BBC Make it Digital is a ground breaking campaign in terms of ambition: it involves more than twenty partners from the commercial, charitable and academic sectors; it lasts a whole year … and it resonates right across the BBC output, from BBC4 documentaries to local radio, to online content and social media.One of the main aims of the Make it Digital tour was to bring a family audience to the wider MID project and to give those families the chance to meet enthusiastic experts and BBC presenters in way that only a live event can do. The event was free to attend and visited 13 locations across the UK.
Getting face-to-face with the UK public was one of the key aims of the Make It Digital project. The key challenge was working out how to achieve that successfully, because coding and computational thinking aren’t the most naturally appealing subjects for a nationwide road show.
We recognised early that we needed popular BBC brands to be part of the offering. With seven million viewers an episode and the perfect audience demographic for us, Doctor Who was an obvious partner. BBC Learning had already worked with the series to create the Dr Who and Daleks online game, which depends on players learning the basic concepts of coding in order to progress. Inspired by that innovation, the MID Tour team developed a live-action version, and invited families to role-play as Cybermen and Daleks. Their ability to ‘code’ the movements of the human ‘Dalek’ resulted in success or failure as they battled to escape through the Gate of Doom. Since the start of the tour, more than two thousand five hundred individuals have played the live game and thousands more have learnt the basics of computational thinking by watching them take part.
The Dalek Maze was another hugely popular attraction in the Doctor Who Zone. Devised in partnership with Manchester University, the aim of the game is to create a basic computer programme which sends your Dalek to the centre of the maze. Volunteers from StemNet, one of our partner organisations on the tour, helped each player to learn basic drag-and-drop coding that instructed the robot-controlled Daleks to move in the right direction. Some of the best moments came when they got it wrong and the four Daleks collided with each other. More than three thousand visitors took the Dalek Maze challenge and thousands more learnt about the concepts of coding by watching them as the spectacle unfolded.
As a key strategic partner for the core Make it Digital project, we knew we would be working with BBC Weather on the tour. The question was how to pull together computer coding and weather forecasting into a learning activity that appealed to the general public. We came up with an innovative solution which involved visitors creating a weather scenario on a large touch screen, using sets of computer variables. Depending on how they positioned the jet stream, different forecasts would emerge. Then the budding forecaster got the chance to deliver the forecast they had coded in front of a professional green screen and a live audience. The attraction was hosted by each BBC region’s weather presenter, who explained the meteorological processes behind each forecast before they delivered it.
The other half of the Digital Discovery Zone was all about Tech Talks. Robo-Gals, Microsoft, Blackpool Illuminations, Makey-Makey and FoxDog Studios were just some of the eclectic mix of contributors who showed visitors what could be achieved through creative coding and computer programming. From wearable technology which allowed you to make music by touching your hat, to a fruit and veg orchestra, Tech Talks brought to life the often misunderstood world of digital technology and made it entertaining for a general audience.
Zone Three of Make it Digital Live we called Digital Discovery. Here was where the cutting edge activity was showcased. Local partners, ranging from robot designers to students who’d created a satellite mission control, inspired visitors and helped them get hands-on with the latest digital technology. It’s also where children, parents and teachers could see and use for the first time the BBC micro:bit, the tiny computer that will be handed out all Year 7 children (or equivalent) across the UK. The micro:bit is designed help kids start coding and understanding how creative they can be with computers. Exclusive access to the micro:bit was a big draw later in the tour, as the new school year appeared on the horizon.
Based on attendances at previous live learning events, our target was 2,500 visitors a day. In fact, we averaged more than five and a half thousand visitors a day over the 22 days of the tour. More than 134,000 people have taken part in Make it Digital Live. The event has received a significant amount of positive press coverage as it has featured across nine regional news programmes, ten regional radio stations as well as on a range of online and print platforms.