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Enter the micro:bit

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The micro:bit goes live

well it seems with very little fanfare, the micro:bit is now being distributed to teachers and students throughout the country.

With my previous post here about the micro:bit. I predict minimal uptake or impact in school lessons. The teachers will not have had any time to incorporate them into lesson plans and the probably wont happen now until possibly September.  so these year 7 pupils will actually be in year 8 by the time they actually get to do anything in the classroom with a micro:bit

The launch has been dogged by delays according to the BBC because 1 million units had to made at once, and there were design issues (watch battery could be a choking hazard)

Thing is, other companies do this sort of thing with way more complex boards  Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo manage to manufacture boards without these delays. The micro:bit is a smaller, simpler board so should be easier to mass manufacture  right?

so the Watch battery is its power source? instead of a watch battery, why not a solar panel? or a bigger battery like a 9v battery? if this was just to  make a small portable device that can be programmed, then this would be perfect, but its not. and the reason is obvious. The BBC are betting that wearable tech is the next new thing. pupils make their own micro:bit based wearable tech. problem is with wearable tech is at the moment, the data you get is completely banal, The apple watch basically, acts as a blue-tooth screen for an iPhone, and fitbits are essentially, pedometers that instead of counting steps, store data long term (say over a day) and then download that data to a computer. You cant see your results directly on fitbit. Additionally these devices aren’t waterproof.

But one of the major problems I have is that the micro:bit is free for this year only, resulting in one of 3 outcomes.

  • They prove a success in the classroom, Schools will buy a bunch of them and keep them in the classroom, contrary to the founding ethos of the micro:bit
  • They prove a success in the classroom and the cost of obtaining micro:bit are left with the parent, creating a 2-tier education system where disadvantaged children lose out because their mum can’t afford £10 on a board, especially if there’s  no way to work with it out of school
  • They prove a failure, the hobbyist market continues to buy them on occasion  but the year 8 cohort will have wasted a year learning how to make a LED flash on and off on a hardware platform that has no further relevancy in an education system that is geared towards attainment

now its possible that some children will be inspired enough to start making other things but I don’t think the numbers justify the sheer amount of money that has been sunk into the micro:bit. Don’t forget we still don’t know about how open the development platform is

Before everyone falls over themselves to jump on this platform, we should also consider the micro:bits main competition. It has competition? yes the Codebug which is a little pricey but has been open source for a while and of course the Raspberry Pi Zero which is is roughly half the price of the micro:bit but currently sold out at the moment.

The original computer boom in the 80’s was based on cheap computing hardware, however let’s get something into perspective, back in 1982, a 48k ZX spectrum would have cost £175 which taking into account inflation would actually be somewhere in the region of £600  while a Commodore 64 cost £400 which equates to £1,372!  These are hardly cheap computers compared to a raspberry pi zero or micro:bit as a percentage of a monthly salary.

These are undoubtedly exciting times for computing, with an unprecedented number of truly low cost computers, readily available with a huge potential in using them to do more than just play games. However I still think the micro:bit seems over engineered, poorly thought out with a software platform that seem to be locked behind a Microsoft or apple ecosystem with the vague promise that some day all this will be open source. The success of the micro:bit is dependant on how enthusiastically it is taken up by teachers. If they fail to respond to it, the micro:bit could end up nothing more than an interesting curiosity.

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