Jun 04, 2020 By Team YoungWonks *
What is an online coding class? And why does the subject merit our attention even more today? The answer is simple: at a time when the world economy is reeling under the aftermath of the Coronavirus-induced lockdown, perhaps among the few industries that have done well include those offering technology solutions - be it e-meeting software and online education or e-commerce. The demand for technical expertise has always been high and in these unprecedented times, it continues to be so. All of which reiterate now more than ever a need to learn programming, or coding as it is also known as. This also explains why there has been a spurt in the number of students taking up online coding classes.
In this blog, we shall delve deep into what is an online coding class, how they are conducted, how one can go about selecting one for one’s kid and lots more.
What is a Coding Class?
As the name suggests, a coding class is a class where students are taught coding aka programming. Which brings us to the question: What is coding? Coding, aka computer programming - to put it simply - is how we interact with computers; it is what we use to build and run websites, apps, video games, computer graphics and more. In technical terms, it is the process of designing and creating / writing an executable computer program so as to achieve a particular computing result (for the said website, app or video game). Learning to code is thus not very different from learning to speak and write in a new language; except here the language is a computer language, something that computers can comprehend even as they carry out our commands and complete our tasks.
Just like it is in case of a regular spoken or written language, coding languages - and there are several of them in use today - too need correct syntax and grammar so as to facilitate smooth communication. If a wrong command is issued in a given coding language, the software will show an error whereas the right set of coding instructions gets the job done. This is why one learns coding, so as to learn the programming language and interact well with the computer and get it to obey one’s commands.
What is an online coding class?
An online coding class is a one where coding is taught online as opposed to in-person. Typically, two types of online coding classes: pre-recorded videos and live classes. Several online coding classes today are just recorded videos where the student at the other end of the screen gets no individual attention and is instead made to just sit through pre-recorded lessons. Coding programs such as YoungWonks, on the other hand, offer 1:1 live coding lessons online where the instructor teaches and interacts with the student on a regular basis thereby doing a much better job of monitoring the latter’s progress.
Online coding classes have been around for a while now, especially after-school coding programs. And with COVID19 causing worldwide lockdown, they have only gained popularity today.
However, myths continue to surround online coding classes. The biggest of which is perhaps that an online coding class is no match to an in-person class. This doesn’t have to be true; if the class has a healthy student-teacher ratio, attentive instructors who encourage a maker culture and believe in self-paced learning, students stand to gain as much from an online coding class as they can in a physical classroom. Also, a highly efficient online teaching / meeting software and uninterrupted Internet connection can make a big difference here.
How are online coding classes conducted?
At after-school coding classes such as YoungWonks, there is a well-defined curriculum in place and it emphasizes learning by doing. This means that most of the material is taught by having kids work on individual projects and occasionally, in small teams.
At YoungWonks, students can avail of a trial class to begin with and after they have joined they - and their parents - get access to the student portal which lays out the curriculum in several sections across levels. Class requirements - for both study and projects - are clearly spelled out and online classes are launched through the links shared on the student portal, offering total student privacy. Kids can thus attend these online classes from anywhere in the world.
YoungWonks swears by a four-step approach in teaching its kids. It starts with
a) Showing kids what technology can do
b) Piquing kids’ interest in the subject
c) Explaining how it works and lastly,
d) Assigning projects to use that conceptual knowledge and apply it in creative ways to make something new.
Students are encouraged to think out of the box and be free with questions and there is no pressure to keep up with anyone else.
Features of a good online coding class
What can one look for in an online coding class for one’s kid? Below are a few pointers:
a. Student safety comes first: A good online coding class will have instructors using a password to protect each online session from being hacked. Instructors here will also keep track of attendees and keep unwanted participants at bay.
b. Faculty factor: Parents should do their research and look for classes which have well-educated graduate instructors and not just college seniors earning money on the side.
c. Individual attention: A healthy student-teacher ratio - say, 4:1 or 1:1 - can make a lot of difference in terms of how much the student can grasp during the course of a class.
d. Project-driven instructor approach: A good online coding class focuses on maker culture instead of rote learning. This means emphasis on fun DIY projects in a pressure-free environment where students have a growth (aka can do) mindset.
e. Track record: Reading up about the online class’s participation and performance at several competitions is a good way to assess this. YoungWonks students, for instance, won the first prize at the 2017 RoboRave US National, the first and second prizes at the 2016 RoboRave California and two out of four prizes at the 2016 Synopsys Alameda County Science and Engineering Fair.
f. Instructor access: A good online coding class will offer accountability and easy access to the instructor. So parents can reach out to their kids’ teachers and have an honest chat about their concerns, supervising their kids’ performance or even general feedback and suggestions.
