Helping Youth Geek Out | transforming youth from digital consumers into digital makers

You know that joke about how a liberal arts degree will get you a job as a barista at Starbucks? Well I’ve been thinking about what our education prepares us for in the work world. I’m not the only one. There is a growing movement that advocates for youth to be trained for the digital work world. But why do the ‘digital native’ generation need training? Don’t they intuitively understand everything digital? The short answer is no. They are digital consumers and understand it from a user perspective. Being a digital maker takes a different set of skills and knowledge.

The Report 

The Nominet Trust recently commissioned a report by Dr Julian Sefton-Green Mapping Digital Makers: a review exploring everyday creativity, learning lives and the digital. Nominet Trust is looking at ways to encourage youth to learn digital skills. In the report Dr Sefton-Green looks at “…the theory, practices and policies that underpin our understanding of digital makers and digital making in relationship to young people.” Dr Sefton-Green’s definition of digital making is quite useful for this conversation. He  defines digital making as “…the creative process of making a product or digital artefact – from websites, apps, games, and 3D animations to physical objects driven by microcontrollers.”  Unfortunately his conclusion – that more research needs to be done – is not.

Nominet Trust launched the report with a panel on digital making and youth which they recorded.

Schools vs. Museums 

Why am I telling you about this report and movement? Because museums have a role to play in helping youth become digital makers. In the discussion following the launch of the report, it became apparent that schools have not yet incorporated digital making skills into their curriculum and it’s not happening anytime soon. There is a void that needs to be filled. Furthermore, digital making skills, for the most part, have been gained through informal learning – museums’ specialty.

Museums Are Already Doing It 

Museums can and already do offer programs for kids interested in learning more about digital making. The following is a small sampling of programs being offered:

The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia has a lot of workshops around digital media in their digital learning lab Thinkspace:

After School Computing Club – After School Computing Club is a weekly after-school workshop series combining science, technology, engineering, maths and art, with a focus on discovering through hands-on creativity and collaboration. Participants will build animations, games and interactive stories using the free multimedia Scratch software.

World Scratch Day – Participants will be remixing projects from the massive global scratch community, and adding animation based on some of the weird and wonderful things in the museum’s collection, and coolest images from the museum’s historic photo collections. The Powerhouse will be sharing the creations on the museum’s exclusive Scratch Day Gallery.

Pro Game Design with Unity – In this two day introductory workshop participants will learn to code in UnityScript, develop an in-game character, menus and level.

New Museum in New York is living up to their cutting edge reputation with a workshop encouraging coding literacy.

Kitchen Table Coders Presents: Learn to Code from an Artist – A workshop exploring the practice of teaching and utilizing code in an artistic context.

Museum of London brings to mind Streetmuseum Londinium – an augmented reality app with animated videos, so it’s appropriate that they are passing on these skills to young people.

Romans Reanimated – Using the Roman London gallery as inspiration, create stop motion films in this digital workshop. Find out the basic principles behind stop motion animation and develop skills using iPads to capture and edit films.

More than Coding

Digital making is not all about coding; there are all sorts of different jobs and skill sets in digital making. As you can see from the sample above it’s easy to draw collection connections to these skills for many types of museums, from science to art to history. Also the Powerhouse and London Museum have their own in-house digital learning teams but the New Museum, which does not, is still able to offer a quality program by collaborating with outside experts.


There have been some great tools developed for this digital making movement.

Mozilla Webmaker

Mozilla has developed a suite of applications to support learning digital skills. X-Ray Goggles allow users to see the code that makes up a web page. Popcorn allows moving image media to be revised. Thimble is used to make and share web pages.


Created by the MIT Media Lab, Scratch is a free programming language that teaches the logic behind programming without the need for more advanced language and math skills required for standard computer programming.

Raspberry Pi

A tiny and cheap computer for kids to use to learn programming skills.


An open source electronics prototyping platform used to create interactive objects.

What About Adults? 

Why stop with youth? The conversation that the Nominet Trust report was born from mostly focuses on youth. But what about adults? From young adults to mature ones there are many who could benefit from learning digital making skills for their current roles in the workforce. So museums let’s help this audience learn what can be an intimidating topic but is entirely achievable for this demographic.

Are you teaching digital skills in your museum? Who are you teaching them to?

6 thoughts on “Helping Youth Geek Out | transforming youth from digital consumers into digital makers

  1. Mairin says:

    Thanks Dave! You ask a very good and difficult question. I’m not really sure about the best way to this. It’s encouraging to see more museums with digital learning departments (although as I mention in the post it’s not necessary to have one in order to run these digital making workshops but it does show a value being put on digital learning). I suppose we must act as digital evangalists and try and convert as many people as possible.


  2. David Greenfield says:

    This is a really interesting and helpful blog- thanks for posting!
    I think that some of the challenges that face you as an evangelist for brining the Makers into more museums rings true with other innovative digital technologies and platforms. There is often a hesitancy in some museums to play with technology and/or to release apps, sites, etc that they feel are not complete. My own feeling is to do rolling, incremental releases of apps and things, even if they are not complete. We (museum professionals and educators) are all doing these things together and users are always finding new ways to do or look at things. Perhaps another solution is getting museums to make Departments of Experimentation and Innovation, in order to try things out with professionals and users and see what happens and what can be then integrated into the official institution.


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