On Monday I attended the TeenTech finals at the Royal Society to judge a new award launched this year as part of this exciting science, technology and innovation initiative open to all UK schools. TeenTech is led by Maggie Philbin, star of the popular BBC TV show from the 1980s Tomorrow’s World and we met back in January to discuss a report she had written on digital skills.
Through our discussions where I talked about the work I do at LSE and through my professional involvement in the CILIP Information Literacy Group, Maggie and I came up with the idea of a new TeenTech award to recognise the Research and Information Literacy skills of the students work, building on the idea of Isaac Newton that all good science is built by ‘standing on the shoulders of giants.’ I have read a lot recently about the digital skills gap and I think becoming overly focused on technical skills such as computer programming is only part of the story. It’s information literacy skills that are also needed to enable young people to be critical and discerning about the information they trust. And they need to understand about the ways to use and share information ethically to avoid plagiarism or infringing copyright.
I was one of four judges for the new TeenTech award and was joined by Dr Geoff Walton from Northumbria University, Dr Rebecca Jones, school librarian from Malvern St James and Darren Flynn another school librarian from Dixons Academy in Bradford. We had to review all 40 of the finalist projects and had 12 schools to visit on the day. It was a tough decision as this year schools had not yet benefited from much guidance from our group of the expectations. In the end we had a stand-out winner in the form of Birkdale School from Sheffield for their wearable technology project. I joined comedian Katy Brand on the stage to present the award to the students. You can read the full list of award winners here and we were joined at the awards by HRH the Duke of York and various celebrities such as Martha Lane Fox, Dr Christian Jenssen, James May and Caroline Criado-Perez. I really liked how many girls were through to the finals too and was really impressed with the team from Alton Convent School who won the People’s Choice award for their military medical shuttle.
I took away from the day that with a bit of guidance and encouragement its relatively easy to develop IL in project based work at school level, but it should become standard to expect students to list their sources from an early age. It was also clear that we still have a digital divide, not in technology but in access to high quality research. Two of the projects we spoke to mentioned they got access to journals only because they have a parent who worked at a university who could give them access. That is unfair and I hope next year through a network of collaboration we can work to address that imbalance, so all the schools who participate in TeenTech might be able to get access to high quality resources to underpin their work.
I’m inspired by my day at the TeenTech awards and also hopeful for the future of UK science and technology. I am also so pleased that CILIP ILG and librarians are involved in such a fabulous initiative! And all hats off to Maggie for trying to make tomorrow’s world a better place.