blog article

How Feedback Shapes the Curriculum at Lighthouse Labs

By Imogen Crispe
Last updated on June 21, 2019


Why is Lighthouse Labs changing their web development bootcamp curriculum again? In 2017 they lengthened the bootcamp to be 10 weeks long, and now it is becoming a 12-week program! Amy Mansell, Lighthouse Labs’ Product Manager, Education, tells us how the team is always looking to enhance the student experience and outcomes by getting feedback from employers, alumni, and mentors. She explains why this new curriculum means a wider range of financing options for students, and how the team has incorporated more fundamentals to deepen and strengthen student learning outcomes.

What was your background prior to Lighthouse Labs?

I studied political science and public policy at college. Before I joined Lighthouse Labs, I was working in marketing at an Ontario not-for-profit that funded innovation partnerships between industry and academia. That was my first exposure to the tech industry. While I was there, I started toying with learning to code in HTML and CSS. A colleague told me about HTML500, an event Lighthouse Labs hosted, where 500 people get to learn to code for free, which put Lighthouse on my radar. When I saw they were opening a campus in Toronto and had a job opening that matched my skill set, I applied and become the second employee in our location! I’ve now been here for four years.

Tell us about your role at Lighthouse Labs!

I started out working in marketing and events but I eventually went through the web development bootcamp and learned to code. It was an awesome experience, and I’m really happy I did it.

After the bootcamp, I started working on the curriculum. My title is Product Manager, Education, and I’m responsible for working with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) or developers to design and iterate on our education experience. My role involves defining learning outcomes, what the student experience should look like, managing budgets and timelines of curriculum creation. I manage issues on GitHub, assign reviews, and make sure it’s up to date. I do lots of traditional product management tasks, but applied to an in-person experience. I also work with our marketing team to make sure they understand our core components – who our students are, what they’re learning, and what it means. My end goal is to make sure our bootcamp experience allows students to achieve their desired outcomes in a way that’s structured and human-centric. I still code on the side and I have a great understanding of where students can struggle and have breakthroughs.

In 2017, the web development curriculum increased from 8 weeks to 10 weeks. In 2019 it is increasing from 10 weeks to 12 weeks. Why is the length increasing again?

We do everything we can to keep our programs as short and efficient as possible so that students can pay the least in both money and time to learn skills for a new job, and grow quickly. The time lengthenings are related to what the industry is saying, our students’ experiences, and – in this specific case – some government regulations. Most government student loans in Canada are only accessible for programs that are 12 weeks or longer, so Lighthouse Labs bootcamps were not eligible until now. We wouldn’t have changed our curriculum without considering the other components, but in this case it makes sense. It improves our student experience, allows us to add additional content that the future industry needs, and opens up our program to additional funding options.

How is the price of the program changing and what financing options will students have?

With the increase in length, there is an increase in cost. Vancouver is now $11,500; Toronto is $12,500; and Montreal is $10,500. And since accessibility is a big focus of our bootcamps, we now have additional funding options available. We have a bunch of scholarships available which promote diversity in tech, and we also offer financing through Caisse Desjardins des Technologies de l'Information in Quebec and Ottawa, and Alberta Student Aid in Alberta. Students also have access to government finance options used for university and college like Student Aid BC or secured lines of credit with RBC and TD Bank.

We have lots more financing options on the horizon and we’ll be releasing a guide to financing bootcamp on our blog next month with those additional options.

What topics are you adding to the web development curriculum?

We looked at adding additional specializations or hot industry ideas like Machine Learning and AI, but ultimately decided instead of broadening our learning outcomes, we were going to deepen them. We want to equip our students with a stronger foundation in fundamentals so they can develop those relevant analytical skills. We also want to provide a more balanced approach. Typically, developer bootcamps focus on app development, but we wanted to allow our students to not only figure out the best solutions to problems, but also the “why” behind them.

We’ve added new content focusing on:

  • software engineering principles
  • improving skills in debugging
  • writing testable code
  • data design
  • test-driven development

Many of the changes were driven by feedback from the industry, our mentors, and our alumni about the skills junior developers need to really grow rapidly in their careers.

How will the structure or schedule of the curriculum change?

Our current 10-week model has a self-directed remote week halfway through where students complete their computer science work. In our new 12-week program, that is being replaced with regular on-site attendance and the computer science material has been threaded throughout the curriculum. This allowed us to increase the overall mentorship hours, giving students access to more support throughout the bootcamp.

Is the Lighthouse Labs admissions process changing?

We’ve always had a fairly strong admissions process, so the lengthening of the program hasn’t changed that. We’re always looking for someone who displays a passion for learning and knowledge, has an aptitude for problem solving, is energized to nail down and do the work, and is ready to go on a journey to a new coding career.

While you don’t have to know how to code beforehand, we do have a small coding prerequisite, so we suggest that students try coding before coming to us. We have some admissions components where students have to display their knowledge of logic and problem solving, but it’s not necessarily writing code.

Are there any pre-courses you suggest students take to get that experience?

Yes, we have our own Lighthouse prep course that all students have to complete before starting coding bootcamp. It’s roughly 70 hours and can be completed remotely. It introduces students to languages used in the bootcamp like HTML, CSS, a little bit of Javascript, and some Git. With the new curriculum, we’ve added additional coding challenges to give students more practice time, allow them to get comfortable with coding concepts, and solve problems as a developer. The code challenges reiterate the same ideas over and over again so students are comfortable when they jump in on Day One.

