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Pioneering a 'frightening' way to learn coding

Coding is now a familiar part of primary school lessons in classrooms up and down the country. But, for the first time, a collaboration between King’s digital experts, the University of Sussex and KIT Theatre has harnessed the power of immersive theatre to give a different spin to digital education.

As part of a project to inspire young Londoners, Lambeth school children were transformed into paranormal ghost hunters during Digital Ghost Hunt, an augmented reality coding experience that challenged the pupils to think like real-life digital programmers.

Taking coding education and digital technology beyond the national curriculum, the event at Battersea Arts Centre saw 40 Year 5 pupils program their own paranormal detectors and use them together in a collaborative live show.

The children were given a series of four coding challenges that made them think like a programmer by learning to read and debug code, interrogate the steps of an algorithm and consider basic logic structures.

Adam Seakens, a teacher at Shaftesbury Park Primary School said the event was a thrilling and unforgettable experience for his pupils adding that ‘they’d never seen coding used in such a dramatic and immersive setting.’

A team of actors worked alongside King’s digital experts to design and deliver the event. The immersive experience began when a normal assembly at Shaftesbury Park was interrupted by Deputy Undersecretary Quill from the Ministry of Real Paranormal Hygiene, there to recruit the school’s Year 5 class into the Department’s Ghost Removal Section.

The young ghost hunters created tracking devices – made from two microcomputers, a Raspberry Pi and a Micro:bit – to identify objects and locations touched by the ghost. Each had different capabilities, forcing the classmates to work together to discover ghostly traces, translate Morse code using flickering lights and find messages left in ectoplasm, or ultraviolet paint. Meanwhile, the ghost communicated through a mixture of traditional theatrical effects and the poltergeist potential of smart home technology.

Together, the pupils unravelled the mystery of the ghost’s haunting and helped to set it free.


Elliott Hall, a Research Software Engineer in King’s Digital Lab, who created Digital Ghost Hunt says: ‘Coding is not just a skill badly needed in an increasingly digital world, it’s a tool of the imagination.  I created the Ghost Hunt to use that playful side of technology, and to engage those who feel it’s too techy or boyish for them to create with themselves.’

Elliott and the team now hope to roll out Digital Ghost Hunt in other areas in the country, with a limited run of the show premiering in York in Summer 2019.

Read more about the impact King's is having in London here

The Digital Ghost Hunt was designed to inspire young people to think about digital education and coding in a new way. Created by Elliott Hall, a senior developer in King’s Digital Lab, alongside Tom Bowtell, founder of KIT Theatre, an immersive theatre company for children, it was supported by King’s Digital Lab’s ‘10 per cent programme’, which invites the team to explore digital research innovations. The event was funded by an Arts & Humanities Research Council grant led by Mary Krell of the University of Sussex.