A few weeks ago, I got an email at work advertising a free technology event for teenage girls run called DigiGirlz. It was being run by Microsoft Australia and it’s aim was to promote careers in the IT industry for girls. It’s a good idea. Women are far too under-represented in IT in Australia (and probably other parts of the world too) so I’m all for supporting any initiative that can help attract smart, creative women into the world of technology.
The event sounded like it would actually be pretty interesting. It was being held at Microsoft’s main Australian Offices at North Ryde and offered a chance to meet some of the inspirational women who work at Microsoft to find out what they do, and to have a chat with several Australian universities about the sorts of career paths that IT might offer. There was also a couple of hands-on workshops in Microsoft’s Photosynth and DeepZoom technologies, as well as a chance to to see the new Project Natal gaming platform. It all sounded pretty interesting to me! However, we don’t offer any IT courses at PLC (that’s right, none! Something I’d like to see change!) so I wasn’t quite sure who I’d ask to attend the event.
After a phone call to RSVP for the day we were offered 15 places at the event, so, using the Feedback Module in Moodle to collect details of interested students, I offered it to our Year 10 students on a first-in, best-dressed basis. 13 students responded positively and when the day arrived (March 24 – which was Ada Lovelace Day of course!) we all bundled into the PLC minibus and made our way up to North Ryde.
The folk at Microsoft went out of their way to try and give us a great experience and provide a range of things to see and do. They gave each student a goodie-bag with information, fed them with snacks and drinks, and then put them into groups and rotated them through the 4 sessions. We had a short address by a very dynamic female executive who works at Microsoft Australia and a few shorter addresses by several others.
The students then went off to their four workshop sessions, which they rotated through for the next couple of hours. Overall, I thought it was a useful experience, although I had a few suggestions for how it might be improved for next time…
- While it was a lovely gesture to feed the students before they started the sessions, getting teenage girls all revved up on soft drinks and chips just before you then ask them to sit still and listen for the next few hours was not a great idea.
- The discussion sessions with both the women from Microsoft and also the university people were informative, but too long. Kids don’t want to just sit and listen like that, at least not for that long!
- The hands on session in Photosynth and DeepZoom was pretty good, although there seemed to be a few technical hiccups in the session I saw. I’m still not really sure what to make of these technologies, and beyond a mild cool-factor, I wonder just how useful they really are.
- The biggest disappointment was the session about the Project Natal platform. Natal is the next generation of the XBox 360, and takes gaming to a new level by enabling natural interaction without wires or controllers. It’s been floating about on YouTube for a while now, but I was really keen to actually see it in action. Alas, all we got to actually see of Project Natal was a PowerPoint with a few videos (the very same ones that are on YouTube) Although we were told that Natal was getting close to release for this year, there was no working demo to play with. Despite the fact that we were being told about Natal by former FragDoll, Ashley Jenkins (who totally knows her stuff when it comes to games!) we didn’t see any live game demos at all. I thought this was a big mistake by Microsoft, and I thought it odd that a product apparently so close to release would not be given a demo. It would have been good (even expected!) to see Project Natal in action, but even without the live Natal demo I thought we would have at least had some real live gaming action with Ashley, perhaps showing us what a really serious gamer is capable of on the regular X-Box platform. Instead, we saw a PowerPoint with a few product roadmap slides and a brief exposé of Ashley’s gamer heros. To be honest, I was looking forward to this session the most, but I thought what we were shown was a bit lame under the circumstances.
- It might be good in future events to include some sort of hands-on programming experience – kept fairly simple of course – as there would be many students who have never had a go at programming a computer before.
Overall though, despite these little criticisms it was a worthwhile experience and the feedback from students that I saw was politely positive (although I felt it could have been much more hands-on, practical and faster-paced to hold the full engagement of the students). PowerPoints and roundtable talkfests might be fine in the corporate boardroom but this style of presentation misses the mark somewhat with most teenage girls. I know that quite a few people mentioned this in their evaluation forms, so I’m sure that next year will be even better.
Thanks to Microsoft and especially Catherine Eibner for running the event. (And thanks also for the XBox 360 raffle prizes, one of which was won by one of our students. You were very popular for that one Catherine!)
Digigirlz by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.