Last week, Chris and I attended the Children’s Media Conference, a three day event covering development, production and distribution of content to kids.

The Children’s Media Conference is a huge event with over 50 sessions, keynotes, workshops and panels featuring speakers from many household names, including BBC, Nickelodeon, Penguin Random House, Lego, ITV, YouTube, and Disney. The conference drew a massive crowd, with well over 1,000 people attending!

This was my first visit to the Children’s Media Conference, and it was long overdue – we have watched the conference come and go in our office block for nearly 10 years.

The theme of this year’s conference was ‘All Change?” What does new tech like mobile apps, online games and the Internet mean for companies who specialise in child-friendly content? The conference even had a dedicated ‘EdTech’ strand where speakers explored every aspect of educational technology and digital learning. Engaging educational software is at the heart of Can Studios, so this year’s theme was right up our street and it was impossible to miss.

I spent most of the three days attending the EdTech sessions while Chris attended a range of sessions about digital crossover and funding. There was way too much good stuff to cover it all, but there were a few sessions that really stood out for me, and that I’ve found myself thinking a lot about, post-conference:

The Children's Media Conference

Learning by App

An engaging panel hosted by Sheffield’s own Carlton Reeve discussed the ways that educational apps are transforming the way children learn. I think there was a genuine concern over the quality of much of the educational content available voiced by Justin Smith, curator of EducationalAppStore.com. I was also introduced to the wonderful world of the Night Zoo Keeper app, which is ingenious in the way it shares children’s creations with their friends to encourage creative writing.

The web we want

The session was really fun, presented as a homage to BlockBusters with the panel trying to guess what IAP*  annoys kids, or why FCB** drive you crazy.

While the research itself was interesting, the highlight of this session was hearing directly from Amy Mather, a keen 16-year-old coder and frequent speaker at Maker events for several year already. Most responses were in line with the major gripes we have as adults – too many adverts, constantly being pestered to make in-app purchases, and adverts that are irrelevant (or even worse, inappropriate) for the person who’s viewing them. However, the theme of cyberbullying, trolling and game griefing (where good players destroy new players before they can get started) all seem to be high on the agenda for the younger users.

We were all left with the challenge: how do we make the digital world a safer and less frustrating place for our children?

* In App Purchases, ** Fake Close Buttons

EdTech Futures

In this session a panel of experienced entrepreneurs debated a tough question: What alternatives are there to the traditional commissioning model?

It was interesting to hear everyone’s experiences of taking a project from initial creative spark to fully-funded business.

A key message was the value of early and frequent user feedback, with many of the panelists describing the changes they’d made and how they saved money by making these changes early in the product life cycle.

After the panel event I had the chance to have a chat with Joe Dytrych of Drum Roll HQ who have prototyped an interactive coding game. If you’re interested in seeing just how much fun learning HTML can be, I highly recommend checking out their Erase All Kittens demo.

Whilst there is a lot of activity going on with coding games and tutorials right now, this can all be a little abstract. The maker community on the other hand are planting edtech firmly in the real world. Companies like Tech Will Save Us (https://www.techwillsaveus.com/) are producing digital tinker kits; Physical box sets to encourage kids to get hands on with technology. From Thirsty Plant Kits to DIY Gamer Kits, I know my daughters would love to get these for their birthday.

The massive news was that every 12 year old in the UK will be getting a Micro:Bit in October (that’s about a million devices) thanks to a partnership with BBC, ARM and Microsoft. Each Micro Bit has LED lights that children can program through writing simple code. If you’re interested in learning more about Micro Bit, the BBC website has a full report.

These are just a few of the sessions I attended. If you want to find out more, the Children’s Media Conference have done a great job of writing up the different sessions at their blog.

Of course, conferences aren’t just about the sessions! Another big part of the whole conference experience are the people who attend. All the attendees I spoke to seemed enthusiastic and excited to be there, and to connect with other content creators rather than just handing out business cards and doing the hard sell!

So that was my first ever Children’s Media Conference! I’m already looking forward to next year’s event – indeed, I think I’ll try to get more involved and see if we can help organise a session next year.