This is how we did it, what we have learned so far and how it might shape our work going forward.
When the COVID-19 lockdown quickly became a reality in early March, we were preparing the launch of three new coding bootcamps at our office in Istanbul, Re:Coded House in Erbil and at our friends at Mosul Space in Iraq.
Our model has always been based on a blended learning experience where students need to dedicate at least 25 hours of study online and 10 hours of class time per week. Our in-person classes are two week-nights and a full day on the weekend.
After tweaks and twists, this is the model we concluded was most suitable for our students who often have to work full-time or keep up with studies at university. With a flexible schedule, they continue working or studying while having time to learn coding at our bootcamps.
The blended learning model has been the cornerstone of our programs. We provide an experience that goes beyond simply learning the curriculum and completing the bootcamp. We work to build their confidence, creativity and leadership, preparing them to not only be web developers, but also engaged members of their communities. Our classroom is where we connect and get to know them, and working with the team of Re:Coded trainers and each other is how we keep engagement and retention rates high.
With countrywide lockdowns in force in Iraq and Turkey since March 15 and 16, respectively, our teams went all hands on deck to bring our programs and operations online in the shortest time possible. With a bootcamp starting in Istanbul on March 16, that literally meant 24 hours of a super sprint and many (online) meetings to adapt our model. We have since run 5 fully online classes and gone through at least 40 hours of coding material and practical activities. We have learned 5 important things so far:
- Class preparation is always critical, but now more than ever. Our trainers put together lesson plans that clearly describe step-by-step how the class will go. There must be little room for surprises. When trainers are not sure what to do next, the online factor kicks in and communication between trainers and students spirals downwards.
- One trainer should take the lead for each class. This avoids confusion and overstepping during the class. The lead trainer should know the lesson plan as the back of her hands and be able to guide other trainers through an online session if they get lost.
- Break out rooms have been working well. We use Zoom for online classes and the room’s functionality allows us to break a 30-person group into smaller, 6-person groups. That’s when practice takes place. Our trainers give a challenge or small project to students and they have to work together to come up with an answer or output in a limited amount of time. This practice has so far made our online sessions interactive and fun.
- Be mindful of students with technical challenges. As expected, some students will not have access to reliable and fast internet connection at home. They may also not have hardware that supports the different softwares they need to use during class. Our trainers are constantly checking in with students who cannot turn their cameras on or have dropped out of the call. We also try to give as much support as possible in between classes so that these issues are fixed or at least mitigated.
- Keep the conversation flowing outside of class. We use Slack to help students outside of class hours. This is not a new tool for us. We have used Slack since our first bootcamp. But online conversations among students and between students and trainers have never been so active and engaging as now. Students are building a community with their peers outside of class as well, keeping each other accountable and collaborating on tasks.
The online coding bootcamp in Istanbul is our first test before we launch programs in Erbil and Mosul on April 6th. We have purposely pushed these programs back from March 15 so that we could have the time to experiment with one bootcamp, learn what works and what doesn’t, before scaling out this new model.
So this is what it looks like right now.
Going fully online will have its own hiccups. No doubt about that. But it is also one of those challenges that you can turn into an opportunity. The moment we decided to go online, we pledged to our students that we would not rest until we could replicate the quality of our in-person programs online. We have a model that we are very familiar with, having run 14 coding bootcamps since 2016. When you know the pieces of the puzzle, it’s easier to shuffle them around and come up with a new game. Until the lockdown is over, we will keep adapting other parts of our programs, from onboarding to graduation and employment facilitation.
While COVID-19 has sadly pushed many businesses to the verge of collapse, it has given us the opportunity to reinvent ourselves quickly to continue to advance our mission. We are now thinking of how we can take more programs online and impact the lives of more people, during and after the pandemic.