Growth of Coding Schools

David Hoffmeister, wrote a relatively objective piece on the proliferation of coding schools. The driving question of the article is how should higher education institutes react to these new and growing coding bootcamp academies? Having been designed curriculum and instructional for traditional high education models and now helping direct the curriculum and instructional model of Mobile Makers Academy, I can only have one answer: celebrate them.

Education isn’t The Highlander – there can be more than one [model]. Deep, meaningful learning doesn’t occur only in a classroom – it’s happening everywhere, across a life-time. A new mother doesn’t retreat to a classroom to figure out how to soothe her crying baby: she relies on learning from other mothers (mentors), support groups (peer learning), online blogs (self-directed learning), and her doctor (expert practioners). I encourage all higher education institutes to reflect: are you so ready to say, definitively, that people can learn only in your model? Are you really ready to look a plumber, who went through the local union’s apprentice program – which typically lasts 4 – 5 years with formal training – that her time spent doesn’t count as learning?

This isn’t about a new and radical form of education emerging, it’s about society embracing diversity of learning – in this case, training. The growth of these academies means that there are more and different opportunities for people to grow as humans and become productive citizens. If you’re against that, then I urge you to reflect upon what you believe education is.

Here’s a few myths of these academies debunked:

People aren’t getting a quality education

The educational model is apprenticeship-based, often rooted in constructivist and collaborative learning – which mimics the life-long learning that occurs within the field of software development. Gina Trapani, a programmer, says that “Good coders are a special breed of persistent problem-solvers who are addicted to the small victories that come along a long path of trial and error.” Thus, when students leave these academies, they are not only competent in the skills but also they have the know-how to be successful as a life-long learner in their field.

The model is structured around students practicing the trade, mastering the tools, and learning the theory as they go. This works in the field of software engineering because right now, it’s a vocation. The model is perfect for the need of that trade.

People aren’t getting a thorough, well-rounded education (aka the liberal arts and cultural literacy that comes with a four year degree)

We all want our citizens to be well-rounded, thoughtful humans. But I will ask: does this only happen in a four year degree? If you believe it does, what does this say about the role of art museums and cultural centers? If “culture” is only taught in a classroom, then why do such museums and cultural centers exist? I really encourage all of us in education to think about reconstructing our assumptions and see the integration of learning in the day-to-day as a victory of our field and as a way to explore new ways to teach “liberal arts”.

This model of education is a fad

This model has proven itself in the United States since the mid 1600’s. So…

The companies teach only those who can demonstrate a propensity to coding

Yes. That’s the whole point: find people who can learn the skills, who want to learn the skills, and then teach them those skills. With the demand for developers so high, the options – as a marketplace – are either to train current populations in these skill sets or to outsource. The academies focus on identifying those who want to become developers and who can become developers to build out the workforce that’s needed.

So, returning to the question: how should higher education institutes react these new and growing coding bootcamp academies? The workforce needs workers and traditional education isn’t providing them. So, the field hacked the system by adopting a tried-and-true method to the new needs of today. We should celebrate the fact that the field of education is growing to meet the needs of this society. We – as educators – can’t grow without diversity of models and changing demands. Without them, we would stagnate. So I say, cheers. Welcome to the field.

Moral of the Story: Education is a life-long, life-deep, and life-wide affair that we have with ourselves. We cannot possibly assume that all critical forms of education can fit in the box of a classroom, bootcamp, workshop, or book. We must embrace and embody the mindset that learning is ever-present, and comes in many forms.

Implementing Carl Rogers in the Classroom

After pulling together some resources for our instructors here at work, I came across a great article that outlines Carl Roger’s theories on psychology, which align themselves with educational theories. Rogers is often associated with taking Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to the next level, and often leaves a bit to be wanted when it comes to implementation in a learning environment. How can one construct a learning environment that simultaneously elicits strong self-worth while also building ideal self? Here’s how. According to Rogers, a fully-functioning person is one who is open to new experience, lives in the moment without judgement, trusts their feelings, involves creativity, and lives a fulfilled life. All these things are vital to a successful learning environment, so it’s fitting that we architect an environment to strengthen and elicit these notions.

Open to Experience

As this involves the acceptance of life circumstances and emotions that come with it, a learning environment can do the following.

  • Encourage failure, so as to see failure as a positive opportunity to learn – debunking the myth that to fail is the same as to be defeated.
  • Incorporate choice in assignments, lessons, and learning. Feed the inner explorer to help foster curiosity.
  • Build a safe environment, where students aren’t punished for unique thinking. This encourages risk taking.

