BBC Micro Bit – Bit late?

The BBC launched their “Micro Bit” device today. The Micro Bit is a programmable pocket sized computer that will no doubt be used to introduce students to an array of programming concepts (please pardon the pun 😉 ). It is expected that all Year 7 students in the UK will have access to one of these come the Autumn.

Although many would be excited about the release of the device, it’s important to note that this concept is nothing new and has already been explored by our friends at Raspberry Pi, Arduino and Galileo. However, one thing that sets the Micro Bit apart is the muscle that comes with it. As well as teaming up with ARM, the BBC also has backing and support from  Barclays Bank, Samsung, Microsoft and Lancaster University. With all these big boys on board, I think it’s safe to say that the Micro Bit may escape the risk of being another fad and even something that I may be using in future lessons. I can also relax in the knowledge that the likes of Wellcome Trust and ScienceScope have promised support and will be no doubt providing curriculum resources that I’ll be eager to exploit.

It’s interesting to see that this isn’t the first time the BBC has managed to create a computational device that is used in schools. People from my generation will remember the BBC Computer (that’s right, that hefty keyboard thing with big clunky black and red keys) which was supposed to introduce coding and programming concepts to students, but was often relegated to the position of a fancy typewriter. I can’t help but wonder what the fate of it’s latest successor would be if not utilised to its full potential; Bookmark? Coaster? I certainly hope not! Lets see how things progress…

I must admit, as a fan of the Raspberry Pi and all the curriculum resources that are available for those little badboys, that I do see the Micro Bit with some scepticism. The BBC argue that the Micro Bit will ultimately compliment the Pi’s and could be used together with them; this is yet to be seen.

I can’t help but wonder if the BBC may have missed a trick here. They’ve created yet another programmable circuit board  that can be accessed and programmed with an android smartphone and yes, even apple devices. There’s clearly a market opening now for customisable and programmable devices that can be attached to our smartphones; perhaps the BBC should have tapped into and monopolised on an App store to compliment the device. I predict the advent of a new generation of app store that will allow users to customise their circuit boards and use them for various purposes by downloading the appropriate code. However, the following questions arise: Although clearly some people will embrace the programming and continue to produce fun and interesting things, will the rest of us continue to be consumers that download and use apps/code and devices to meet our ever changing needs? Ultimately, will the BBC’s Micro Bit with all it’s backing produce a generation of programmers, or another generation of users that simply don’t have a clue and are looking for their next App/Code fix?

I guess only time will tell – will keep you posted 😉

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