasons given for this are that computing isn’t interesting to women or that women don’t want to work in computing environments. For me, these are both indicative of a larger problem of attitudes which are reinforced by unconscious bias, highlighted in this Guardian article http://www.theguardian.com/women-in-leadership/2014/may/01/unconscious-bias-women-holding-back-work.

This bias is that, through societal, cultural and familial interaction, we form beliefs of what is right, for instance “computing is a boys thing …” or “boys are just better with computers …” One of the effects of unconscious bias is that men will tend to hire men with a similar background, which leads to a lack of diversity in the workplace and a lack of female role models, which in itself is a self-defeating loop. We all need to work at a fundamental level to challenge our own opinions and biases, conscious or otherwise, to make a real impact.

SMART STEMs – helping young women into STEM

I am working with a group of people from Seric Systems and third sector organisations, Beyonder and Women in Enterprise Scotland, to organise and run an event called SMART STEMs. Fundamentally, SMART STEMs 2015 aims to inspire 12 to 18 year old girls to become the great thinkers and creators of tomorrow. You can lfind out more by watching some of the partners on this STV video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IA6JeVSSupk.

In the weeks leading up to the event, we are holding a competition to design wearable technology for athletes. If you or your school would like to take part, have a look at http://www.smartstems.co.uk/ or email us at hello@smartstems.co.uk. The event is on Wednesday 3 June at Glasgow Caledonian University and we hope to create opportunities that are both fulfilling and have a lasting impact.