COVID has definitely affected how #NotJustForBoys operated. Instead of holding taster days and inspiration sessions for dozens, and attending school careers fairs for hundreds of students, we had to look at new opportunities ways to connect with girls and young women. COVID has presented us with an opportunity to try something different.
We piloted a new way of hosting a summer scheme –or three! We held our first ever Computing Week and Engineering week using a blending learning approach using Google Classroom and our own workshop.
We had initially only planned a small group but after a flurry of interest, we were able to extend the scheme for 24 young women.
The summer schemes were taught using a mix of live calls and independent activities, then one day for socially distanced hands-on activities, a chance to share work completed during the week and time to really meet each other.
We covered diverse topics including computer programming, web development and coding, cybersecurity, audio production, and machine learning. We also constructed bridges, domes, floating gardens and marble runs to name a few, while also looking at some personal development.
There were lots of positive outcomes from this way of working –we were able to welcome girls from right across Belfast and beyond because most of the learning was taking place at home, meaning transport wasn’t a concern. Additionally, we were able to work with tutors and mentors from across the UK –we had women in Northern Ireland, Scotland, from projects in England -and as far away as Australia. This was a real benefit for going online –and something we’d look to build on in future.
Career women could build their sessions into their days, and time zones didn’t have to be a barrier. Getting access to expertise and projects in other parts of the world also gave us broader horizons, showcasing that a career in non-traditional fields like computing and engineering/construction can take you to new places.
For some of our students working online really suited, especially in times of anxiety, allowing us to create new bonds with people while still staying safe at home. However, it’s not for everyone. For some, it’s harder to bond during live calls with strangers, and harder to self-motivate during independent work, and asking questions and getting feedback is not always immediate like it is in a classroom. Technical difficulties are also a feature of this way of working, so we were grateful for all the days of good wifi signal we got!
It was a nice change to have the final day face to face, back to a more traditional way of delivery, even if the tutors had to wear masks. We got to try out some new kit –a portable projector and a camera stand which allowed one of our tutors to live-stream her demonstration so the students could see the work up close while still maintaining social distancing.
Because hands-on is such an important way to learn, we delivered a kit that had some important ingredients to help make the projects at home. Some brilliant projects were created –from exciting computer programmes to brilliant bridges. We also asked students to use some supplies from their home recycling bins, so it was actually a really sustainable way to work. Getting creative with locally available resources was a useful lesson when looking at engineering too!
We hope that the week is just the beginning –by introducing different programmes and organisations we have sown the seeds to encourage the students to more discovery and experiments. We have also introduced them to some brilliant women working in these non-traditional fields and showcased both the opportunities available and the need for more women to join them.
We would also like to say a huge thank you to Farrans for supporting our Engineering Week, and to all our guest speakers and tutors.