On Friday and Saturday just past, Rory McKinley (@rorymckinley), Wilhelm Kirschbaum (wkirschbaum), and Steve Barnett (maxbarners) headed out to Herschel to run a RailsBridge. Massive thanks to Janice Cameron, a teacher there who was a student at a previous RailsBridge!

Rows of students coding Ruby on Rails

We all had lots of fun and the students blazed through the curriculum: we were done by 2pm on the Saturday! In our post-workshop survey, 3/4 of the students rated themselves as feeling :) about development and Ruby on Rails (that’s a rating of 4/5 on our happiness scale. The other students’ votes were scattered across the scale, but there were no :( or >:( ratings. Yay!).

As usual, we tried to gather lots of feedback as we went along. We used sticky notes during the workshop, and the Google forms-powered survey for afterwards. As we went along, we tried to fix the quick or small things in the docs immediately. Have a look at the commit list for the Friday and Saturday: we made loads of improvements!

Things that went well

The students said that the teachers were great. Rory got special compliments on his skill, as did his lightning talk on being a developer. The students also said that they enjoyed learning something new, and be able to go through the docs at their own pace. They also liked be able to see the results of their work, and what was possible with coding.

Students hard at (programming) work

And, as you might be able to guess, everyone loved the stickers :).

Things that didn’t go well

The students said that they often felt confused or frustrated. We ran into a couple of problems with the InstallFest, and there were one or two laptops that were really fighting the installation. We get this nearly every time we run a workshop. It’s a big pain, but there’s not too much we can do about it: the range of laptops is very wide.

Part of the confusion and frustration is the InstallFest itself. The teachers have talked about this a little already. We’re discussing the pros and cons of the InstallFest, and whether using a web-based IDE-like thing, such as nitrous.io would work. We’ll need to have more a talk about this.

Things that we’re going to change

One of the feedback items was “Why do volunteers need to check all the versions before I get a sticker?” That is an excellent question. Just running heroku open and having quick click around is an equally good check. Any problems with versions of the software will crop up as the students go through the course. To put it another way: our definition of done for the InstallFest is the working software on heroku.

Students writing some Ruby on Rails

The students said that they kept getting losing their place in the docs, because the course requires you to jump back and forth a lot (for deploying to heroku specifically). We have on our (huge) Trello board a card to add a table of contents or a progress bar. We really want to add this, and we will, but it doesn’t seem like we’ll have time to do so before this weekend’s RailsBridge (for grown-ups). One things we might be able to do for Saturday is sketch out a picture of the flow of change code > save > git > heroku > repeat.

Downloading and installing things is still a problem. Even when the download is quite fast, or when you use the copies on the flash drives that we pass around, the plodding through of all the install steps can be time-consuming: it’s why we have the InstallFest. We’ll need to think more about this.

Our biggest To Do is still “What now?” Our first tiny step towards this is talking about it during the opening presentation. We’ve also been talking to some companies about the potential of internships. This is another topic that requires a sit down and some big conversations about how we can best help our students. If you have something to say, we would love to hear from you! Let us know at [email protected] :) .

The next one

The next official workshop is this weekend. If you want to come back to do one of the other courses in the curriculum, we would love to have you back! Why not bring a friend along and introduce them to the Intro to Rails course?