Turing School’s seven-month Front End and Back End Engineering programs are designed to be challenging. To enhance student success, the Turing team is launching a new, three-week, six-session online pre-course called Module 0 to set a strong foundation for incoming students. Ellen Mary Hickmann, Turing’s Director of Professional Learning, explains that the curriculum covers technical skills, study tips, and advice for organizing your life before beginning an intense bootcamp, all of which aim to set students up for successful careers as software developers.
What is your background and role at Turing School?
I am the Director of Professional Learning at Turing School. I have a masters in Curriculum and Instruction and have spent the last 15 years in education. I started off in the Teach for America program, worked for a few educational nonprofits in California, and then for the New Teacher Project here in Colorado. I also helped run the Teach for America Colorado program for six years.
As Director of Professional Learning at Turing, I work with our instructors to ensure we have the best instructional practices and pedagogy in our curriculum. We’re focused on the student experience and what it means to be successful as a software developer. I also oversee our Career Development team which includes all the professional development we provide for the students. We want to ensure that upon graduation they will secure a job as soon as possible. I just live and breathe education and love thinking about how to create an inclusive environment to learn so students can be at their best.
Why is Turing launching this new pre-course?
As we’ve reflected with each graduating cohort in our Front End and Back End Engineering programs, one of the clear sentiments is that the students are proud of their own accomplishments but they’ve seen some of their classmates leave the program without succeeding. Often, our students would refer to the first week of the course, Module 1 (Mod 1), as “drinking from a firehose” and have wanted a more gradual on-ramp before the program. While we want it to be intense, we think we can do better to ensure students feel challenged, but in their zone of proximal development, and not to the point where they want to give up or walk away.
We also looked at our graduation rates, especially over the last year, and realized we couldn’t keep doing the same thing and expect better results. We decided to introduce Mod 0, which is now a fundamental part of our required prework, before a student begins a program.
What is Mod 0?
The goal of Mod 0 is to build an understanding of the systems and behaviors students need to be successful both in the Turing School program and as a software developer. They will finish prepared to master foundational concepts in Mod 1, and build a community with other incoming students who are also starting something new and different. They’re gaining confidence and jumping into things they don’t know, understanding resources, and getting comfortable asking questions.
We see Mod 0 as an opportunity to dig into pretty significant technical concepts, but also to prepare students by discussing life pieces like budgeting, scheduling, transportation, and meal prep. It’s important for students to have their life in a good place so that when they show up they can be at their absolute best and aren’t distracted thinking about other parts of life.
Mod 0 will put students in a place where they’re confident, ready, have essential skills, and understand the commitment they’re making to start an intensive seven month program.
How is the online Mod 0 course material delivered?
Even though the full program is in-person in Denver, Colorado, we decided to build Mod 0 as six virtual sessions spread over three weeks. Each session is two hours long and is run by our Turing staff and instructors.
An instructor or Turing staff member delivers the lectures over Zoom. The students receive and interact with the content live, and we have chat functions to get reactions and answer questions in real time. We put students in smaller virtual breakout rooms for conversation, or they break into front end and back end groups. For instance, they might separate to review data types specific to their program. They’re also assigned self-guided homework to complete before the next session. If a student can’t make a session, we record it for them and they complete all the required homework online.
How often do students interact with students and other instructors?
Most of Mod 0 is individual work, but students are part of our Slack community starting when they enroll so there are opportunities to reach out, build community, and collaborate. One challenge for many students is they’re working right up to the start of the program, so we want them to be able to leverage the community, but also make it feasible to work around their schedule. The Mod 0 instructors are part-time, but the Mod 1 instructors will make guest appearances during a couple of sessions and we also have a social night so they can all meet in person before the first day of Mod 1.
Is there a skills test before students are admitted to Mod 0?
Our admissions process doesn’t test programming skills; it looks for students’ logic skills and their alignment to the program’s mission and vision, which is central to everything we do. Because of this, Mod 0 is required for students even if they have technical experience. We find they may have had some exposure to technical elements of coding before starting, but they likely haven’t been exposed to the nuances of GitHub, their terminal, and other foundational pieces.
Since this is a new program, we’re taking feedback and looking at metrics of success, and will customize and shift the content along the way. It’s possible that someone might be able to test out of a Mod 0 down the line but currently it is required pre-work for everyone before they can begin the program.