Existential Living

This means to live without preconceived notions of what will happen. It encourages living in the moment, and a learning environment can do that through the following.

  • Journal writing – allows students to think about where they are, being mindful of their learning and how they got there.
  • Encouraging emotion recognition during the learning process. Ask students – how do you feel right now? Being emotionally aware will help students live in the moment; it gets the noise out of the way so they can just be.
  • Conduct talk-alouds to demonstrate mindfulness in action. No one is natural aware of themselves in a situation – it’s a skill that needs to be taught. Talk-alouds help learners see how the “experts” do it. Even if we don’t always get it right – it’s part of being human.

Trust Feelings

Western cultures are horrible at emotional intelligence. We don’t include a lesson about how to be angry, sad, or joyful. We don’t teach it. But we should. Here’s how a classroom can encourage that.

  • Provide space for students to react and be emotional. Let them get angry and walk away for a bit.
  • Journal writing – just as it allows students to be mindful of their learning, it gives space and validation to their “guts” and feelings. In a world that values data and facts, having a space to validate the passion that makes us human goes a long way.
  • Model. Just like talk-alouds above help, articulate what you’re doing when you trust your feelings and why. Again, it goes back to modeling that behavior and showing students how the “experts” do it.


This should be the most familiar. Fostering creativity in a classroom is something many strive for, so I won’t pretend to have the best ideas. Here are others who have much better ideas than me:

Fulfilled Life

To me, this is a combination of all the above. A fulfilled life is when a learner is interested in taking risks, feels confident and comfortable, and wants to explore more about the world and themselves. It also means feeling important to the group. Many of the same techniques can apply here, but this can also include peer teaching, peer advocacy, and committee membership. Any time you can provide student voice to the classroom, the stronger the classroom.

Happy teaching!

Tools and tech

If you’re part of an edtech company, you need to read this article from EdSurge. It will help you avoid the common pitfalls of edtech when it comes to implementation.
For me, I gravitate to the fact that too many people see educational technology as a solution in of itself, but it’s not. The solution doesn’t reside in the tool – it resides in how you use it. And if you don’t teach those using it how to actually use it, the tool will fail.

Social media policy for schools

I’ll keep this short: educators need to be on social media with their students.
There’s a litany of reasons why, but I think the most compelling is that students need modeled behavior. We’ve starved them of that and it’s literally costing them jobs.  We need to stop treating social media like our culture treats sex – a dirty act that you shouldn’t do, shouldn’t talk about, and should rebuke cultural pressures to do it. Instead, we should fold it into our educational behaviors – just like we do “please” and “thank you.”

Sure there are bad apples who abuse the medium, but there are bad apples who abuse the medium of the classroom too. Poor choices by educators on social media are just that: poor choices by educators. We need to train and hold them accountable to proper behavior on social media, not punish the lot and blame the medium.

5 key steps to implementing a social media policy

  1. Define social media for your institution. Is it all forms of public communication? Is it defined by the channels you use? Here’s a good generic one you can pilfer: Social media is any service in a digital space whose purpose is to socialize with two or more people, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Pintrest.
    1. Notice the definition is “whose purpose” is to socialize. We all know people use Facebook to plan events, or Twitter direct messaging to exchange email addresses. However, the purpose of the service is social.
  2. Create a Digital Ethics policy that includes a Social Media section. Social media is part of a much broader reality: digital space. Just as schools create policies that hold students to certain ethical expectations outside of schools, a new policy should be drawn up that outlines all things Digital Ethics. One should be made for faculty and another should be made for students. Here’s a good generic Social Media section of such a policy for the faculty handbook: Sample_SocialMedia_Policy
  3. TRAIN YOUR FACULTY. This is often the most overseen element. It’s not enough to hand off the policy to faculty. Something as simple as a 30 minute inservice will suffice. Give them examples of good and bad behavior; make it clear that they are responsible to for their behavior online in the social media space – as it’s not controlled by the institution.
  4. Train your students. Do the exact same for the students, and hold the students accountable just as you would hold the faculty accountable. Most schools add social media to the clause of academic integrity that holds students up to an ethical standard outside of school time and walls.
  5. Enforce the policy. Hold faculty, staff, and students accountable. If someone breaks policy, don’t nuke policy from orbit, attend to the individual who broke it.

Social media must be included as a form of communication between students and faculty. There are too many invisible walls between academia and the working world. Including social media in the behaviors of the school is a great way to meet our students where they are and to help them grow into ethical citizens.

