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BBC launches online archive for 1980s Computer Literacy Project

Archive will enable people to read up on a 10-year project developed by the BBC in the 1980s

The BBC has launched the Computer Literacy Project Archive on its BBC Taster website to give people access to a project it was part of four decades ago.

In the 1980s, the broadcaster ran a national initiative, the Computer Literacy Project, which aimed to educate people on the development of computing by explaining concepts such as the mass adoption of personal computing and the growth of information technology.

BBC chief technology and product officer Matthew Postgate said the hope is that making the archive available will help to inspire young people to take an interest in technology, much like the original project did.

“This archive offers a fascinating and nostalgic glimpse into an important milestone in the history of computing,” he said. “The hardware may have changed, but the principles still apply – which also makes it a unique resource for teaching and learning that will, hopefully, encourage a new generation of computer users.”

The BBC says many of the resources developed in the Computer Literacy Project are still relevant in the modern tech landscape, and the archive includes interviews with people such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak.

The archive will include 267 programmes about technology made in the 1980s, the ability to search programme clips by text and by topic, and learn more about why the BBC originally developed the project.

A BBC blog describing the launch of the archive said that, much like now, many people in the UK were unprepared for the level of technology adoption and had a lack of awareness of tech.

Digital skills are becoming increasingly important as a knowledge of digital is required to complete some of today’s most basic day-to-day tasks.  

Alongside the Computer Literacy Project in the 1980s, the BBC launched the BBC Micro, a computer system that helped teach people how to program and introduce them to computing concepts. This project has since been replicated with the BBC micro:bit computer, which was given to schoolchildren for free.

As part of the Computer Literacy Project archive, users will have online access to the original BBC Micro software for free, along with detailed descriptions of these pieces of software from the original product team who made them.

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The BBC has recently expressed an interest in adapting how its viewers can access and consume content, with Jon Page, head of operations at BBC R&D, telling Computer Weekly in 2016: “Rather than thinking about content as a linear thing that you craft, content can become an environment in which the audience can go and explore.”

As part of this shift, the broadcaster launched a Make It Digital initiative, including a digital content season across its TV, radio and online channels with the aim of attracting young people to take more interest in science, technology, engineering and maths (Stem).

The BBC has also introduced technology into more of its offerings, including trialling voice controls for its iPlayer application, launching trials for holographic televisions and, most recently, broadcasting the World Cup in virtual reality.

Steve Furber, principal designer of the original BBC Micro and the ARM 32-bit RISC microprocessor, and ICL professor of computer engineering at the school of computer science at the University of Manchester, said technology today is “taken for granted” and it is good too reflect on how technology was developed.

“The archive reminds us how we got to where we are today, and perhaps what we are missing that the Micro delivered so well,” he said.

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