Hands on gets a thumbs up

26 November 2007


A Blue Perspective: Hands on gets a thumbs up

Last week I did some JavaScript workshops in Perth, and I have to say: it was the most fun I've ever had inside a classroom. (As a teacher or a student.)

The normal procedure for workshops (including mine) is that the "lecturer" stands up in front of the "class" and delivers 7 to 8 hours of content. That's you (the student) listening to me (the teacher) for 7 to 8 hours. Sure, I might get you to raise your hand a few times, force you into thinking about getElementById for a few minutes, and maybe even spur you into writing a few things down. But at the end of the day you leave with a pocketful of slides and a head full of DOM jargon. I have no idea whether it was helpful to you, or whether I was just drying my throat out.

Last week was a revelation though. Because it was on-site training, I could rely on everyone having access to a computer, so I decided to pack the workshop full of practical exercises – exercises where the people I was talking to got to put the code into practice.

I have no idea why I didn't do this before.

Once someone jumps in front of a computer and starts trying out what you've told them, that's the only way you can find out whether they get it. And if they don't? Well, then you make sure they do – you can take a look at their code, see what they're doing wrong, explain some of the points that matter to them and make sure that they're confident enough to code up something by themselves.

So from here on in I'm stating a new mission objective for workshops: get everyone in front of a computer and don't let them leave until they can code. :D

My next JavaScript workshop is going to be in Vancouver, Canada of all places, at Web Directions North 08. We're going to be skipping all the boring junk so we can dive straight into the fun bits, so if you'd like to join in register at the website and REMEMBER TO BRING YOUR LAPTOP!


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  1. 1/12

    Scott G commented on 26 November 2007 @ 15:42

    That's awesome Cam... I think it's definitely the next step in DOM practical learning.

    I found the workshop with Aaron G at Web Directions (which you were part of) to be just that... an actual half day of coding made a world of difference.

  2. 2/12

    Christian Heilmann commented on 26 November 2007 @ 19:04

    This is actually the only way to really make people understand a subject matter. As you don't know how they tick and learn there is not much sense in just telling people. Matters you found out yourself at your own terms stick a lot better than stuff a teacher told you. Especially when it took 8 hours, that is just overkill.

    I also find in increasingly important to compare with real life situations. I did a workshop in Paris last week and explained event handling and delegation with real people and sticky notes which went down immensely well: http://www.dailymotion.com/ennui/video/x3irwh_chris-heilmanns-javascript-workshop_fun

  3. 3/12

    Gary Barber commented on 26 November 2007 @ 22:47

    Totally agree you have to make it practical even allowing people to find solutions to their own immediate problems etc.

    And you were very quite about coming into Perth, used ninja powers get in and out did we... hmmmm :)

  4. 4/12

    The Man in Blue commented on 27 November 2007 @ 00:21

    Hehe, Perth was a stealth trip. It mainly consisted of training and sleeping. That was about it.

  5. 5/12

    Josh commented on 27 November 2007 @ 08:05

    It sounds like a great session. Have you got plans to do one in Melbourne?

  6. 6/12

    Michael commented on 27 November 2007 @ 09:41

    Not sure how much programming experience the people in your course have, but if you're ever working with absolute beginners, <a href="http://www.alice.org/">Alice</a> is a great way for people to learn about object oriented programming and event-driven programming in a fun "Learn by doing" way. It's a 3D environment where people can create code without having to know the syntax... and you can "run" your programs and watch what they do... even has 4 built-in tutorials.

    I often use Alice as a "pre-activitie" for Javascript learning.

    Also, if it's helpful, I've put together some <a href="http://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/JavaScript_Challenges">Javascript challenges</a> that are all about learning by doing - not tutorials (they follow on from <a href="http://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Getting_to_know_the_Document_Object_Model_with_Javascript">Getting to know the DOM with Javascript</a>.

    At the risk of having this comment filtered as spam, I've also written a series of training tips, one of which is: <a href="http://liveandletlearn.net/tip-3-provide-relevant-and-practical-activities-to-learn-through-doing/">Tip 3 - Provide relevant and practical activities to learn through doing</a>. Just if you're interested :)

  7. 7/12

    Michael commented on 27 November 2007 @ 09:43

    Sorry, I should have read first that all tags will be escaped.

  8. 8/12

    The Man in Blue commented on 27 November 2007 @ 09:46

    Thanks for those links, Michael, they look good.

    I haven't got plans for doing one in Melbourne at the moment ... just Vancouver so far.

  9. 9/12

    Michele commented on 28 November 2007 @ 15:35

    Hi Cameron, just wanted to say thanks again for the workshop. That was pretty awesome. :) Was highly entertained by the animation exercise.

    Fun _and_ educational. ;)

  10. 10/12

    Sebastian Angielski commented on 29 November 2007 @ 22:57

    That's exactly the essence of teaching, not just limiting yourself to presenting knowledge and hope that all the students will get it the right way. Making students involved is the key to success.

  11. 11/12

    James Baker commented on 29 November 2007 @ 22:58

    7 hours of rough lecture with no student assignments and participation is actually hard to imagine. I’m please to hear that you took the new approach. Surely it made more people interested and practical application always makes things easier to understand and memorize.

  12. 12/12

    Tusze commented on 30 November 2007 @ 03:03

    Itís a great idea! Learning through practice is the best way to do. From my experience I know that some of the students are just too afraid to try it alone. They need some support.

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