I feel I should caveat this post by saying I don’t have any formal teaching qualifications. I have, however, volunteered as an instructor for Code First: Girls on their Introduction to Web Development course and delivered it twice now. So I have a bit of experience that I want to share with others who like me could (just about) code but had never taught coding before. Both times I have taught the course online using video conferencing software such as Zoom and Google Meet. This came with its own set of challenges that these tips also consider.
Here are my top tips for teaching coding remotely.
1. Learn and use your students names as much as you can.
This was a great thing I learned from Alexandra B — a confidence coach who delivered a session as part of the Code First: Girls fellowship. It can be difficult to build a relationship with your students when you’re teaching through a screen. Learning and using names can help your students feel seen and considered. Using someone’s name in any context will make them more engaged in the conversation, but when teaching remotely it can also help to build a more personal connection. Students will also be more alert if they know you may pose a question directly to them at any moment.
2. Check understanding.
This is increasingly important when delivering courses remotely as you can’t use the atmosphere in a room to gauge whether people are understanding. Gestures like a shaking of the head, a scowl, or a huh-what-is-going-on-face are a lot more difficult to spot. So you need to be more direct in checking people are getting it. You can do this by simply asking that very question regularly and waiting for a response. Students who are shy about talking on camera you can invite to email or slack you after class. You could be more creative and make mini quizzes or polls. Something really simple like click green if you got that, amber if you sort of got that, and red if you didn’t get that can be really effective in assessing the overall understanding of the class.
3. Ask questions.
Asking questions is obviously a great way to check understanding, but that isn’t all they’re good for. They can also make room for conversation that might more naturally occur in an in-person classroom. It can be hard to replicate the feeling of a classroom online mainly because it’s more difficult to have different conversations. Questions are a great way of encouraging engagement and participation, whether they’re on a specific topic or about something more general such as ‘how did you find the homework?’. It’s much easier to default to lecture-style when teaching online as it can be more difficult to get feedback. Students might also be more reluctant to interrupt when you are talking. Asking questions is a great way to invite that participation.
4. Encourage independent learning.
When it comes to coding, being able to troubleshoot problems and errors independently is vital. This should be highlighted at the beginner stage. A great way of doing this is by signposting resources and docs related to the session that students can consult on their own after the class has finished. There are so many great resources out there that students can use to go over concepts and practice. Codewars, freeCodeCamp and W3Schools are ones that spring to my mind, but there are many others. It’s a great idea to show console.log()/print()/[insert your language equivalent] as early on as you can and make it a regular part of sessions. Demonstrating how you would go about googling errors and reading through Stack Overflow is also really valuable and leads into my final tip…
5. Be honest about your own struggles.
Your students will undoubtedly feel overwhelmed at times. Very few people I’ve met weren’t blown away by the seeming complexity of coding on first encountering it. Being transparent about concepts that you struggled with and how you overcame that can not only help them to understand better, but also help with morale when they don’t get something straight away. Also, when you trip up on syntax or forget a particular method in class (we’ve all done it!), being open about it and showing what you’re doing to figure it out can really help when it comes to them troubleshooting errors of their own.
So there you have it, those are my 5 Top Tips for Teaching Coding Remotely. If you’re about to be an instructor for the first time, I really hope they help. If you’ve instructed before — what top tips would you add?
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