Back in March of this year, the BBC announced that in an effort to help inspire more students to learn how to code they would be giving away one million programmable microcomputers called the BBC Micro Bit. According to the BBC, the project is not only about teaching the students how to code but also to help young people learn how to better express themselves “digitally through coding”.
Yesterday, the BBC revealed the final design of their pocket-sized computer and are planning on putting it into production to give to one million UK-based children in October. The Micro Bit is being pitched as a complementary device, rather than a competitor, to the existing Raspberry Pi, Arduino and Galileo computers.
“We all know there’s a critical and growing digital skills gap in this country and that’s why it’s so important that we come together and do something about it,” said BBC’s director general Tony Hall, who also adds that too many children are leaving school knowing how to use computers but not how to program them. Among other projects that can be created with the small computer include a metal detector, a remote control and a video game controller.
Although the initial prototype that was shown in March featured a slimline watch battery for users to create wearables, the design has since been updated to include a larger battery pack for more robust projects as well as safety reasons. “The initial prototype utilised a smaller battery,” a BBC spokesperson further explained. “However in reviewing the design and examining the health and safety implications of using small batteries for a young audience, where siblings may be able to access the device, the partnership took the decision to re-engineer this element.”
To ensure that there are always plenty of projects to keep the students active, the BBC will also be launching a social platform for the one million students and their parents and teachers to be able to share build plans and instructions.
“As the Micro Bit is able to connect to everything from mobile phones to plant pots and Raspberry Pis,” says BBC Learning head Sinead Rocks. “This could be for the internet-of-things what the BBC Micro was to the British gaming industry.”
Soon after the devices go out to school children at the beginning of the school year, the BBC plans to make the Micro Bit available for purchase internationally with open source specifications.
“I see coding as a new type of literacy,” says Prof Mitchel Resnick of MIT, who currently leads the development team of Scratch, a popular programming tool that’s already used to help children learn to code.
“When kids learn to code, they learn new ways of expressing themselves and organising their ideas. These skills are important for everyone, not just those who plan to pursue computing careers.”