Digital Futures 2017 - good for everyone!

Published by Giles Goddard on Tue, 12 Sep 2017 14:39
Vicar's Blog

At the start of Digital Futures 2017, there was much excitement, and also a touch of anxiety. Last summer’s inaugural course had been such a success; would we be able to replicate it? Would a fresh programme of coding, this time working directly with performers during the course, be appealing? And would our new cohort of students be just as willing as last year’s to take risks, roll up their sleeves and get stuck in?

The answer to all questions was a resounding ‘Yes’. Some 16 students, of all ages and from all walks of life, arrived at St Andrew’s in early July, filled with enthusiasm. Though many of them had never attempted a line of digital coding in their life, all were prepared to step into a world of coding, programming and high-end tech skills.

 Our 2017 students had a clear brief: to create an interactive performance of dance and music, telling the little-known story of the women who rebuilt Waterloo Bridge after the World War II. No small challenge!

We were lucky enough to have with us the talented Su Adams, who designed and taught the 2017 curriculum. Su runs U Can Too, delivering innovative courses in coding and tech. Within just a few days, she had taught the students the core fundamentals of programming and computational thinking. 

Also on hand was our long-term collaborator, the choreographer Rebecca Evans of the Pell Ensemble, together with three inspirational dancers from Rambert’s Quicksilver youth company. 

There was a fine display of teamwork in the first week, as everyone brainstormed to work out how tech could be best used within the performance. The idea that emerged was to create a live-coded soundscape and lighting that would be programmed using Sonic Pi. The audience would effectively be watching a performance controlled in real- time by the student coders.

The result, staged on July 31st in the atmospheric Vaults theatre beneath Waterloo Station, was a real feast for the senses. The audience was treated to a kaleidoscope of sound and music, richly evoking a moment in history, with flashing lights, sirens and radio announcements. The dancers actually wore some of the LED lights, which were programmed to respond to certain movements. In a marvellous crescendo, their lit-up bodies created the illusion of a bridge of light.

 Of course, Digital Futures is always about more than simply mastering tech (though there's nothing simple about that!). 

Over the month, there were workshops on CV development, time management, interview technique, communication skills and more. A team of wonderful mentors, drawn from our congregation, met with the students in one-to-one sessions. The idea is to provide as much confidence as possible, so that when the course ends they feel ready to take solid steps into their future and - hopefully -  rewarding work and new opportunities. 

 As August arrived, we closed up the second Digital Futures course with a feeling of genuine satisfaction. Once again, the hard work and months of preparation had paid off. We had worked with a happy band of students freshly equipped with new skills and self-esteem who have now gone on to new experiences. Some had work placements. Many of you are mentoring and supporting them, and we look forward to hearing how they have been able to put what they learnt on the course into action. 

There is a great film here of the course with interviews and samples of the dance. And you'd be very welcome at the Bridge at Waterloo AGM in church on Monday 25th September, from 6.30 pm, to hear more about the course and about our plans for the future. 

So a huge thank you and congratulations to everyone involved. Now, about next year....

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