In this webinar, we’re excited to be joined by Adi Hanash, the lead of Online Education at General Assembly. Adi has been building out the online version of the General Assembly Web Development Immersive for the last few months. You may already know of General Assembly’s in-person Web Development Immersive (WDI), but as of May 16, remote students who can't make it into the GA classrooms will actually be able to take WDI online.
However, it can be tricky to decide if an online coding bootcamp is right for you, so luckily, Adi is here to answer all of our questions about the learning platform, outcomes, and the curriculum for WDI Remote. Adi even shares his screen and shows us what the actual learning platform looks like!
Adi, tell us about your role at General Assembly. What does it mean to be the Lead of Online Education?
The opportunity came to start playing into the larger space of online, synchronous education, and bring our larger courses to the online platform. I've been acting both as the product manager and the instructional designer for the course.
What's exciting to you about bringing WDI online? We've seen Dash and Circuits from General Assembly- why do you need to bring the full WDI program online?
We're so committed to helping people get the education necessary to make a difference and a change in their lives. General Assembly is in 15 cities around the world, and we've graduated over 3,000 alumni from our Web Development Immersive in-person courses since we started offering the course. And this was our opportunity to find people who either lacked access to a General Assembly campus (maybe their commute is too long), or to be able to reach new people who aren't even aware these opportunities exist. We don’t have physical campuses in Indianapolis or Houston, but we still want to find ways to help people in Indianapolis start their career in web development.
What is unique or different about developing a curriculum for an online General Assembly course versus the in-person Web Development Immersive? Will the curriculum be exactly same in the remote WDI?
One of the first things we did when we started building this course was to go to all the stakeholders involved in the success of the Web Development Immersive. I started every meeting by asking about their red flags. I'm not kidding you – I have pages upon pages of red flags.
When we started looking at the development of this curriculum, one theme that kept coming up was how important the community aspect of the classroom is in our Web Development Immersive. Our focus has been really dedicated towards redefining the experience but still keeping those important core elements: students working with each other and collaborating.
We're not “putting WDI online,” we're translating the experience for the online course. While the curriculum itself is pretty much in line with what we cover in Web Development Immersive, we have to change the manner of teaching. There’s a focus on hyper engagement, interactions, group projects, paired programming. Throughout the class, don’t expect to just sit there and watch a video – there’s no pre-recorded content. You're working with a live instructor. Even the manner in which they are engaging with you is through multiple modes: chat, video, microphone. All of this is to make sure our students understand they're not alone in this process.
Right, because when we think about online education, one of the biggest roadblocks is attrition. How will you deal with disengagement or demotivation for students who you can’t be in a classroom with?
This has been our primary focus and where I’ve leveraged my background the most. I've taught over 2,000 adult learners in the online synchronous education space so I have a lot of empathy for being in the classroom and dealing with people who are frustrated or disengaged or not motivated to keep going.
Think about it like this: engagement is highest at the start of any conversation or any lecture. From the second you start, engagement starts to drop. The only way you can keep people engaged and interested is to find interaction points that push them back up. Small questions get a little bit of a jump, larger interactions or group activities or a five minute project get a larger jump.
In the classroom, you’ll have constant guidance with the curriculum, you'll be in a smaller group within your class, and you'll have stand-ups throughout the day.
What is the teaching style for General Assembly WDI Remote?
Our student-to-teacher ratio is going to oscillate between 4:1 to 6:1 - what we have found to be a good balance to set our students up for success. In terms of the teaching style, we have Lead Instructors who are responsible primarily for presenting material, and associates who are there to help out, provide additional guidance, run labs or morning exercises, etc.
You'll have exercises in the morning, a morning lesson, an afternoon lesson, a lab in the afternoon lesson, and you'll have stand-ups throughout the day with your team leaders.
Whenever you're in an actual lesson, you always have the instructors presenting and talking to you. But there's also always at least one other instructor in a different chat box who can answer any questions you have, and we have two other people as backups. If you have a moment where you’re just not getting it, we can easily have you jump on a microphone with one of your instructors, they'll walk you through the step, and then you’re back in the classroom.
Why did you decide on an instructor-led class instead of a one-on-one mentor style course?
We looked at multiple possible models. Not to knock the mentor-led model, but it’s still really tough for someone to take responsibility for themselves especially if they're isolated. The mentor driven model puts that responsibility on the students to get the work done, which is fine and that totally works for some people.
What we wanted to do is provide an experience that anyone can succeed in, independent of their range of motivation.
At General Assembly WDI Remote, students are making a full time commitment, right? You don’t expect students to have a part time or full time job in addition to WDI Remote, right?
Our absolute recommendation is that you're going to commit full-time for the 13 weeks. You will sleep, eat, breath, dream, code and then when you graduate you'll be ready to start that career.
Are the admissions standards for WDI Remote the same as the in-person immersive? Are there additional requirements like time zone?
The time zone one is interesting. Because we are piloting this, we've stuck with a 10:00 AM EST start time so that anyone in the US from Eastern all the way through Pacific has reasonable start times. That said, we currently have a student in London who's taking this course and one in Australia. So people who are rearranging their schedules to take it. Everyone else will break for lunch and they can enjoy a 3am snack!
The admissions process, if anything, is more rigorous than the in-person immersive because we want to make sure we're getting the right students in the room, who will succeed in this environment.
We've added a component to the admissions to make sure prospective students understand the commitment as well as for everyone our end to understand the intentions of our students. Whether it's to relocate to one of our 15 cities to pursue their career there or whether it's to stay in their current city. For example, one of our students in LA can’t commute two hours to our General Assembly Los Angeles campus.
