Tag Archives: coding

Montana Code School–Week Four

Our class had its first marathon weekend this past weekend, the first of six. We spent all day Saturday and Sunday as a class working on coding projects. Given their intensity, I’m glad these sessions are only held once per month. But it’s helpful to have some extended time to work on projects since our three-hour weekday classes just seem to whiz by.

Mob and Pair Programming

We’ve been spending a lot of time in class working in pairs and groups. The instructors introduced pair programming and mob programming to us in the first week of class, but now that we’ve been starting projects we get to put these ideas into practice. In pair programming, a technique associated with Agile software development, two people sit together and work at one computer. One person serves as the “driver,” the other as “navigator. ” The navigator sits to the side and helps by talking through the ideas that could get turned into code. Her role is strategic and keeps the pair connected to the program’s “big picture.” The driver sits at the keyboard and does the actual typing. His role is tactical as he figures out how to turn the ideas into actual code. Every so often the two rotate so the driver gets to navigate and vice versa. Mob programming is similar to pair programming, except that there are four or five people instead of two, and the team may be sitting around one or two larger computer monitors. All teammates rotate through the driver and navigator roles, switching roles every 15 minutes or so.

I confess that before being introduced to pair and mob programming techniques, if you were to have mentioned computer programming to me, I would have immediately thought of the solitary guy in his bedroom cranking out code. Having grown up in the 80s, that guy would look a lot like Matthew Broderick in War Games or Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science. While coders still often work alone, pair and mob programming techniques do a lot to turn programming into a collaborative endeavor. Programming with others has additional advantages. The code produced by pairs or teams is usually of higher quality. Navigators have to make others understand their ideas before they can be programmed which leads to better communication and more accurate code. Drivers have teammates who can check for typing mistakes and syntax errors. Team members also report greater job satisfaction when pair or mob programming is used. The diversity of experience that is brought to pair or mob programming enables greater creativity too. For this reason, mob programming has been found to be especially valuable in the early stages of project development when the need to generate lots of ideas is greatest. These cooperative arrangements are ideal for coding novices. By watching and learning from experienced coders, beginning programmers can be incorporated into the programmers’ “community of practice” while contributing to work on real projects.

Not all situations call for group coding. Although it promises higher quality code, group coding is more labor intensive. The amount of code produced per person is less, which increases labor costs. When all the programmers are familiar with the software, as with an application that has already been in production for a while and where the main goal is program maintenance rather than idea generation, group coding is less advantageous. Experienced coders may also become impatient and domineering when paired with novices unless they are made to understand the benefits of coding in groups. Nevertheless, for those like me who may have veered away from coding because of the “lone wolf” stereotype, knowing that independent work can be combined with more cooperative modes makes the possibility of working in tech all the more enticing.

JavaScript libraries: jQuery and P5.js

One of the projects we worked on over the marathon weekend was a simple “to-do list” web application. For this app we had to work with basic structural and form elements in HTML so that users could add tasks to the to-do list. Additionally, we had to add CSS to style the page and make it look pretty. Then we had to work a bit with jQuery, a JavaScript library, to make the page more interactive. Most of our time was spent trying to figure out how to create balloons and have them release when someone checked off a completed task on the to-do list. To make the balloon shape we worked with a different JavaScript library called P5.js.

A JavaScript library is a collection of pre-written code that makes working with JavaScript easier. When using JavaScript libraries you aren’t always reinventing the wheel each time you write a new program since some of the base code has been written for you. P5.js, for example, allows you to jump in and use JavaScript easily to create dynamic shapes and designs. jQuery is one of the more popular JavaScript libraries because it makes working with the DOM—Document Object Model—more efficient. Since the HTML structure and CSS styling of a web page are essentially static, if you want to make the web page interactive or to include animations, you need a way to manipulate the HTML and CSS without permanently changing it. Since the DOM is a representation of the HTML document, you can work with DOM elements and create temporary changes to the HTML and CSS without altering the original files. For example, if you had a button on your web page that you wanted to turn from black to orange and to expand in size when you clicked on it, you would target the button element in the DOM rather than in the HTML file. Then you could program a JavaScript “event” that would be associated with that button element in the DOM and that would result in the button turning from black to orange and expanding in size when the button on the web page was clicked. In this case, the original HTML and CSS remain the same and the change in color and styling is only temporary. If you were to refresh your web page the button would go back to its original size and color.

While you can use HTML to target the DOM, using jQuery makes for a cleaner and simpler process. jQuery scripts, since they are based on JavaScript, can be kept in the project’s JavaScript file, allowing you to keep your programming of dynamic events separate from the static structures and style definitions in the HTML and CSS files. As opposed to JavaScript itself, jQuery works quite nicely across different web browsers so no matter which web browser your user has likely there won’t be any problems running your jQuery scripts.

