After hearing requests from students, all-women’s coding bootcamp Hackbright Academy is launching Online Python 101, a self-paced, online course for women interested in learning to code and looking to get a taste of Hackbright. The new Online Python 101 course will start in November 2018. Senior Director of Education, Meggie Mahnken, explains who the flexible online course is meant for, how her team is working to maintain Hackbright’s community feel in the online class, and what the online learning platform looks like – plus, how you can easily transition from Online Python 101 to their full-time or part-time Software Engineering programs.

Q&A

How have you spearheaded Hackbright’s Online Python 101?

As the Senior Director of Education at Hackbright, I love spreading the love of programming to other folks who are looking for their life’s calling. Programming is incredibly rewarding and fun, in addition to being a marketable skill, and it brings me great joy to see people moving into this career. I work with many different teams at Hackbright, but primarily in curriculum, education, and training.

Teaching programming to beginners who all have different experience levels is difficult. As a teacher, you have to have all of your metaphors and teaching tools locked and loaded and ready to deploy at any moment so that you can get as much done in the time that you have. It’s also very accelerated and rigorous in its own way. With Python 101, I wanted to bring elements of the Prep course along with basic beginner skills for anyone interested in learning to code, online. I asked questions like: How do we maintain the sense of a positive learning environment? What is unique to the learners who are experiencing this class online? I’ve also worked with our staff to think about the components of an online course in order to ensure that even in a remote learning environment, students are getting enough hands on practice, and lecture-based instruction, to be able to learn the material.

You've been offering courses in-person for a while – what made you decide to launch Python 101 online?

We've offered Intro to Programming courses since 2014, but Hackbright Prep, which focuses on preparing people for bootcamp, is about one year old. We’ve had a lot of requests for an online introduction to Python program. People want to figure out whether a coding bootcamp is a good fit for them but they may not be able to get to a campus every week. To learn enough coding to get into a coding bootcamp, you don’t need to attend a full-time class. You can spend a couple hours a night (about six hours a week) studying the concepts.

We're excited to see how we can maintain the community and the in-person feel in an online course, because a lot of people are attracted to Hackbright’s community aspect and feeling a part of something special. Even if you're just learning beginner concepts, it takes a lot of courage, commitment, motivation, and perseverance to continue. We're hoping to bring the in-person environment to an online course. I'm so excited that we're giving women alternative formats to learn to code – I can't wait to reach more people and narrow our focus on the exact curriculum we need to teach this material quickly.

Who is Hackbright Online Python 101 for?

There are many different reasons why someone might be interested in learning the fundamentals of coding online. Online Python 101 is perfect for a few types of people:

  • If you’re intending to do the Hackbright Software Engineering program, this is a great way to get a taste of what Hackbright is like and learn exactly what you’ll need to know for the application. Online Python 101 also qualifies students for the 40-hour coding experience requirement for applying to bootcamp.
  • If you have a busy schedule, or are taking care of kids or family at night, you can't just drop everything and go to an in-person course.
  • Because Python 101 is online, you’re welcome to enroll even if you don't live in San Francisco.
  • It’s also for people who just learn better in an online environment.
  • Online Python 101 is not necessarily just about preparing students for the Software Engineering program; you can also enroll if you just want to dip your toes in a bit of Python.
  • If you’re not sure that you want to do a coding bootcamp, Online Python 101 is a great way to test the waters.

What is the schedule and structure of the Online Python 101? Is it asynchronous or is it synchronous with live lectures?

The four-week program is semi-synchronous with pre-recorded video lessons – I'm bringing together all of the best Hackbright instructors to help with these videos. They’ll all have different teaching styles, a lot of experience with the Hackbright community, and can empathize with our online students from afar.

We recommend a weekly schedule with weekly deadlines. For example, students should plan to finish watching the videos for Module One by end of week one, and finish the videos for Module Two by the end of week two. But we don’t require you to structure your week in a specific way.

We'll have weekly office hours with an online forum where students can chat to a mentor, ask questions, or get on a video call to pair with a mentor or with a classmate.

What does the curriculum cover? Is it identical to the in-person Hackbright Prep curriculum?

We've taken the in-person Prep curriculum, and clarified it to be an online course. It's not fundamentally different, but we've evolved the curriculum to take it online. A lecture in our in-person Prep class is 60 to 70 minutes long where an instructor goes through some slides. But for Online Python 101 videos, we split those lectures into smaller digestible chunks of information.

As we’ve thought about how to split up the lectures into chunks, we've had the opportunity to clarify and prune the kernel. We’ve learned a lot that we’ll probably ship into the in-person class as well. As we design this online experience, we’ve been intentional about choosing examples, metaphors, and projects that motivate beginners instead of intimidating them.

The course covers the basic fundamentals of programming in Python including:

  • Basic data types and getting user input
  • Conditional logic and how to program choices and decisions
  • Basic algorithms just using user input
  • Control flow and looping
  • How to create basic functions and organize your code
  • Lists, which is a slightly more abstract data type
  • Programming tools – the primary code interpreter that students use is Repl.it, but we also teach Sublime Text and the command line a little later in the course
  • How to go about debugging your code and best practices for creating code that's easy to be debugged
  • An intro to Tuples and Dictionaries in Python

At the end of the course, students record a short video of themselves presenting an interactive Python script.