What are the Mod 0 curriculum components?
The three-week course is from 6:15pm. to 8:15pm MST, two nights per week, and requires 8 to 10 hours of work per week. Each session is 4 hours long, and additional homework takes between 4 to 6 hours. Before the start of Mod 0, our Student Success Coordinator does a 1-to-1 check-in call with each student to ensure they’re ready and answer any questions.
Session One is focused on community building and the mission of Turing. Many of our students are career-changers or haven’t been in school in a long time so we talk about study skills, habits, time management, and working through challenges. We also focus on mental health, personal schedules, and available program resources.
Session Two goes into foundations of data types, understanding programming documentation, and effectively using and leveraging resources like Google.
- In Session Three, we focus on understanding the terminal, files and folder structures, Git basics like how to initialize a repository and track changes, and how to navigate your computer.
- In Session Four we go deep into how Git and GitHub work together. Students practice pushing changes, cloning repositories, pulling changes, and getting comfortable with these tools, which is essential if you have no programming background.
- In Session Five, we dig into object-oriented programming, the foundations of understanding objects and models, and what it looks like to have attributes.
- Finally, in Session Six, we reflect on their experience, what they’ve improved on and what they still need to work on. We revisit Turing’s mission and vision and what it means to be part of the community, and then we assign them the prework upon their successful completion of the Mod 0 program.
How do you assess if students are ready to take the next step after Mod 0?
After Session 5, there’s a real-time assessment so we can see students’ progress and ability to build on those study habits and foundational points. Students can repeat Mod 0 if they’re not successful.
Are there any other Turing pre-course requirements?
After the six sessions, we do a New Student Social where students can meet the instructors. After Mod 0, there are also about 40 hours of technical pre-work before the students start the program. Our goal is that once they get through the technical pre-work, they’re able to do it with a certain level of ease and comfort and they know how to leverage their study skills and newfound knowledge.
Will the addition of Module 0 change the Turing School application process?
Currently, students have to complete the application process to be accepted to Turing School, and then are enrolled in a Mod 0 course. Ideally, we want a student starting Mod 0 about six weeks before the program so they have time to do the three-week course, take another three weeks to do the pre-work, and have everything in place when they show up on Day One. In the past, students have enrolled up to three weeks before the cohort begins and we’ve found it hasn’t led to the best overall experience. If you’re thinking about applying, do it sooner so you can take Mod 0 and confirm for yourself that you understand the commitment to be successful.
How do you hope incorporating the Mod 0 course will affect dropout rates?
We really hope this impacts the dropout rate significantly. We want our graduation rate to be around 90% to 95%. Our goal is that if a student comes through Mod 0 and is building the foundation early on, then they’ll be able to be successful in the program. There are always life circumstances that can prevent a student from completing the program, but we believe that with the Mod 0 technical foundations, students will better understand the transition they’re about to undergo. In allowing multiple opportunities for them to build good habits, we’re creating a scenario where students will be successful from the moment they step into Turing School.
What advice do you have for students preparing for an intensive bootcamp?
We encourage students to know what they’re getting into with the program and to prepare accordingly. With the addition of our Student Success Coordinator and early 1-on-1 calls, students are identifying that they may not be ready yet and are deferring before they go through the struggle of figuring it out during the program. This might be due to major factors like housing, not having reliable transit, figuring out scheduling and daily routines, and the very real commitment of 60 to 70 hours per week. They realize they have to prepare both mentally and physically to commit to that amount of time towards their education and have the support systems in place.
We also see access to health insurance as a factor because people are no longer receiving it through an employer. We have helped students get on Medicaid so they have the comfort of knowing they can be successful. The more thought students can put into things like transportation, healthcare, and childcare, the more successful they’re going to be.
We’re lucky that we have the capacity to work with students on an individualized basis and to help them get those things in place before they start Turing for seven months. We deeply care about our students and we want them to be successful, which requires more than just hard work – it requires all those other parts to be organized. At the end of the day, we don’t want you to come if you’re not ready, we want you to come when you’re in the best possible place.
Learn more about Turing School’s Front End or Back End Engineering bootcamp, and Turing School reviews on Course Report.