A little over 18 months after first announcing its intention to inspire the coders of tomorrow with its freely distributed micro:bit computer, the BBC has given the project independence. The newly-created Micro:bit Educational Foundation (MEF) will now be championing the device globally.
To recap, the micro:bit takes the form of a small programmable computer with an LED display, buttons, a motion detector, a compass and sensors. It can be connected to various other devices, sensors and objects and was conceived to inspire a generation of kids to "get creative with coding."
The roll out of the device began in March this year and around one million have since been distributed to UK schoolkids. They've been used as part of conventional lesson plans and after school clubs, but also as the basis for a Bloodhound-supported rocket-powered cars competition, have been sent into the upper atmosphere and have been used to build a homing balloon that always heads due north in an attempt to find Santa.
Although the BBC tells New Atlas that it's far too early to say whether or not the project has been a success, it says the signs are encouraging. Of those who have used the device, 75 percent are said to have "liked" or "loved" it, 86 percent that it made computer science more interesting and 88 percent that it showed coding is easier than they thought. It's also said to have significantly increased the interest in ICT and computer science among girls.
The aim of the MEF is to build on the work done so far. The independent non-profit organization will continue the BBC's work promoting the micro:bit and the creative use of digital technology, as well as seek to take it beyond the UK to kids around the world. In practice, the MEF tells New Atlas, that will see it working to lower the barriers to access for the technology and to roll-out new features and accompanying resources with international language support.
While moving the micro:bit into an independent organization could be seen to increase the competition it will face from other, similar devices, the MEF says it doesn't see this as being the case. Instead, it believes the micro:bit is complementary to other devices on the market and helps to create a more mature educational landscape.
"For example, the Raspberry Pi is an excellent personal coding device but requires some, although relatively little, technical knowledge," the MEF explains. "The micro:bit is a stepping stone to using devices such as these and therefore aligns nicely with long term educational strategy and goals."
It was always the BBC's intention to move the micro:bit into an independent non-profit organization, with the aim the cementing its long-term impact in the UK and developing its footprint abroad. The firm will, however, remain involved as a member of the MEF's board to help shape its continued expansion and education strategy and says it will continue to support the project editorially through its BBC Learning arm. Already among its plans is a project involving its popular children's TV program Wolfblood.
The MEF has put no expected lifespan on the micro:bit going forward, but suggests that it will be, at the very least, a multi-year project.
"We're only at the beginning of the micro:bit's journey and given the short amount of time that it has been available in schools, are yet to see the full extent of its benefits," the Foundation says. "As time goes on we are confident that the use cases for the micro:bit will multiply and will only add to its lifespan."