During the application process, we want to make sure that students will be able to get jobs in the city they want to work in. So if you’re in Toledo, Ohio, let’s find 10 or 15 web development positions in your city and let's see if it's the right fit. If those positions aren’t available, then we need to have a conversation about considering relocating somewhere else where there are more opportunities. But we make that very clear in the process. We mitigate that within the first or second interaction with the student and we identify that this is the right opportunity. Our admission process is defined on finding the right student for us and finding out that we're the right program for them.
For our viewers who are not familiar with the WDI curriculum, can you explain what it's going to cover?
Okay, Adi would you share your screen and show us the WDI Remote platform?
Yes! For WDI Remote, we’re really focused on ways for people to communicate. So our primary platform is Slack. Slack is a tool that developers use consistently, and it’s where you'll see the content that the instructor will be going over, interact with the content, ask and answer questions, and add in screenshots of your work. You'll also use Zoom which is a video and audio conferencing platform similar to Google Hangouts. With Zoom, you’re able to see your instructors and your other classmates.
Another exciting thing about the platform is that throughout the class you can hashtag concepts. Later on if the student wants to look it up, they can actually use the search feature to be able to find the specific lesson or the specific day that that was covered. We'll be recording all of the audio and all the other content as it's going, and at the end of the day we'll be sharing a link. Theoretically a month down the line if you want to go back and revisit or if you miss a day of class and you want to revisit, you go to the recording, hit play, and actually start at the top of the lecture like you're back in the classroom.
The class is interactive so you can directly message classmates, a group of your classmates, your instructor or one of the IAs (Instructor Associates) in the room if you have a question and don't necessarily want everyone in the class to see it. There are a variety of ways to interact with each other.
Is it possible for students to pair program through these tools?
One thing we realized when we were studying and analyzing a Web Development Immersive in-person course is that inherently every student was looking at two monitors – their own computer screen, and then the projector of the front of the room. Our students for Web Development Immersive Remote are actually required to have an external monitor. It makes the experience smoother, and it's also pretty much industry standard that developers work with an external monitor.
So you're actually working in multiple or two environments. One is the entire classroom and then in this environment if you want to, if it's a paired program situation or a group project, you can then add people and you can share this with two or three other people and work in a collaborative online environment. What's really cool is it also tells you if the instructor comes into your project, just to check in and see how you're doing, and students can actually see who's writing which line of code so they can get proper feedback to the right person.
A huge part of the bootcamp experience is building projects, right? How does that portfolio work factor into the Remote option?
Our entire course is project based, because in order to start your career in web development, you need to show off your portfolio of work. There will be group projects but there'll also be a significant amount of individual work. Cloud9 will sync up with your GitHub account, so students will be able store everything in the GitHub repo and then share that as necessary. So we're basically providing them with the environment and guidance they need to develop their projects, to really get their foot in the door to get started in their career.
Since this is a pilot program, I'm assuming there will be hurdles. How are you preparing yourselves for that feedback?
Actually we're offering a tuition credit for the first cohort. Part of the agreement is to do some user interviews with us. I will talk to every student who is taking the course and get their feedback and we will be optimizing on a daily basis. Every day will be better than the last one. We've already vetted the approach we're taking, we've done multiple demos and we are so confident this is going to work. I think we're creating something special here in terms of a truly interactive, instructive online environment.
It sounds like a lot of work is going into building the online community, but do you recommend other offline things that online students can be doing?
As part of our admissions process, we identify 8 to 10 networking events in the student’s area and basically commit to doing those. A huge component of the Web Development Immersive experience as well as the remote experience, is our career coaching. Every week you have a dedicated working lunch with your career coach (plus as many other sessions as you want to schedule).
The goal is not only preparing students in all of the hard skills but also the soft skills that are necessary to starting that career. Things like: how do you handle the technical interview, your cover letter and resume, your LinkedIn profile, making sure you have a clear understanding of your brand, salary negotiation, etc. Our curriculum and our work with students extends beyond just teaching them languages and how to think like a programmer. It teaches them how to actually be a programmer.
I know the first cohort hasn’t started yet, but are employers excited about the opportunity to work with online students or do you see that as a roadblock?
We have been very fortunate to have worked with so many employers at this point. I asked about their major hesitations, and they listed all of the red flags I expected them to list. Then I explained to them exactly what we’re doing with WDI Remote – live lectures, collaboration – and their concerns dissipated pretty much immediately. They were like, "Oh yeah, then they're basically graduates of the Web Development Immersive." Since then, they've been fully supportive about this.
Is there anything we skipped over that you want to make sure our readers know about the upcoming cohort?
Our first cohort started May 16th but our next cohort will begin in July. My advice is start that application sooner rather than later because, with our pre-work requirement, there is a cut-off a couple of weeks before the course starts. This is to help everyone level set before they come for day one.
This is not like your uncle's online course. This is not a forum of recorded content. This is a live classroom, constant engagement, assessments throughout, and project interactions. One of the soft skills that employers asked for consistently was the ability to collaborate. That's why we've been so keen on including it in such an integral part of our course. Our students graduate with this strong ability to collaborate in a remote environment, which is exactly what web developers need to be able to do.
I feel like we could talk forever, Adi, but I've learned a ton about WDI Remote. I'm sure this will be really helpful to our readers so I really appreciate your time.
My pleasure. Thank you for hosting this and letting me talk about something I've just had the absolute best time getting to work on and build. It's been so fun and I think the biggest thing I'd like to say is that this is going to delight a lot of students and I'm excited to see it happen.
Find out more and read General Assembly reviews on Course Report. Check out the General Assembly website.
Liz is the cofounder of Course Report, the most complete resource for students researching coding bootcamps. Her research has been cited in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, and more. She loves breakfast tacos and spending time getting to know bootcamp alumni and founders all over the world. Check out Liz & Course Report on Twitter, Quora, and YouTube!
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