Coding clubs take their sessions online

By Amy O'Meara. Posted

CoderDojo volunteers from across Italy meet to arrange a series of online events. Image credit: CoderDojo Pavia and company

Many coding clubs around the world are finding new ways of learning and connecting, overcoming roadblocks presented by the global lockdown

On top of widespread school closures the world over, the coronavirus pandemic has led to the temporary cessation of many extracurricular programming clubs. Global programmes such as CoderDojo and Code Club, and national initiatives such as Girls Who Code, are typically outlets for young people to learn to code and socialise within informal settings. The social aspect of these programmes is a key focus, so not being able to meet in person presents a significant challenge.

Exploring new avenues

With the health crisis unfolding at different rates across the world, club volunteers began responding in new and innovative ways to the challenge. Some approaches—such as running club sessions online using video conferencing—have become particularly popular. A network of CoderDojo clubs in Northern Italy has banded together to create a series of large-scale online events where over 100 regular attendees at a time can meet, code, and collaborate. One of the organisers, Samuele Vecchi, shared some group learnings from setting up one of these events: “We opened the virtual rooms at 3pm in order to give all participants the chance to test their set-up and become familiar with the tool. We encouraged the Ninjas (CoderDojo attendees) to present themselves using the microphone in order to do some icebreaking. The mentors were aided by co-mentors and we shared detailed instructions in advance for accessing the online tool.”

While coordinating an online event of this scale involves considerable preparation, it is evident from Samuele’s example that giving young people the chance to meet and find some sense of normalcy makes it all worthwhile. As his co-volunteer Vanessa puts it, “When the going (out) gets tough, CoderDojo gets going”. This was seconded by another co-volunteer, Amanda: “Not even quarantine can stop CoderDojo and the children’s desire for coding”. On a smaller scale, clubs making the move online are providing a sense of continuity for children and parents alike. Richard Hayler, who runs the Cranmere Primary School Code Club, shared: “I’ve been continuing to run my Code Club online using a Google Hangout. Feedback from parents has been that this is very welcome and provides a nice way for the children to connect with their friends.”

Other clubs have met their attendees’ needs by sending out coding projects and activities, setting competitions, and creating homemade tutorials. Michael Madden, of CoderDojo Athenry in Ireland, shared how two of their volunteers have been creating a repository of video tutorials: “Even though online tutorials can’t reproduce the fun of gathering together in a school hall to program collaboratively and figure things out together, they are allowing us to keep connected with our mentors and of course share our mentors’ knowledge with the wider world.” Michael’s sentiments echo feelings that several club volunteers have shared—that the human element cannot be replicated online, but that online activities are nonetheless an important and valuable way to connect at this time.

Attendees from the Cranmere Code Club share Scratch projects they have created online.

Formal support from organisations

Organisations that run club programmes are supporting new ways of working and providing tools and resources to their communities of volunteers. Girls Who Code is making educational activities available to download for free, as part of their new #CodeFromHome curriculum. The Canadian non-profit Kids Code Jeunesse have likewise moved much of their resources online, with weekly virtual hangouts to support young people, caregivers, and educators. The Raspberry Pi Foundation launched guidelines and community calls to support club volunteers with running online activities, and also a content series, Digital Making at Home, whereby young people can code along to videos from home.

Looking ahead

While it is impossible to predict when clubs will return to their normal rhythm, we do know that this show of resilience will have helped bring many communities closer together and introduced new ways of learning for young people and volunteers. As Samuele from CoderDojo Pavia put it: “We would never have organised an event that unites 11 different clubs with 60 mentors and more than 300 ninjas if we weren’t in this situation!”


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