Keeping the DM community whilst remote

Taking our full time Coding Fellowship Bootcamp students from a classroom to ‘Live remote’ setting felt like pulling out part of the heart of our offering – the Develop Me community. Our main concern wasn’t if we could transition the teaching online, our instructor team are incredible and highly experienced so we had no worries there, it was more how we would keep the same great social dynamics and community alive when everyone was so far removed physically.

However, as you’ll see in this article, student feedback shows that remote learning during the lockdown has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. The highs have far outweighed the lows and student bonding from a distance is totally possible. We should never have worried, the community is very much alive!

Making the changes

2020 has seen people globally swept from their usual way of living with very little warning. And whilst the extreme nature of the change may be temporary, the reality means that the businesses lucky enough to continue trading have had to adjust their offerings extremely quickly.

We were confident we could make adjustments to teaching our students from home because we knew our instructors would be able to deliver the course content expertly online – we are a tech company after all, so effective content delivery using a myriad of software was never the issue. We leant on the experiences we’ve gained over the last 4 years running the Coding Fellowship and with a few weeks of planning and hard work we had the course ready to be taught remotely.

Tutor Teaching Set up

Our worry? How would our students cope with this solitary learning experience?

It’s 9 weeks since we took our students remote and we have successfully graduated 12 very happy students who produced incredible Apps in the last week of their course. They worked entirely remotely in groups of 4 and produced outstanding results proving that they did not need to be in the same room to work collaboratively on projects.

Our current group of students started remote and will, most likely, end remote. We have monitored them carefully, using the daily morning ‘stand-up sessions’ and one-to-one feedback sessions every Friday to check in on their learning experience and mental heath – This is what they tell us.

Main student challenges:

  • Worries around how to bond and emulate the social interaction of a group – fundamental to the classroom dynamic and creating a fun learning experience.
  • No opportunity to ‘look over your peer’s shoulder’ and learn from their live coding sessions.
  • Less accountability and the temptation to take a break rather than complete extra challenges if you finish the class coding exercises early.
  • Reticence about asking small or simple questions in front of everyone in an online session.

Addressing those challenges:

  • Morning webcam ‘stand-ups’- 9.30am sharp to check-in every student – asking how they are feeling and sharing any worries and ideas. This has seen the group rally round to support each other.
  • Online socials with ‘BYO drinks’.

Student social photo

  • Student music channel in Slack where they share music they like to code to – this cohort enjoy anything from trance to Irish instrumental!
  • Paired programming to view others’ workings and tackle code challenges together – great for learning from each other
  • Live remote code reviews
  • Introducing more accountability to those students issued with follow up challenges
  • Help channels and chat rooms in Slack and Google Meet where students have the opportunity to talk one-to-one with instructors and teaching assistants

Surprise bonuses of remote working:

  • No distractions. Concentration sky rockets. Coding needs focus so this has worked really well for the students
  • We record each live lecture and students really value the opportunity to review and recap
  • Feeling physically relaxed and well rested – and not having to commute means extra time to exercise, use our mindfulness coaching or review code before kick-off each morning
  • Described as: ‘A perfect use of time’ during lockdown and has been a huge help for those living alone as they feel part of a learning community
  • The cohort feels they are really pulling together and supporting each other. Everyone is making an extra effort to do well because they are all in a very unique time together

Top Tips to get the most out of a remote classroom

  • Have a second monitor linked to the same computer so you can look at different things at the same time
  • Use the HELP chat rooms as much as you need – don’t be shy to ask questions
  • Be on time in the morning for the morning ‘stand-up’ – don’t hang around in your pyjamas half asleep
  • Organise some extra ‘Hangout’ chat groups with your peers during the day to compare code/ideas/challenges with students at the same level as you
  • Take your breaks – always take time away from the screen – if allowed outside – do it!

Our thoughts:

We are extremely proud of our students, instructors and support staff who successfully reduced a mountain down to a molehill when this terrible pandemic demanded quick thinking.

Everyone has kept smiling – although a little sleep might have been lost at times in the early days of reorganising our entire teaching process!

The future. What does it hold?

So – do clouds hold a silver lining?

Maybe so.

For us, we are currently exploring the opportunity for a more blended learning experience for our students in the future.

For our students, they may have unlocked the ability to work globally. Having proved they can become a Full Stack Web Developer in a remote environment, this twist of fate has broadened their ability which enables them to apply for global jobs right from their homes here in the South West.