Benefits offered by online coding classes
Early exposure to computer science and computer programming can be very beneficial as it can help a child develop strong critical thinking skills. Indeed, both coding and critical thinking encourage a similar approach to problem solving. In both cases one needs to first figure out the problem or task, analyze it, come up with initial solutions, test them and repeat the process for better results. For example, troubleshooting where programmers need to identify issues and try different tactics until they find a strong solution.
Coding also helps one with creative thinking. Successful coders are those who can approach a problem from different angles and come up with several possible solutions. Coding also helps one have an open mind. In coding, a common scenario is one where there are multiple correct answers. This variability makes students aware of the reality that one should be open to new ideas and stay flexible. Working around problems and constant improvement typically become easier when one has learnt coding.
At YoungWonks, not only do students learn coding online but they also get full access to a detailed, well-defined curriculum. There is also greater flexibility in options and one can pick an online coding class more suited to one’s schedule. The fact that an online class saves travel time and cuts across geographical boundaries in that one can join it from anywhere in the world is also a huge advantage.
Events and activities by online coding classes
Online coding classes - like regular classes - host a variety of online coding events to keep their students engaged. For example, YoungWonks hosts its online fair, CCI (Code Create Innovate) twice each year; typically every June and December and in both onsite and online formats. Essentially a show-and-tell event with free entry for exhibitors, attendees and family members, every student in Level 2 and above is expected to exhibit projects that he/ she has worked on at the CCI. Students are advised to pick their favorite projects and send in project proposals with the corresponding title, description, names of other team members (if any) and names of teachers the student usually works with. The online exhibits are done from home using Zoom, with specific instructions and links emailed before the event.
Apart from this, there are also hackathons and webinars that students can attend. Some webinars are general webinars on technical topics while others can be preps for specific coding competitions such as USACO (United States of America Computing Olympiad). YoungWonks’s HackDay day-long hackathon, meanwhile, has three tracks to choose from: Elementary (for elementary school kids), Middle (for middle schoolers) and Pros (for high schoolers and adults).
Additionally, there are also online coding summer camps and online coding boot camps for older kids who wish to put their holidays to good use and grasp a better understanding of key coding concepts.
Coding languages being taught at online coding classes today
There are many popular coding languages that are being taught online today. There’s Scratch, a programming language that has been translated into 70+ languages and is used in most parts of the world. It’s a common starting point for young kids who are just starting out in the world of coding since it is an event-driven, block-based coding language. Basically a visual programming language and online community targeted at children, one gets to code with ‘blocks’ in the editor.
Similarly, Java is a popular choice since it has a lot of demand today. Owned by the Oracle Corporation, Java is a general-purpose programming language with its object-oriented structure; its Write Once, Run Anywhere (WORA) capabilities has made it a standard for applications used on Mac, Window, Android, iOS, etc.
Ideal teaching methodology at online coding classes
Like in a physical classroom, an online classroom too needs teachers who can foster a positive environment for the student. Thus parents looking for a serious online coding program for their kids need to make the effort to know more about the class’s teaching methodology. What teaching approach do the teachers follow? At YoungWonks, the faculty believes in the growth mindset. In other words, they think that a person’s talent can be honed with consistent hard work and the right guidance, as opposed to the fixed mindset where people think they are limited by the innate qualities they are born with.
YoungWonks also follows a self-paced, enquiry-based learning model that believes in personalising the teaching experience to suit each individual student. This stems from recognising the fact that each child is different and can take varying time periods to learn. Often students buckle under pressure from instructors to keep pace with the rest of the class. At YoungWonks though, there’s emphasis on getting the basics right and building on that.
In fact, students here are taught through projects and in a flipped classroom setup. This means that instead of imparting instruction in the class, the lesson is initially shared through videos and the online classroom session is then dedicated to students actually working on a project or assignment, something that is usually done at home/ outside the classroom. It’s this blended learning combining traditional instruction (in the form of a teacher’s supervision) with modern e-learning techniques (read: videos and online classes) that goes a long way in shaping a student’s interest in and attitude towards coding as a practical science.
Given the benefits to learning coding, the need for social distancing today, and how effective online personalised (1:1) coding classes can be - and that too with the privacy of kids intact - parents should consider online coding programs for their children.
*Contributors: Written by Vidya Prabhu; Lead image by: Leonel Cruz