Online courses for all

By Michael Conterio. Posted

We support learners by using screencast videos to model how you could complete programming tasks

Originally published in Hello World Issue 19: Sustainability and Computing, June 2022. All information true at the time of original publishing.

Michael Conterio explores how the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s online courses support all kinds of educators

Since 2018, I’ve helped the Raspberry Pi Foundation to produce 33 online learning courses as part of England’s National Centre for Computing Education. From the fundamentals of computing to cybersecurity essentials and helping learners take their first steps into coding with Scratch, these free courses provide support for educators of all kinds.

Although we’ve got a well-defined target audience for our courses — educators — the feedback we’ve received shows that there’s a wide range of reasons people engage with them. This means that we’ve had to think carefully about how we can support a wider range of learners with different objectives and needs.

Building knowledge and skills

Unsurprisingly, a lot of people say that they took a course to develop their understanding of the computing topics that it covered — whether that’s a topic new to them or a chance to review their knowledge. Another key area is developing confidence; learners talked about how becoming more secure in their understanding had built their confidence in working with their students. Other learners expressed that their increasing confidence meant they were happier to progress to more complex areas.

As well as content knowledge, another key part of teaching is the pedagogy — the theory and practice of how to teach. In our courses, we include advice for learners about beneficial pedagogical approaches to different strands of computing and topics, and we’ve found that this is not only helpful to formal educators. Educators working outside formal education have found this advice useful too, with parents and volunteers saying the courses have taught them to think differently about how they can help young people develop their skills — as one participant of the Scratch to Python course put it, “As a parent with some coding experience, it can be challenging to find ways to approach coding with kids. This course definitely has me thinking differently about how to help my kids evolve their programming skills.”

Of course, we also practise what we preach and apply that pedagogy in the courses themselves, particularly the approaches in line with our key pedagogical principles, described in Hello World’s The Big Book of Computing Pedagogy. For example, where we feel that a concept or skill would benefit from being demonstrated in a different way (‘Add Variety’), we’ve included diagrams, animations, and videos. To ensure that these are accessible, we still make sure all the key information is also available as text. Although we generally present the concept first, we will often use real-life examples to provide concrete contexts (‘Make Concrete’) before returning to the concept, in a semantic wave (‘Unplug, Unpack, Repack’).

We also encourage our learners to complete relevant active tasks — for example, programming activities, unplugged activities like reviewing a logic circuit, or design tasks such as decomposing an embedded system. With the active programming tasks, we support learners by using screencast videos to model how you could complete them (‘Model Everything’). As well as showing the presenter writing the code, the video includes the presenter explaining the process they go through as they do so, to demonstrate the thinking involved.

Social learning

One of the advantages of the online platforms we use is the possibilities for social learning. To encourage learners to discuss their ideas and what they’ve made, our courses prompt them to share their creations, thoughts, and questions. For example, a prompt might ask participants if the web today still follows its original open ethos, or ask learners to consider whether bitmap or vector images are more suitable for different scenarios.

To support these discussions and give learners a sense of confidence and achievement, our courses are regularly facilitated by experienced computing educators whose role is to encourage, provide adaptations, and answer questions.

We are keen to see our courses having an impact, so we were also happy to see how some of our course participants were inspired by them. Some have recruited their fellow educators to form a cohort who are all progressing through our courses together, supporting each other along the way. Others have talked about coming into some of our courses with an interest in a particular branch of computing and finishing with them wanting to turn it into a career, such as Manuela, who participated in the Introduction to Web Development course: “I started the course with the thought of acquiring some more knowledge on how to be a web developer, and I finished it wishing to do this as a profession.”

Find your next course

The courses page on the Raspberry Pi website will help you make a choice about which course is best for you (raspberrypi.org/courses). You might want to choose a course from a particular strand of your curriculum, such as programming or networking, or you might want to find a course to help you with a particular practice, such as physical computing, or developing your teaching pedagogy. When you sign up for a course, you’ll get free access for a limited time. If you are a teacher in England, you can sign up to our courses on Teach Computing (teachcomputing.org/courses), and you will get free extended access to the courses, as well as a certificate when you complete a course.

Whether you’re a formal or informal educator, and whatever your reason for joining a course, we will hopefully have a course that interests you and gives you the support you need. Why not join a learner like Aliyah today — she had this to say: “This was such a simple and informative course, I learnt things that I was previously confused about. I’m not an expert but I am proud to say that I now know so much more than before I started this course.”

Reusing our materials

These courses are free, and thanks to the Open Government Licence they are released under, the materials are free for you to download, reuse, and adapt. This includes the images, screencasts, and animations that we’ve created for the courses.


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