How do you track student progress through the curriculum?

We have a learning management system called Compass which every student gets access to, starting with the precourse until they graduate. We track how students are doing throughout the program – our education managers keep a close eye on student completion percentages, projects, and test scores. They also track feedback about our program, mentors, instructors, and curriculum. This information gives our education team an idea of where students are at any given moment, and lets us make more data-driven decisions about how we can better support or challenge students. With the expanded curriculum, we’ll be looking for more data and watching things closely to see how a longer program impacts the student experience.

How often does the Lighthouse Labs team iterate the curriculum and what is the process?

It’s definitely an ongoing process. One of my main tasks is working with our subject matter experts, mentors, and instructors to adopt an open source model of curriculum iteration. We keep our curriculum in GitHub to mirror the software development workflow and all of our mentors and instructors have access to it. We work as an entire community to do everything from fixing typos and broken links to improving learning outcomes and adding new curriculum components. We’re a small team, so we’re lucky enough to have access to hundreds of developers every day who have access to our curriculum and our students, and they understand the whole ecosystem we’re in. It’s been great to empower them to help us.

For a larger rollout, like our 12-week program, it’s a lot of work but we break it down into smaller, incremental steps and sprints, and we work with mentors on a one-to-one basis to assist in the curriculum changes. Often, we’ll add things on a rolling basis. Instead of storing up all the changes to go live with a new cohort, if it isn’t a huge impact or will improve the student experience, we’ll implement those changes right away. We treat our curriculum similarly to how someone would treat a software product, allowing us to use the same tools and techniques that everyone in our community is already familiar with, which creates a very streamlined system.

How do you train instructors to teach new curriculum components?

A lot of our instructors are involved in creating the content – from coming with ideas to actually writing the material, and iterating on existing material. We also keep them in the loop with changes so they have time to adjust to the new material. We use Slack and GitHub to have extensive conversations about it - whether it’s a GitHub issue where someone has an idea, or in our various Slack channels, we’re actively communicating with our mentors on a daily basis. For larger rollouts, we hold town halls, send out curriculum packets, and give them a curriculum road map outlining the upcoming changes to help focus their attention. Our Education Managers also heavily interact with our mentors, are involved in the rollout, and keep instructors in the loop to ensure they feel comfortable with the new curriculum.

How will career services adjust to the new curriculum?

With this new curriculum, we’ve tried to build a more integrated process that allows Curriculum, Education, and Career Services to become one and the same. We’re adding pieces to the curriculum that focus on the career side of becoming a developer. We’re adding more preparation for the technical aspects of the job hunt, including practice for tech interviews, coding challenges, take-home tests, and other common elements they’ll run into while applying for jobs after Bootcamp. It’s important to us that students get comfortable with tackling these types of challenges mirroring real-world requirements. That way, when they do encounter these things on the job hunt, it’s not the first time they’ve faced it. This is just part of how we’re taking the career outcomes and threading them into the education itself.

How do you think this program shift will make students more marketable as developers?

We speak with the industry a lot about this - employers, mentors, alumni, our own staff – to ensure this new curriculum is not only meeting where the industry is currently but staying ahead of the curve. The feedback we received was that juniors need to be able to debug and problem solve, and that allows them to get settled into a company and grow that much faster. We have always focused on getting students a job, but now we’re focusing on what will help them grow faster and go from the junior developer to the senior developer faster.

What is the biggest lesson your Lighthouse Labs team has learned during this process of updating your web development curriculum?

It’s definitely hard to choose one! Education and running a bootcamp is very difficult and is a high-stakes game. We’ve gone through multiple iterations of curriculum over the years. The biggest lesson we’ve learned is that when it comes to building education and creating a course, you need to start with the outcomes. That was a big lesson we applied in this transition to our 12-week program. Instead of asking “what’s the latest technology we should be teaching?”, we started backward and looked at what we wanted students to achieve after each module or project. We operated like true developers, asking what we wanted our output to be and then working backwards to get there.

Good education and good curriculum are so much more than good content. This sweet spot between content, delivery, student experience, and student support is where this pedagogical magic happens – it’s extremely hard to find and even harder to stay there. As we adjust curriculum, instructor training, and the student experience, we have to consider those four factors with each decision we make. We applied that lesson as we built a more holistic approach to the curriculum.

What are your tips or advice for students embarking on this new bootcamp journey in your revamped web development program?

First, get ready to embrace the bumps along the way. Learning is hard and it’s meant to be hard. Some days things will just click, and other days you will wonder if you know anything at all.

Second, there are no shortcuts to real learning, and there are no shortcuts in bootcamp. Students who are looking to make that transition should be ready to do the work on Day One. Making a career change is a huge decision, so know if you’re ready to do the work - or whether you’ll even like it. Becoming a software developer isn’t easy, no matter how you go about it, and bootcamp is only the beginning of that journey.

Bootcamp is Step One to a lifelong path of learning and developing and becoming better as a software developer. It can mean extremely high stakes if you’re leaving a lucrative career, so be sure you like it. Start learning a bit of code or try out free courses or little challenges to see if this is for you before you take that next step.

Find out more and read Lighthouse Labs reviews on Course report. Check out the Lighthouse Labs website.

About The Author

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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