Humanities makes us better humans

Standford’s article The humanities and medicine (April 6, 2014) poignantly captures the value of humanities education.

For the fan of hard evidence

Education in the humanities also provides us with unique and powerful opportunities to hone our skills of critical analysis and develop clarity of thought and expression. In every pursuit and profession, the expression of ideas is inextricably linked to the formulation of ideas. It is through written and spoken communication that we shape and refine our thoughts.

Translation: humanities force us to practice critical thinking and analysis, and practice makes perfect.

For the fan of pontification

Examining differences in values and reasoning enables us to reflect thoughtfully on the normative framework we have as individuals and as members of a society. The humanities challenge us to question our assumptions, examine our beliefs and develop new ways of thinking about “conventional” wisdom. This appreciation for other modes of thought enables us to see complexity and uncertainty as key elements in the process toward discovering new truths. When viewed in this context, the journey we travel becomes as important as the destinations we reach.

Translation: humanities makes us better people.

Student loans: Their purpose

The government is scared of being accused of making university education the preserve of an economic elite, but it’s coming close to mis-selling student loans as a result. Loans are there to ensure that no one is stopped from going to university by their financial situation. It’s the government’s duty to impress this upon students: student debt is a last resort, not a default. If your family can help with either fees now or your first mortgage later, you shouldn’t assume that the second is the better choice. ~ Carola Binney

An interesting concept. I think many see student loans not as the last option, but as the only option. If student loans are meant to be the last resort, then that means the majority of students shouldn’t need or use them. However, that’s not the case – more than 60% of the students who attend post-secondary education take out loans and 57% graduate with debt. Even more interesting is that the majority (70%) of people who struggle to pay back the loans say it’s because it’s harder to make ends meet over the past four years.

I don’t think it’s enough to lower the cost of college. We need to address this from multiple fronts: it’s going to need a cultural shift, not just a financial shift, to sooth this ailment.

Learner-centered and assessment-based education measurement

[T]he long-used proxies for quality in higher education—seat time, faculty profile, institutional reputation, tradition, even endowment size ― all of these indicators are insufficient, even invalid. What really matters—fundamentally, the only measure of educational quality that matters ― is learning; that is, what students know, and what they can do with what they know.
Of course, as assessment experts, you made this connection long ago. You know better than anyone that any viable definition of quality must be firmly rooted in results, in specific learning outcomes.

~ Jamie P. Merisotis, President & CEO, Lumina Foundation

The Lumina Foundation is actively working toward building new ways to measure quality in higher education, and thank goodness for that. I agree: the use of seat time is not a strong indicator of rigor, success, or even of learning. The industry is moving more and more to demonstrative means of learning – see competency-based education models, for example. More emphasis will focus on how are your students proving they have gained the learning outcomes. My favorite example is that from  psychometric expert Thomas Zane: don’t ask students to explain how to change a tire, ask them to change it.

So, if your school doesn’t have strong, measurable learning outcomes, now might be a good time for program revision.


Google Helpouts: Access to Industry

‘Real help from real people in real time’ is Helpouts [sic] tag line. It’s essentially an online service where one can find an expert in a given field, and pay by the minute to receive realtime help and guidance from the expert using a web cam.

Google Helpouts takes a great idea already used in education – ad hoc mentoring, apprenticeship, or research – and makes it available to the masses. It takes the concept of a village, where you could walk across the street to ask the baker how much sugar to use, and puts it into a digital world. More proof that the walls between industry and educational institution are dissolving, and even flipping in some cases.

Totally useful for higher ed institutes, where it can fill all types needs, and a good model and stepping stone to help merge industry and institution.

Read the whole story here: Why Google’s Helpouts is a Brilliant Idea for Online Education. Although, I argue that this isn’t a new idea for education at all; it’s just the tools are catching up with the methodology.

Using mobile behavior data to build better mobile learning

In the early days of online education, our industry copied what worked in the classroom into an online environment. Over time, we found that students did not behave the same online as they did in the physical space, and that a new form of teaching needed to be developed. We are on a similar threshold with mobile learning, but we need to learn from our experiences: we cannot take what we know about learning via a computer and apply that to a mobile space. Let’s first learn how people naturally behave in this medium and marry it with learning science. Then can we build to its strengths, understand its limitations, and integrate its capabilities to support learning in everyday use.

