What I’ve learned (so far) from launching the Learn Code for Journalism project

/* start lessons learned since launch */

When I came up with this idea, I was hoping to get nine people to join me in a Google+ hangout, together awkwardly hacking away at Code Year lessons. Well, there were considerably more people interested.

When the dust finally settled, 100 people signed up for this project… apparently there is strong interest among journalists to learn programming together using these two platforms.

So, it’s been a couple of months since this project launched. Here are some highlights:

  • A total of 100 people signed up for this project through the application form. Not only from across the country, but also around the globe… including Korea and Sweden.
  • The tech skill level was across the board, but more at the basic HTML level.
  • Many participants had tried the Code Year lesson plan, but, like other New Year’s resolutions, gave up on it.
  • Of those that signed up, about a quarter dropped out almost immediately. Why did they drop out? Well based on the responses, a few people signed up out of curiosity about the project… and really didn’t want to commit.
  • After coordinating schedules with the remaining participants, we ended up with twelve timeslots, or cohorts, meeting throughout the week. The “class” sizes ranged from three to a maximum of nine.
  • There were some tech glitches the first week, as people started to use Google+ and Hangouts for the first time. Some never got their camera to work, but were still able to participant. One person had to use their phone to participate in the Hangout.
  • At this stage, a few wanted to change timeslots and yet others dropped out not being able to sustain the weekly commitment. But the majority stayed on.
  • In the first week I asked people to share their experiences… did this meet their expectations? Where they still into the project? The responses were exactly what I’d hope: People enjoyed the concept.
  • In terms of feedback, one participant wished there was a live coder/expert participating to help the cohort along. (One timeslot actually has this.) Also, while Code Year is a powerful platform, some of the lessons are a little clunky. They would benefit from an editor to make sure the wording flows and makes sense to a n00b.

Since the initial email, I have been too busy to check in. That said, my cohort, which meets Mondays at 3PM PT, has been meeting every week and has made progress. (We even met during a holiday week.)

In other words, it worked!

I’m committed to learn these lessons with a group of strangers that want to learn. While we have never met before this project, my cohort shows a sense of camaraderie as we stumble through but successfully figure out these lessons.

We help each other out. We feel safe enough to ask “stupid questions” (and believe me I’ve asked some). We dissect the lessons to help figure out what the heck it is asking. We review each other’s code to see what we’re missing.

In short, we’re learning together!

While I’m still collecting data – I plan to send out a survey soon – I have gained a lot of insight and learned some lessons on how to organize something like this.

And one thing is clear… there needs to be a second wave!

Stay tuned for details.

/* end lessons learned since launch */

18. June 2012 by Robert Hernandez
Categories: News | 6 comments

Comments (6)

  1. I am one of the sad sad folks that has dropped. For me it started and then I had some travel. So I figure – I’d catch up. Right! Then another week of travel. And then one week where I treated myself to a Sunday off (Sunday being my time slot). Next thing you know – it’s my second time falling out of Learn to Code.

    Much like quitting takes several attempts – I suspect learning stuff like this takes several attempts for many people (others get it their first go-around, go figure). Alas…… a third attempt will happen and hopefully I’ll stick with it.

    I am willing to bet, however, that having the teams increases the % of folks that stick with it – over the % that stick with it just using Learn To Code by their lonseome…..

  2. Great to hear there will be a second wave! Where do I sign up? :)

    My issue is that I did CodeYear daily for a while but if I skip a few days, then I skip ten, and I know the first day back I’ll have to review and redo some lessons to get back into it — that said, the once-per-week format is great.

  3. I wonder if an end-of-week catchup/remedial session would be good to stop the downward spiral.

  4. I started Code Year as part of this project (a Tuesday morning group), but after members kept missing weeks over and over, our group fell apart. I already knew how to code, but was really interested in Codecademy’s model — and when presented with challenges where I couldn’t just copy and paste the same old code I always reuse, I do think I learned a few things or at least considered some things differently. And I had fun helping my group along each week, for the month that we lasted.

    But I wanted to come back and report that, on my own, I completed Code Year today. The quality of instructions diminished notably towards the end (less users through those units, so less refinement, I guess), so it got rocky toward the end.

    For those still working through it: it CAN be done. Slogging through in marathons on slow days helped. Getting interruption-free time was key. If I jumped in for 15 minutes then had to switch back to something more urgent, those 15 minutes were a waste because I hadn’t made enough progress for anything to really stick yet. Then I’d come back later and have to restart the unit from the beginning just to remember WTF the exercise was about. Having more relevant exercises would be a big help, though, because sometimes you get to the end thinking, “Well, it says my code passes. I couldn’t tell you what it does or if there’s a point.”

    I’m curious to see what comes of round two. Robert, I know you said on the View Source podcast that you’d like to have programmers paired with the groups. I’d be interested in volunteering for that, or for helping develop more newsroom-friendly curricula.

  5. Pingback: Web Journalist Blog » Learn Code Project: A year ago… a year from now?

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