What tech do teachers really need?

By Freddy May, Co-founder of Codio, the cloud-based platform for teaching coding in schools

Coding is a subject that can be neither taught by lecturing, nor learnt by rote. The introduction of coding as an element of the new Computing curriculum is therefore a huge opportunity to embrace different teaching methods that are especially well-suited to coding. Hands-on experience is what’s required. Students will do best at coding if mentored and encouraged, rather than given dry, abstract lectures. Not only does this result in students learning better, it also relieves the pressure on staff who may not feel 100% prepared to teach a class. However, teachers must have the appropriate technology in place if their pupils are to learn coding successfully. 

What are the main technology challenges facing teachers? 

  • Setting up computers for students is difficult and time consuming. Installing the necessary software on each computer in an ICT suite of 30 computers can take up to two weeks! Installing development stacks to create the correct coding environment means that the teacher is either limited to a lengthy set-up process on classroom PCs or has to take responsibility for getting students set up wherever they wish to code.
  • It is very difficult for coding activities to be set as homework. Transferring code across computers via memory sticks or emails creates homework excuses such as installation problems, security warnings and missing USBs. It is important that students should be able to code wherever and whenever they want to, including from home. Only then can they fully access the boundless learning potential they can get from coding.
  • Lack of quality content – since computing was introduced to the curriculum there has been an influx of resources, which is a testament to the power of the internet and the enthusiasm of the education community. However, when faced with so many ‘indispensible’ resources, how do teachers narrow down the selection?
  • There needs to be a clear assessment process where teachers can view, run and mark a student’s code all in the same place. Teaching content also needs to be linked to assessment frameworks from examining bodies.

How can we solve these issues?

Web-based IDEs are a great solution to these problems. Moving to a cloud platform allows teachers to sidestep the time-consuming task of setting up many programming tools for the various operating systems on every single Mac or PC within an ICT suite and on students’ own machines. A web-based IDE also solves the homework problem – all students need is a browser and an internet connection.

Of course the learning resources need to be inspiring and engaging for students – but ideally they should also be integrated and embedded within the IDE platform. This allows for side by side display of code editing, teaching content and a preview window so students can not only engage with the material, but code away, testing and trialling, and actually see the code run. 

Building assessments into the learning resources again leverages the power of a cloud IDE platform – where challenges can be set, broken code fixed, and feedback and learning can be real and instantaneous.

This approach can also allow pupils to self-pace with minimal input from teachers, enabling teachers to play a more facilitative supporting and coaching role. This taps into the learning technique created by Sugata Mitra, winner of the $1million TED Prize 2013, known as Self-Organised Learning Environments (SOLE). SOLE recommends students organise themselves into small groups and then meet a challenge set by the teacher, who then acts as a mentor to the groups. SOLE can relieve a lot of the pressure that a teacher would otherwise feel having to lecture in a brand new and unfamiliar subject such as coding.

The usability of an IDE makes SOLE possible for a subject like coding – students can quickly login and get started on their code projects right away, independently or in groups. They can then embrace the limitless learning potential that coding offers.