Real-world software changing students’ career outlooks

Issue: Volume 97, Number 9

Posted: 23 May 2018
Reference #: 1H9iut

A software development project that’s designed by the students is as ‘real-world’ as it gets. The MiniDevs team at Newlands Intermediate comprises students and adult developers who are working with real budgets, real deadlines, and real outcomes.

Originally from New Jersey, digital technologies teacher Marianne Malmstrom has been in New Zealand for two years and came here because she believes in teaching students how to learn, not simply throwing content at them.

“I’ve been on a path for many years to try to answer the question, ‘how do we keep learning relevant’,” says Marianne. “I thought that you have some clues over here, and so I wanted to know more.”

Marianne says she was lucky to find Newlands Intermediate at a time when they were looking to formalise their digital technology programme, which is her area of specialty.

When Education Gazette visits, the Newlands Intermediate MiniDevs team is coming to order in Marianne’s classroom. The other adults in the room are Jim and Tim, ‘real-life’ software developers from the innovation lab at local company Theta.

But Jim and Tim aren’t here to lecture to an audience of aspiring developers – they’re part of the MiniDevs team, and what they’re working on isn’t just an exercise – it’s a real-world product for Microsoft’s augmented reality (or mixed reality) platform Hololens.

The MiniDevs team came about after a hackathon event that Marianne was involved with, where she found herself talking to Jim Taylor of Theta. Marianne’s idea gelled nicely with Jim’s plan to design a platform that would allow users to create pop-up mixed reality ‘museums’ using the Hololens – an idea that Marianne hoped would help schools move past content and focus on the learning that happens when students create their own content.

Marianne and Jim’s hackathon team ended up winning the event, and Jim realised there was an opportunity for students and Theta to work together. Theta agreed, and put up some development money, with the caveat that the students would be part of that development.

This is part of the Theta innovation lab philosophy: you don’t develop new technologies in a lab in isolation, you have to involve the end users. This commercial model sits very comfortably with Marianne’s pedagogical beliefs.

“This is a real product – whether it actually comes to fruition and is launched isn’t the point. The process is what we’re interested in, because this isn’t a game or an exercise. The entire process is incredibly authentic,” Marianne says.

“We’ve all come together in this space, the kids, the educators and the developers. With our three perspectives, we can create something much more robust and authentic.”

Jim, an emerging technologies architect at Theta, agrees wholeheartedly, and says he’s privileged to have the opportunity to experience the lateral and innovative thinking the MiniDevs have brought to the development table.

“It’s great to be able to come and work in the community and help these guys and girls understand what’s involved in the software process. But they’re also helping us, because we’re getting first-hand, invaluable input into the platform.

“The kids are really good at challenging you and introducing you to new ideas that maybe as a grown-up, somebody who’s a bit more formal in their thinking through years of working in the industry, might not have come up with. It really helps with the creative process, having that interaction.”

A voice in the software space

Their incredibly perceptive and erudite comments speak to the fact that the MiniDevs students know exactly what the project is about, and their role in it.

Year 9 student and MiniDevs member Samuel Davies says having Jim and Tim on their team has been really helpful.

“We can have our own input into a space that’s commonly only talked about by adults, telling us what they think is best. It’s really good having a voice in this space,” he says.

MiniDevs colleague Heena Sharma agrees.

“They’re actually helping us create something that we want to create. I just think that’s really nice.

“I always thought that a developer just meant coding things on a computer, but now I know that it’s a lot more than that, and you get to be a lot more creative, and really bring your ideas out to become reality. So yeah, I can see myself doing that.”

Oliver Bell thinks it just makes sense that Theta are collaborating with the MiniDevs.

“This product is primarily a platform for kids to make stuff, and possibly even adults. The input from the target audience is very good for them to model around that, and improve it.”

Learning, not content

Marianne says the MiniDevs project has been a great chance to further explore the Key Competencies aspect of The New Zealand Curriculum, which she was “blown away by” when she was first introduced.

“What I really appreciate about Newlands Intermediate is their focus and commitment to the Key Competencies. I can bring the knowledge that I’ve acquired from the States around digital technology learning design, and build a programme within the framework.”

“It’s not about content, it’s about the learning, this is a curriculum that’s looking at just that – it’s looking at the human nature of education. I think that’s very special.”

The collaboration between Newlands Intermediate and Theta is a good example of teaching and learning in line with the recently released Digital Technologies and Hangarau Matihiko curriculum content. This new content will ensure all learners have rich opportunities to build their knowledge and capabilities in digital technologies.

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BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 12:00 PM, 23 May 2018

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