Exact Target recently released the results of their Mobile Behavior study. Although the study focused on consumer behavior, the data provides insight into the natural tendencies, habits, and thought-process of all people as they engage on their mobile devices, including learners. Other studies have been conducted in the past, specific to the educational field – such as Fares Benayoune and Luigi Lancieri’s study in 2004 and Noel-Levitz survey in 2012 – but the Mobile Behavior study tracks user behavior on their devices and conducted a survey to provide context and insight to behaviors. Also, we needed a study on devices that weren’t around in Benayoune and Lancieri’s study (i.e. smartphones and tablet computers). Below are the key take-aways for us in education.

Mobile means behavior, not transportability

People associate the term “mobile” with specific capabilities and behaviors – not transportability. Note: the study refers to all participants as consumers, but the word user may be more apt. “Consumers most frequently associate ‘mobile’ with a smartphone/cellphone (54% selected this association), while only 14% said tablets/e-readers” (6). The reason for this is based on what users do on each of the devices.

[box type=”shadow”] Tablets are used more frequently than smartphones for passive activities like watching videos or movies (40% do this on a tablet, vs. 30% on a smartphone) and reading (57% do this on a tablet, while 43% do this on a smartphone) (7). [/box]

Tablets, although are compact and transportable, are not sen as mobile devices by users because they are more often used for sedentary or passive activities, such as reading and videos (7) rather than shorter bursts of interactivity: texting, emailing, etc. On the other hand, the most performed activities on a smartphone are those that engage with someone or something else: 91% check email at least once a day, and 90% text at least once a day (13) on their smartphone.

Armed with this, we can create frameworks for mobile education that seamlessly fits with the natural behaviors of tablet smartphone usage:

  • Tablet behaviors: learning knowledge transfer (reading, videos), mid-form writing (i.e. longer emails, more comprehensive dialogue, etc.), quizzing, etc.
  • Smartphone behaviors: communication activities, like discussion boards, group chat, FaceTime, short-form email, texting with faculty or TAs, etc.

When building educational technology for the mobile devices, ensure your feature set supports activities for each device appropriately. For example, all LMS mobile apps should allow for seamless access and input to the discussion boards and/or instant message.

All About Ease of Access + Completeness of Content

Ease of Access

Unsurprisingly, “90% of consumers say access to content any way they want is important to them” (17). People like choice, and when it comes to adult learners especially, having your learning content available on all forms of devices is vital.

In addition to having content on any device, ease of access is also important. Using any extra technology, like QR codes or augmented reality, can get in the way of the end result if too much cognitive demand is needed to navigate the systems. “In some cases (like scanned coupons or QR codes), people may not know how to activate these mobile relationships. Brands must overtly explain how to opt in, the frequency of communications, and above all, why opting in will be of service” (26). Our key take-away from this is that we need to use technology to get itself out of the way of the learning. Don’t use it for use sake, but use it because it makes the learning experience EASIER, more accessible.  “The brands with the easiest-to-access content wins”. (34)

A simple helpful tool: make a week’s learning content a downloadable zip file. People can download everything they need for the week and take it offline.

Completeness of Content

“While 54% of consumers agree that it’s easier to find information on mobile-optimized websites, 54% are also dissatisfied, saying mobile-optimized websites don’t provide enough information…they aren’t meeting the user’s demands for how much content is actually stored on a mobile site.” (27). I would argue that this is true of all online learning content: if students can’t get to the content they need, it lowers their chances of getting to it at all.

Create for All Devices

We see this all the time in online education – content is not developed for consumption on a mobile device. There are few schools that have a robust mobile strategy that takes into account the multi-device accessibility of an online course and the ease at which they are accessible. Are videos designed with the intent of being watched on a tablet? Are discussion questions written in a fashion that can be answered on the train to work? Can a student take a quiz over the lunch break on their Android? Our content isn’t being developed with the behaviors of the student in mind. We’re building to an outdated design – let’s shake that off and do something better. Something more human-centric; if we really are trying to foster life-long learners, we need to integrate learning into their daily lives, their daily behaviors.

NPR’s strategy, Create Once, Publish Everywhere (COPE) is a great example of how this can work in action. Check out NPR’s Zach Brand’s slideshare on how they implemented their system.

Equity for Accessibility

[box] Those of lower income (<$25K) [users] are significantly more likely to spend more time per day on their smartphones (reporting 4.6 hours a day of use, compared to the average 3.3 hours a day) and tablets (they reported 5.1 hours a day of use, compared to the average 3.1 hours a day) than all other income levels. (12)[/box]

Our greatest charge in digital education is accessibility for all. The gap between the have and have-notes is directly correlated to the number of immediate access points a household or individual has to the internet.  We’ve known this since 1995, when the U.S. Department of Commerce conducted a slap-in-the-face survey of rural Americans. Although it focuses on connectivity, my favorite line from this sums the issue up nicely: “While a standard telephone line can be an individual’s pathway to the riches of the Information Age, a personal computer and modem are rapidly becoming the keys to the vault.” I would argue that with the creation of the smartphone and the tablet, this divide is growing at a startling rate.

