Digital Skills Education

Online gaming club

Online gaming club helps neurodiverse young people crack the code

Dr Martin Goodfellow and Craig Steele, used live-streaming video to remotely run a Python games coding club for neurodiverse young people with autism.  The young people learned about computer programming, while hacking and remixing classic games as part of an online club.

During the school holidays, Craig and I ran an exciting online games coding club for neurodiverse young people.

Craig was approached by REACH Lanarkshire Autism, a charity that provides support to families who have a young person with an Autism Spectrum Condition living in South Lanarkshire. They wanted to offer a short course for their young members to learn new digital skills in a fun and social environment.

Both Craig and I are no strangers to running coding clubs, previously we led (alongside hundreds of volunteers) coding clubs as part of CoderDojo Scotland – a global network of volunteer-led coding clubs for young people. But this was an exciting opportunity to innovate and see how an online platform could be used. We were interested in seeing if an online coding club could be as fun, inclusive, and educational as its in-real-life equivalent.

We structured the club around activities from our book, Computer Coding Python Games for Kids.

We knew the club had to be run online, rather than in person. Thankfully, Craig and I both have extensive experience of effectively teaching online. At Strathclyde University, I am the programme director of the BSc Hons Digital and Technology Solutions Degree Apprenticeship, with the majority of this degree being delivered online, I have a lot of experience with designing and utilising effective online teaching methods. Craig runs a digital skills company that has created many online courses on digital skills education for young people. These include cyber security workshops for Skills Development Scotland and Data Science workshops for the University of Edinburgh. Craig’s online interactive lessons have now been played by over 150,000 learners across Scotland and around the world.

Making it easy to get involved

First, it had to be decided what platform to deliver the lessons on. Instead of requiring the young people to install and learn a potentially new piece of software, it was decided to use YouTube, as most young people are used to using this platform. The approach taken was to break down each game into different sections, similarly to how they were presented in the book. Each section was then presented by typing the code and explaining it. This was then followed by a Q and A, before moving on to the next section.

Flipping the classroom

The intention was that the young people would watch the videos live. However, they were also being recorded so that they could refer back to them. In practice, this worked out slightly differently. Some students didn’t watch the content live but would join the next live session, if they had any questions. This meant the teaching method was more like a flipped classroom approach. In this approach the students are expected to complete preparatory work before the live sessions, which are used for support or to further learning in the area, through activities like discussions and problem-solving tasks. This was the same as the approach I had taken to teaching, for all my classes in the university this year.

Creating a welcoming environment

We also learned that some young people were nervous about attending the first session, as they didn’t know what to expect. Therefore, by recording it, it let them watch it first and then they were much more willing to be involved, at the other live sessions, after they knew what to expect.

Being adaptive is an important skill to have when teaching. Different groups learn in different ways, a teacher is responsible for finding the methods that work best for particular groups. There is no one size fits all for teaching. This is also true for other informal environments, like clubs.


“Hacking” games in Python

One of the highlights of the club was getting the young people to send us their version of the games. We would then play and critique the games on the live-stream. It was great to see how the young people had “hacked” the games and made them their own. It showed they really understood the content, as they could then go on and use their imagination to customise it, rather than just copying the code exactly as we had written it.

This is a great way to learn programming and is something we encourage. Once you have the tools we have given you, what can you do with them? It was great to see all the young people get involved with showing off their games. This was also a great way to recreate what we would do in person and gave the young people an opportunity to showcase what they had worked on

Start Game:  Some of the games made by the young people included “Coin Collector” arcade-style game featuring a cute fox, an “Balloon Flight” where players fly a hot air balloon dodging obstacles.

Breaking down barriers

Overall, the club went really well, with the young members  enjoying learning in a fun, sociable online space. REACH Lanarkshire commented that there were some young people taking part, who they would normally struggle to get to engage with any projects. This online club allowed them to reach people in different ways, and helped break down barriers that were discouraging some young people from getting involved.

After the final club session, As recognition for the young people completing the activities they were all presented with a certificate and gifted a copy of our book.

We were really pleased we could work with this group, and hope it allowed these neurodiverse young people to consider a future career in technology.

Are you interested in running an online club? Or how to use Python games programming as a way to engage with neurodiverse young people? Get in touch with Craig and Martin

Dr. Martin Goodfellow

Background info:

Dr Martin Goodfellow is a Teaching Fellow in the Computer and Information Sciences Department at the University of Strathclyde.

Craig Steele is the Director of Digital Skills Education, where he designs and delivers digital skills workshops for people of all ages and abilities.