In times when one in three children has their own tablet, programmes such Apps for GoodCoderDojo and Code Club are enabling digital natives to become makers of their very own digital experiences.

Child building a digital circuit with LittleBits

Girl building a digital circuit with littleBits

Shifting the roles from consumers to makers is something that has been well received by children of all ages starting as early as age five. It only takes a quick visit to the search engine of your choice to find amazing success stories of children designing and developing their very own mobile apps. What is even more impressive is that these apps are not only mobile games but also apps that solve daily challenges faced by their community as well.

For the last two years I have been an expert and judge for the award winning education programme Apps for Good. Teaching UX Design in the classroom, and judging the polished ideas in the dragon’s den, combined with my very own experience raising two digital natives, has enabled me to get a full 360-degree view of what it takes to inspire children to become app makers.

The first thing worth noting is that the raise of mobile devices has significantly impacted children’s ability to interact with technology and as a consequence their interest in producing this very same technology. Before the children’s apps boom, children in particular the younger ones, depended on their parents to go to a computer store, purchase a educational or children’s game CD-ROM, then install it in a computer accessible to them. If children wanted to play with the software without any parental support, they needed to have the ability to turn on, log in into a computer and navigate through the computer interface to find their software by using a mouse. Nowadays, once a child is handed a mobile device, all those dependency are no longer there. I bet that most parents won’t be able to account for each and every app their children interact with on a daily basis. I personally have already lost count of the amount of times one of my children had impressed me with a scientific fact or problem solving skill which was later accredited to one of the apps they downloaded on their own device.

But despite being digital natives, how do we get the curiosity juices flowing when it comes to getting children to design and develop their very own mobile experiences? In order to answer this question I’m going to refer back to a lighting talk a gave at the Talk UX Conference in Manchester earlier this year, where I invited every UX Designer in the audience to think about the role we play in shaping the next generation of UX Designers.

During my talk I outlined five principles to inspire children to become makers and therefore shape the next generation of UX Designers. These five principles are:

  •       Evaluate the situation
  •       Join the conversation
  •       Get involved
  •       Give children a voice
  •       Be there for them

Here are a few thoughts on how to execute these principles.

Evaluate the situations

Before anything, I highly encourage you to find out what is the state of things from where you stand. The new UK curriculum introduced significant initiatives in the last few years regarding teaching computer programming to children. It is now required for children as young as five to learn the basics of computer programing such “understand what algorithms are; how they are implemented on digital devices, and how to create and debug simple programme”. I also encourage you to figure out if this is something you are passionate about.

Join the conversation

Once you have decided that this is a cause you are passionate about, find out the pressing issues and speak your mind. I surely did back in March when I challenged the emphasis the curriculum is putting into coding and not a holistic view and in particular UX Design.

Get involved

Join one of the amazing education programmes leading initiatives on enabling children to produce their very own software and hardware. There are many different types of volunteering positions, not all of them have to do with being in the classroom in front of children, which for many of us may be either a scary thought or not an option due to our full time jobs.

Here is a list of programmes you can join as a volunteer:

–          Apps for Good (http://www.appsforgood.org/)

–          Code Club (https://www.codeclub.org.uk/)

–          CoderDojo (https://coderdojo.com/)

–          MozFest (https://www.mozillafestival.org)

Give children a voice

We all have something to learn from the Mozilla Foundation which has done an incredible job giving digital natives their very own space and voice in this digital revolution. One of their best initiatives is the Mozilla Festival, an annual hands-on festival (affectionately known as MozFest) dedicated to forging the future of the open Web. This festival, which is open to children of all ages, has been designed so that children that attend are as busy as the adults. During the three day festival, children are expected to go from session to session and learn with hands-on activities lead by facilitators that come up with comprehensive sessions to get children mesmerized by technology.

Be there for them

If you decide that face to face interaction with children is the right thing for you, don’t get turn off by the commitment that it may take.  Some programs requires you to go to schools to tutor pupils, however there are other programs where all you need to do is just get on a video conference call for an hour or less and this can all be done in the comfort of your office or home.

Back in October, I invited the Apps for Good Expert of the year, Sophie Freiermuth, to share with the UX for Change community what is like to be an expert for the programme. In this video Sophie shares her experience, how she got into the program and a few tips on how to make the best of it.

I hope these principles inspire some food for thought. What is key to remember is that there are fantastic opportunities out there to get involved where you can share the goodness UX with digital natives.

Finally, let’s not underestimate the benefits of participating in these educational programmes from a UX practitioner point of view. I have become a better UX designers since I started sharing my skills with children. Just to give you a tangible example, while preparing a session to teach UX in a classroom full of eight and nine years old, I came up with a paper prototyping technique that has been highly acclaimed by UX Communities in London and Madrid, and which I will be sharing in a Mobile UX London Conference workshop on November 20, 2015.

 

Sandra is the founder of UX for Change, a platform where UX practitioners come together to Share the Goodness of UX to Change the World, by enabling non-profit organisations and the public sector to design user centric experiences.

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