This throws an interesting curveball for curriculum designers building for those types of students. Often, because of budgetary or time constraints, they can only design for one medium: smartphone or tablet. However, if you are in education and you are not creating learning content that can be accessible on a smartphone, you are not providing equitable access. Rethink your design strategy. There is an answer out there waiting to be found. Go forth and find it.

Smartphone Behaviors

A few key points that we can immediately bake into our DNA:

  • Smartphone activity is highest between 8am – noon & then again from 6pm – 9pm
  • Total amount of time on a smartphone per day: 3.3 hours

Use this to help identify when students will be likely to text faculty with questions, drop ideas into the discussion boards, or even check in to download the week’s material.

Push Notifications

People interact with push notifications at an alarming rate of consistency: “Only 8% wait or ignore the notification before checking it” (22) However, this should come with a warning: like any good thing, moderation is key. If you over-send push notifications, users will turn them off and you’ve lost them. They should be poignant, at a time where they can respond or interact with them (8am – noon or 6pm-9pm), and short.

Some great uses of push notifications in mobile learning:

  • Announcements
  • Notification that someone responds to you on discussion post
  • Someone instant messages me: The education field really needs to figure this one out. An LMS should have an instant message baked into it. Take a cue from Gmail: I can chat with someone in the browser and I can continue that chat via the Google Hangouts App on my phone. Texting and IM is the way we communicate now – more so than email.

Closing: Why mobile?

Our goal of educators is to develop life-long learners, which means we need to integrate learning into everyday life. We have a rare opportunity in this age to disperse our learning science application into everyday behaviors, breaking down the idea that “acceptable” learning only happens in the confines of a building. Injecting ourselves into the natural behaviors of the everyday is a tall order, but you know what: challenge accepted.

SXSWEdu: Students in Higher Ed: New Student Normal

Provost Robert Groves from Georgetown explained that Georgetown puts strong value behind a brick and mortar, physical face-to-face with faculty type instruction. Good news: there will always be a percentage of the student body and of the marketplace that needs this type of education. Other good news: our student population and marketplace needs are diversifying, and we have an opportunity to diversify our education support all students wanting to learn.
Thankfully, we have some clarity around how our student types are diversifying. There are three main elements that help us understand student needs, which can help us better architect learning to support them: student learning goals; student psycho-social goals; and factors that influence student lifestyle.

1. Student Learning Goals

George Tang, Make Milliron, Parimender Jassel, and Ray Martinez outlined the typical student learning goals in their panel Students in Higher Education: the New Student Normal:

  • Students looking to sustain: keep themselves relevant in their fields.
  • Students looking to advance: want to challenge themselves into new roles/ways, but within the same fields.
  • Students looking to change careers: those who want new direction in different fields. (This includes those students coming in directly from high school – they are looking to enter a different field.)
  • [I add “Renaissance” students who want to change their SELF: the rare bird who is looking to learn from a more humanistic standpoint; think Joseph Campbell. As these are the rarest type – and some argue that such motivation should be built into all students – I’ll focus on the first three.]

2. Student Psycho-Social Goals

The panel continued to outline two psycho-social goals of students – an important element that is too often overlooked, but equally important to understanding students. Although the two goals often blur, one is typically a larger driving force than the other:

  • To be part of the community: the emphasis here is on the process of learning
  • To have the degree: the emphasis here is on the product

3. Factors that Influence Student Lifestyle

Finally, external factors that directly pull or push our students (i.e. family needs, physical location, etc.). These factors are unique to each student, but we can see common themes:

  • Time frame – aka Time to Degree. How long students are willing to spend longterm for the education.
  • Assembly of time – How the time students can dedicate to the classroom is assembled or distributed within their life.
  • Resources – This includes everything from technology to emotional support. The environment in which students life will always influence their success.
  • Demands – How education fits into their priorities.

The intersections of those three things provide a foundation to help an institution architect the delivery of the educational experience. Given such variance, we find new needs for educational delivery arising.

This is where I think it’s foolish of us to assume that what works for any one university will work for every institution. For some students, the physical face-to-face, 4 year full-time on campus is exactly what the student needs. However, the percentage of students who fall into that contingency is no longer the majority. It’s important to find what’s right for your institution, your student population, and the market you serve.