SERAS 2020 Environmental Making Challenge


The Environmental Making Challenge was held online from 22 June to 13 July 2020.

  • Participants took part in a two week online workshop encouraging creative thinking and take up of low cost IoT to solve environmental challenges.

  • Participants submitted specific environmental challenges beforehand with the view of developing skills and knowledge to utilise IoT as possible solutions.

  • IoT making kits were awarded to encourage further development of IoT skills.

Identifying and addressing IoT skills gaps

SERAS – a UK-wide network led by Sheffield Robotics to enhance Skills and Education for Robotics and Autonomous Systems – is working with Pitch-In to identify and address skills gaps around IoT. In particular, a recent workshop aimed to encourage women and a diverse age range to develop IoT skills.

The Environmental Making Challenge succeeded in attracting a diverse and inclusive audience, helping introduce many beginners to the world of IoT in an informal setting. Lockdown and the unfolding context of Covid-19 presented challenges, including the question of how to deliver a highly technical event to a novice audience which could be sustained across a two week period. However, the move to virtual events allowed a wide range of participants (including previously hard to reach or underrepresented audiences) the opportunity to engage through online lectures and video sessions.

Careful consideration was given to the language used to promote the event, with the use of ‘makers’ and ‘challenge’ proving key factors in attracting participants with little or no knowledge or experience of IoT by presenting a more accessible and informal image.

Significantly, the programme attracted a large number of female participants, with almost 50% of the audience representing female engagement. A diverse age range was also present in the audience profile, with 8% over age 50 and 15% under age 17.

“The way that this challenge shines a spotlight on something so important as coding and engineering in such a creative way especially when no school really focuses on it and the way it does not exclude those who are less or more experienced.”
– Attendee feedback

Blackboard learning interface

Creative thinking, knowledge exchange and IoT demonstrations

The event was delivered through Blackboard with each one hour session recorded for future access through the SERAS YouTube account. Sessions ranged from creative thinking, project development and Micro:bit and Arduino skills.

Week one focused on skills development, with each session delivered by a different presenter from a variety of universities. Week two was the participants opportunity to develop their projects for submission for the challenge. An open debate was held on the final Wednesday, allowing participants to ask presenters questions and discuss projects among the group.

“I got to use my coding skills to create something that could potentially help the environment, I got to try using a form of code (block-based) that I wouldn’t normally come across, and despite lockdown, I could attend interesting seminars such as the ones about Micro:bit and Arduino”
– Attendee feedback

Outcomes and next steps

Thirty-five participants completed the event, with 16 competing in the challenge, submitting their solutions for prize consideration at the end of the programme.

Following judging by the panel of presenters on the submitted projects, SERAS Making Kits were awarded to high ranking submissions, encouraging participants to further explore and utilise IoT over the summer months.

Feedback from participants showed an increase in audience knowledge, skills, and enthusiasm for understanding and engaging with IoT. Highlighted in the feedback was the accessibility of resources, engaging content complementing traditional curriculum teaching and transferable skills.