After a lot of work, our group got our balloon-themed to-do app running quite nicely with a thousand balloons released each time a user checks an item off the to-do list.  No one is going to use our app for actually tracking completed tasks (the app’s a bit too basic for that), but we had a lot of fun inventing tasks and crossing them off just to release all the balloons.

For a look at our balloon-filled To-Do app, click here.

For additional reading on Mob programming:


Career Change + Coding

When I started this blog I said I would share my experiences and learning about instructional design as a career field.   I also promised to tell about my own career transition with the hope that something in my experience might be helpful to others. In the end, it may be this latter goal that becomes the more significant one. In the two months or so that I’ve been looking into the instructional design field my thinking has already shifted, both in terms of my understanding of the field as a whole and of how I want to position myself within it. Since the ending to this career transition story isn’t written yet, it’s entirely possible that instructional design is not the area I want to move into. Only time and more experience and research will tell. Consequently, I think it will be instructive, both for me and for my readers, to explicitly reflect on my learning process from time to time. And so with this in mind, let me tell you about my current adventure! This will be a story without an ending (at least not yet) as it is still unfolding. But before I begin recounting my current saga, I have to take us back in time a little bit.

Exploring Web Development

I first thought about moving into the instructional design field back when I was still employed at the University of Arizona. I had been using the Desire2Learn learning management system (LMS) heavily for my courses, was experimenting with “clickers” (Classroom Response Systems) and was getting some exposure to the technologies in use in higher ed. Mostly, though, I was not a techie. I’d never coded, never played or been interested in gaming, and didn’t really know the first thing about digital technologies. Outside of what I was doing for my classes, the closest I’d come to working in the digital space was creating a couple of WordPress travel blogs (you can see them here and here) and playing with my iPhone. When it became clear I wouldn’t be staying in my faculty position (a blog post for another day), I started reflecting on my options. I figured it couldn’t hurt to have some technical knowledge regardless of my ultimate path, so I looked online for some free resources to help me learn more about HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). I found Codecademy and started working through its HTML tutorial. I didn’t get very far into it when I got offered and then accepted a job teaching high school in China. With an overseas move on the horizon, I put off learning more about web development.

Flash forward to this past summer. My high school teaching contract was up and I decided to come back to live stateside. For personal reasons I’ve ended up in Missoula, Montana and have decided to make a go of it here one way or another.   After another side excursion into educational consulting (another blog post for another day), I have come back to the idea of teaching and learning, and especially instructional design and educational technology. Given my self-imposed geographical restrictions, I thought working in edtech would both allow me to remain connected to education and be something I could work on remotely if needed. I’ve also always loved planning and design work. Developing courses, planning and writing curricula and creating learning activities have been the aspects of teaching I’ve always had a passion for, so I thought some kind of edtech development work might be a good fit for me.

To learn more about instructional design and digital learning I set up a couple of informational interviews, both with professionals involved in online learning in higher ed. From them, and then subsequently from reading websites like O*Net Online, it’s become clear that I’m not going to get very far without some background in multimedia production and/or web design. And so I’ve been investigating several different learning options to see which might work best for me in my current situation. So far I’ve narrowed it down to three different paths: studying on my own with books and websites, taking a class or two in Media Arts at the University of Montana, enrolling in an online coding bootcamp like Bloc, or attending a residential coding bootcamp like Montana Code School. I still haven’t made a decision about which of these to choose, though at the moment I’m leaning toward just self-study with some media arts classes or an online coding camp. While a residential camp isn’t off the table, it would have to be Montana Code School since I’m not willing to move for it. The costs associated with relocation added to the cost of a coding bootcamp make the whole thing prohibitive, at least for me. Independent study, while certainly the least expensive option in the short-term, has its drawbacks. Not yet having a technical background or many contacts in the tech industry, I do worry about getting the kind of mentorship that I need. Finding good mentors was always a challenging proposition, yet I’ve learned the hard way that mentoring is crucial to getting you where you want to go. It also ties in with what I’ve learned about collaborative learning and communities of practice in the Coursera eLearning Ecologies class I’ve been taking. While I’m sure I could learn quite a bit just by reading on my own and building my own projects, I think I will need someone I can ask questions of, who can critique my work and who can give me an insider’s perspective on the web development industry. Mainly for this reason I’m thinking hard about online coding bootcamps. I’m especially interested in Bloc because it offers a special designer track where I could get training in both user experience (UX/UI) design processes and applications and some front-end development (the user side of the web). But I’m also trying to talk to a few people I know in the tech world to see whether they think it is worth the money since, like other bootcamps, “they ain’t cheap.” In the meantime I’m starting my own self-study program with books and websites. Even if I decide to do a camp, I’ll still do my own reading and investigation. So you can look forward to future blog posts from me that provide more detail on my web design learning! If anybody has any experience with coding bootcamps, especially the online ones, please leave a comment and tell me about your experience.