How is the Online Python 101 course delivered? Should a student expect to sign into a specific platform every day?

Yes, you’ll sign into an online course platform called Canvas. From the homepage students can navigate through the different modules. In each module there are videos, static content to review, and lab exercises. The platform allows students to learn a module in the exact order that we want them to learn it.

The lecture videos are presented alongside a slide deck and lecture notes. As students watch a video, they can choose to participate in discussions related to the video. We will prompt them add their questions to the discussion. We encourage students to take their own notes as they're watching the videos to try to stay engaged.

After watching those videos, they move on to lab exercises on Repl.it, where they follow instructions to build a program. The lab exercises are guided, give students suggestions, and encourage students to try things out on their own. Then students turn in their answers, the course mentors review those, and provide feedback. There are also quizzes and weekly skills practice on Repl.it to practice the concepts.

Who are the instructors teaching the Online Python 101?

Depending on the size of the class, we’ll have instructors watching over it. Those instructors will be sending reminders, communicating with the class throughout the modules, running office hours, answering questions, and helping coordinate students for pair programming.

How often will students interact with instructors and other students?

Students will have the opportunity to interface with staff on a bi-weekly basis during office hours. There will be discussion components throughout each of the modules that will enable students to see the reflections and commentary of their classmates. Additionally, a public  question forum will be available so that students can raise any confusions or clarifications, as well as see what other students’ questions and answers.

Aside from that, students will get feedback on their work on a weekly basis – even if it's not a live conversation, they’ll be getting an update on how they are progressing via grades on their skills practice assignments. Just like our in-person course, at the end, we’ll assess students, give students written feedback and our recommendations going forward. Each student receives a personalized consultation where we evaluate the student’s performance in the class, their goals, and their next steps.

As for student interaction, we encourage students to coordinate with each other and pair program via a video call. We love pair programming and we've done some research about how to schedule pair programming in an online course format. We'd like to make that option available for those who want to coordinate with another classmate and pair program on something, but it's not a requirement.

How will you help people stay engaged and motivated in the online course?

It's very common for people to drop out of an online course. Office hours are the main way that we’ll stay in contact with students, check in, give advice, and make sure they're turning in their work. We’re also experimenting with the threading/discussion tools in Canvas – if everyone is confused about a specific lesson, we want to be able to address that.

What can a student expect to achieve by the end of Online Python 101?

Students will have built six or seven scripts in the guided lab exercises, which are like mini projects with lots of room for creativity and expansion. They’ll also solidify the core programming concepts.

The goal of this course is to give students not just Python knowledge, but to get them past the initial hump that comes with learning any programming language – get a feel for variables, control flow, and looping functions. You can't do that by just reading. You have to reflect, struggle, debug, and quiz yourself on those concepts to be able to say, "I can see myself as a programmer and I want to pursue this,” or, “I learned a lot, but this isn't for me.”

So it's not just learning the concepts, but figuring out where does this fit in for my life? Do I want to pursue the skill set? How can I? Should I? Hackbright Online Python 101 is demystifying programming as a whole and giving students the skills to continue learning afterwards.

For students who want to apply to the full-time Hackbright Engineering program, is there a streamlined path from Online Python 101?

Students will go through a technical admissions interview at the end of the online course, which is essentially a practice admissions interview. That gives students an idea of what they will be expected to do to get into the Software Engineering program. We give them feedback on each concept and how much work they need to do before they’re ready to apply. From then on, we’ll stay in close contact with all of our online students. They have direct contact with our admissions department. We continue to build our relationships from that point, and we care about these students because we've already gotten to know them. We want to see them get in.

Does Online Python 101 cost the same as the in-person Hackbright Prep? When does the program launch?

Online Python 101 is $695. Hackbright Prep is usually $1,895, but because we’re running the class online, we’re able to pass along the savings from not having a physical space or instructors in session three days a week. Our first session of Online Python 101 starts November 5. Students will have until December 14 to complete all the online modules and assignments. The deadline to apply to Online Python 101 is October 31.

For students who are thinking, "Why pay for Online Python 101 when I can do Codecademy or Free Code Camp for free," what would you say?

The core reason is to learn alongside a community of peers who you can interact with, commiserate with, and be on the exact same page with as you learn to code.

The mentorship during the online course is pivotal for a learner who needs someone to answer their questions about core concepts. It's not easy to learn all this stuff for the first time without having someone help get you unstuck. It's so hard that even just a tiny mishap, a small bug, or an error message that you haven't seen before is enough to make you stop working altogether that day. Our goal is to provide a community and an experience that encourages people to stick with it.

How should someone choose between an in-person or online class?

Be selfish and give your future selves the best possible chances at succeeding. Think about what you’re like when you're stressed out and not feeling great. How can you plan ahead for that moment? Will you feel better learning in-person because you need the physical feeling of being in a classroom, or is it going to help you feel more at ease if you don't have to travel to a classroom? Imagine yourself on those tougher days where you're really tired, and figure out what's going to be best for you.

Find out more and read Hackbright Academy reviews on Course Report. Apply for Online Python 101.

About The Author

Imogen crispe headshot

Imogen is a writer and content producer who loves writing about technology and education. Her background is in journalism, writing for newspapers and news websites. She grew up in England, Dubai and New Zealand, and now lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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