As someone who has watched with great satisfaction as the Microsoft Dream Space journey has evolved and grown over the last four years, it was a moment of pride and excitement for me, as I’m sure it was for many of my colleagues across Microsoft Ireland, to tune into the final of the Ireland’s Future is MINE competition on RTÉ2 last Thursday.
The first esports final of its kind to be broadcast in Ireland, the programme saw Moyvore National School from Co Westmeath and St Hugh’s National School from Dowra in Co Leitrim go head-to-head to be crowned All-Ireland Champions in a competition that challenged them to re-imagine their communities and shape Ireland’s sustainable future through the world of Minecraft: Education Edition.
For me, the final marked an important milestone in what has been an extraordinary journey for the Microsoft Dream Space programme and its team in the last few months, as well as for the collaboration between Microsoft Ireland and the RTÉ team, which has helped us to extend the Microsoft Dream Space experience to more students across the island over the past two years than we had ever thought possible.
Dream Space journey
The Dream Space journey began four years ago when we invested €5m in a dedicated innovation and education hub at our campus headquarters in Leopardstown. Recognising the ways in which technology was playing an ever-increasing role in our economy and society, our mission was to help young people shift their perception of the role technology can play in their future career choices and to cultivate critical and creative thinking skills, which continue to be essential for the jobs of today and the future.
Opening the doors to Microsoft Dream Space in 2018, we made a commitment to engage 100,000 primary and Transition Year students in the space.
Led by a talented team of teachers with a passion for science and technology, the initiative quickly went from strength to strength. In the second year, as the demand for and recognition of Dream Space grew, we engaged schools in different ways. We brought Dream Space on the road and hosted ten pop up events for schools outside of Leinster so they too could engage in the Dream Space experience. And, in Northern Ireland, we announced a new partnership with W5, Belfast’s award-winning science and discovery centre, to bring the Microsoft Dream Space digital skills experience to primary and secondary level students throughout the region.
It was around this time that we engaged NUI Maynooth to conduct research on the impact of the first two years. Anecdotally, we knew that reaction from schools across the country was very positive, but we had no research to confirm this.
In the end, it turned out to be even more positive than we had imagined, with every teacher in the survey saying they had benefitted from engaging with Dream Space, and 40% saying they were inspired enough to go back to their schools and explore the creative use of technology in their own classroom.
Meanwhile, the report from NUI Maynooth revealed another interesting outcome – that Dream Space was having a particularly beneficial impact on girls’ interest in STEM – finding there was a 42% increase in the likelihood of girls wanting to pursue STEM after their Dream Space experience.
This research was a huge motivator for the team looking ahead to 2020 and became an important source of inspiration to keep finding new and innovative ways to bring the Dream Space experience to students and teachers across the country amidst the public health restrictions that followed.
Adapting to a pandemic
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Dream Space team devised new ways to continue reaching and engaging students in STEM education. Dream Space HomeSpace was born – running five days a week, the portal gave students the opportunity to engage in STEM experiences from their own home and saw a range of exciting results, from retro games through Makecode Arcade through to the AI for Good global challenge and learning to code through Irish.
It was at this point that our collaboration with RTÉ began, when Dream Space made a series of remote learning resources available to support teachers, parents and students learning from home through the RTE Home School Hub. This partnership enabled us to reach an even wider group of students to engage in the Dream Space HomeSpace experience. Soon after that came Dream Space TV on RTE.ie/Learn, providing a unique and engaging way for students around Ireland to continue learning and developing their digital skills.
Ireland’s Future is MINE
Our journey with the RTÉ team reached new heights with the launch of Ireland’s Future is MINE last November. Ireland’s first national digital skills competition, the initiative challenged students to think creatively, collaborate and problem-solve as they re-imagined their communities and shaped Ireland’s sustainable future through the exciting world of Minecraft: Education Edition.
With entries from over 130 schools, the competition captured the imagination of students across the length and breadth of the island, helping them to develop their digital skills in fun, creative and collaborative ways. For teachers, the competition had the benefit of supporting them to deliver digital learning experiences in the classroom, while being aligned to curricula covering subjects from English and Maths to Science, Geography and SPHE.
Culminating in last Thursday’s exciting final, and an impressive win by St Hugh’s National School from Co Leitrim, Ireland’s Future is MINE is an important marker of how far we have come in our mission to support our young people to develop the skills they will need to fully participate in and, hopefully, shape Ireland’s digital future.
I’d like to extend my congratulations to St Hugh’s and thank all the schools who took the time to participate in the competition and create such compelling entries.
By continuing to work with our partners to place the development of digital skills centre stage, as witnessed in last week’s televised event, Microsoft Ireland wants to foster a new generation of leaders with the skills to better navigate challenges and meet the opportunities that lie ahead for them, helping them to build a more inclusive and sustainable Ireland for all.
If you missed the Ireland’s Future is MINE competition final on Thursday 16th June, you can catch up on the RTÉ Player here.
Learn more about Microsoft Dream Space here and learn more about how to use Minecraft: Education Edition here.