The smartphone you hold in your hand is now more powerful than the NASA computers that put a man on the moon in 19691. So, with 1.8 million smart phones sold in New Zealand last year, we all have the tools to be digitally smarter. So thinks Dila Beisembayeva, Unitec lecturer in computing, who wants to turn her students into creators of technology not just passive users.
“Pretty much every kid has a smart phone these days and although they know how to use it and to download apps, most don’t know how to create new things.”
Dila’s approach is consistent with the new digital technologies curriculum which will be introduced into all New Zealand schools from next year. The idea behind this move is that we need to progress beyond being fluent operators of digital technology to understanding and creating digital advances.
“Many schools have great hardware available for their students – fantastic Macbooks and iPad equipment. Kids are quite intuitive users but there’s a real knowledge gap about how to leverage this technology.”
To give young people a taster of what they can really do with all this digital capability she runs two- to four-day workshops for local high schools, often in conjunction with Unitec’s Pathway College (UPC), which works with high schools in the greater Auckland area to deliver NCEA Level two and three vocational courses. A workshop is planned in the next month for St Peter’s College and Kelston Girls’ High School, which will be attended by Apple’s NZ Education Development Executive, Meredith Bean, as part of Unitec’s partnership with Apple.
Dila has a real passion for the computing workshop, which she has been running in the Department of Computing for a couple of years as well as when she was living in Canada for six months. She thinks robotics is the perfect way for children to get their confidence with programming as they can see something happening immediately.
“Programming can seem very conceptual until you connect the commands to actions. We can have kids as young as eight learning how to programme a robot to dance. They get very excited when they see all the symbols and words making something move. “
The workshops are a perfect environment to try something out, make mistakes and build confidence but Dila has learnt to curb her natural tendency to want to problem solve for the students. “The trick is not to swoop in and fix mistakes that they’re making. I have to hold back and let them find the error themselves – that’s how they learn.”
She says she’s been there and knows the pain of blankly staring at a page of code for hours trying to spot a mistake. “That’s how you learn. I now have a journal with a checklist of things, like checking all the commas in place. You have to remember that computers only do what you tell them; so be one of those people that tells them what to do.”
Next year Unitec will also be launching a new level two NCEA Computer Science Course through its pathway college. It will be available to all secondary schools to offer as part of their timetable and classes will be ‘open cohort’, with students attending from a number of schools.
Find out more about studying Engineering at Unitec: