How Heart of Midlothian Football Club engage young people with football & tech

Jul 20, 2021

My history with the Apps for Good team dates back to when I was in my final year at Wick High School. I had been volunteering as an in-class support for computing and that was the first year that our school had decided to try out this new programme called Apps for Good. Everyone was so excited to be in that class and whilst I was a little jealous that I couldn’t take part and had to study for exams, being able to mentor the younger classes to bring their app creations to life was the best break from revision and other schoolwork. I was even lucky enough to meet the rockstar that is Bob Schukai on his very first visit to Wick and ever since then I have been hooked onto supporting the mission that Apps for Good are on. Throughout university and taking my first steps into the world of work, I have loved staying in touch with the team and helping where I can whether that has been as a volunteer fellow supporting other young people or visiting local schools to support their app journey.

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It feels like it has come full circle now as I have just finished delivering the Apps for Good programme to my very own group of students in my role as Digital Education Programme Manager at Heart of Midlothian FC.”

Tanya Howden, Digital Education Programme Manager, Heart of Midlothian FC

Heart of Midlothian FC’s Innovation Centre

In 2019, Heart of Midlothian FC launched the Innovation Centre with support from Baillie Gifford and Dell Technologies. The centre aims to support the local community to develop important digital skills for any future by working in partnership with schools and leading industry experts to provide a unique range of free digital education programmes and clubs.

We use the power of sport and football to engage a wider range of young people to come along to our programmes and for some, this is the first time they will have taken part in a code club. For example, in some of our introduction clubs we show young people how technology is embedded within sport and work together to build our own prototypes of fitness trackers and goal-line technology using equipment like the micro:bit.

As the Innovation Centre has grown in support, we have continued to introduce new clubs and programmes to the community that explore different and upcoming areas of technology in the same unique learning environment.

Enter Digital Xtra Fund

In 2020, we successfully applied to receive funding from the Digital Xtra Fund to run our very own unique take on the Apps for Good programme at the Innovation Centre. We wanted to use our platform as a football club to encourage more young people to use technology to create for good and solve problems in the world and local community that was important to them so Apps for Good was the obvious first choice.

The Digital Xtra Fund is on a mission to enable digital creativity across Scotland by providing so many schools and extracurricular groups with funding to provide exciting opportunities for young people to get hands on with technology to inspire the next generation of creators, engineers and innovators. By partnering with the Digital Xtra Fund, we were able to think big about how we could set up a theme of tech for good throughout our programmes and make them sustainable.

Create an App to Save the World: Pilot

We would offer an after-school club to girls and boys aged 12-15 where we would meet once a week for 8-10 weeks. During these sessions, teams would work together to spot problems around them, consider how technology could be used to provide solutions before building and pitching their app ideas to guests from industry who were there to support and provide feedback throughout the whole process.

With support from the brilliant team at Apps for Good, we pulled together plans for how we could adapt the online resources to fit them into the time that we would have each week with young people. We wanted to make sure that the main pillars that make up Apps for Good were present in the materials that we were delivering like making sure the teams had time to get to know each other and find out what their main interests were and ensuring that we could highlight each stage of the product design and development process so that young people could see the diverse number of roles that make up a tech team, smashing some stereotypes along the way.

We were ready to launch the pilot programme in March 2020 and things were looking really exciting after the first session in person where everyone got a chance to meet each other and get into teams. There were so many ideas bouncing around the room already and you could see how quickly the teams bonded over their interests and passion to solve problems. However, the week after we had to suspend all of our in-person activities due to the pandemic.

Learning Together Remotely

After taking some time to adapt to working remotely and evaluating what our best options would be, we were determined to find an approach that would allow us to keep delivering our digital education programmes online. With the help of our wonderful volunteer mentors and using Microsoft Teams, we prepared to relaunch Create an App to Save the World online that was open to any young person in Scotland aged 12-15.

Running the programme completely online came with challenges that all schools and clubs were facing but we learned so much about delivering online with every session that we completed. The important thing was that the young people who were attending online were getting an opportunity to use their digital skills creatively with others to build something that was meaningful to them. The teams had complete ownership over their projects which fuelled their motivation and even meant that some teams would be working on their apps outside of the club in their own time.

Then when it came time to pitch their ideas and receive feedback from industry guests, everyone spoke so confidently about their ideas and the work that they had completed. All of the volunteers were blown away with the confidence that the young people had whilst discussing their app prototypes. Each team was proud of what they had accomplished in such a short space of time, and they had every right to be. Not only had the teams managed to come together and build their prototypes in less than 10 weeks, but they had also done it completely online without ever meeting each other.

Awareness of the world

Reflecting upon the whole experience of delivering the programme compared to sessions where I have supported in the past with schools, I almost feel like the pandemic has been a great discussion point for teams to instantly connect over something that we were all experiencing. We had young people from several different schools attending so naturally everyone came from a different background which meant that we all had different experiences of the world but that meant that the teams had so much to talk about. I think it really helped the teams to deeply consider the problems in the world and how we could use technology, if not to solve them, to help ease them a little or raise awareness.

As the world starts to open back up again, we can’t wait to welcome young people back to the stadium for more digital education programmes and hopefully one day we can run Create an App to Save the World in person. This is definitely a programme that we will continue to develop and explore with young people as we support our community with seeing a future career or interest in the digital world as being accessible and open to anyone. Apps for Good has been a fantastic way to bring the product design and development process to life and raise awareness about just how many skills are needed within a tech team from project managers to testers, programmers and designers.