Early Analysis of Coderdojo Interviews

According to Wenger, McDermott & Snyder [4], there are 7 design principles for maintaining a COP:

  1. Design for Evolution
  2. Open a dialogue between inside and outside perspectives
  3. Invite different levels of participation
  4. Develop both public and private community spaces
  5. Focus on value
  6. Combine familiarity and excitement
  7. Create a rhythm for the community

Design for Evolution

Design for evolution means to shift focus to meet the interests of the participants without moving too far away from the domain of interest. When questioned this design for evolution was not evident in all of the dojos. Some dojos followed a curriculum and an organised structure. One mentor became chairperson of the dojo he was involved with and when he did he introduced organisation and structure because he said “it was chaotic”. However, he did acknowledge “other dojos would completely disagree with this”. As a stark contrast, another mentor from a different dojo explained that they don’t follow a curriculum. Kids come to the dojo and they can work on whatever they want, “I don’t give the children exercises to do, they can do whatever they want. Some children watch youtube videos, some draw pictures on the screen and some are actively involved in coding”. One of the younger mentors strikes a balance between following a curriculum and allowing the children to decide what they would like to learn, “We’ve been doing web design for most of the last year. We were doing tables but the kids didn’t want to do it so we skipped past that. The kids can come up with ideas….For example, one kid wanted to add a video to his website so we dedicated a class to that”.

We asked each interviewee how the activities of the Coderdojo were monitored or governed? A number of the mentors mentioned the “Be Cool” ethos of the coderdojo movement (ref). One mentor was quoted saying “this means no bullying, no misbehaving ad everyone is treated fairly.” There was no strict governance in place across any dojo. Garda Vetting appeared to be a problem for some of the mentors with one mentor saying “Garda Vetting is a block to getting volunteers because it takes so long” and another dojo has applied for garda vetting but the mentor stated “we heard nothing back and if we waited for garda vetting, there would have been no dojo  in IBM this year”.

Open a dialogue between inside and outside perspectives

There is little or no cross-communication between the dojos. To maintain a COP, you must encourage the introduction and discussion of new perspectives that come or are brought in from outside the community [4]. None of the mentors from the dojos we interviewed communicated or collaborated with each other with the exception to one mentor who was a previous participant of another dojo. One of the female mentors wasn’t aware of the other dojos around Cork and she acknowledged this flaw, “It’s a pity there isn’t more collaboration between dojos. I wasn’t even aware they had a dojo in the library in Ballyphehane”. Some dojos connect with the outside work in that they invite guest speakers to come and talk to the students, but each dojo acts independently.

One mentor is actively looking to connect with other dojos however through a Discord Communication Server they are using. At the moment there are 3 local coderdojos using it, mentors and students, but they “are looking to expand it to Dublin and maybe internationally”. Each dojo also has little or no connection to the overall Coderdojo organisation only that they are verified by the organisation and are listed on the Coderdojo Zen hub.. One mentor said “We have no strong links with the Coderdojo. Personally, I am not very enthusiastic about the Coderdojo Foundation, the charity. I feel they are very corporate…I would rather deal with the children than the organisers of Coderdojo”.

Invite different levels of participation

Each dojo should acknowledge different levels of participation. Some members will make up the core group, others will follow discussions and activities while others will remain on the periphery.

Each mentor we interviewed came from a different sized dojos. Some were small with a limited number of mentors and less than 20 participants while others had over 10 mentors and between 60-70 participants each week. Some of the dojos divide the participants by age and ability and have formed two classes. One mentor informed us that they have a junior and senior class, “We have the class divided into two groups – Juniors and Seniors. The younger kids work on Scratch, Python and they used to use Alice. The older kids are the 12-14 year olds. They do more advanced stuff like robotics and arduino”. The amount of mentors present at dojos each week varies from one dojo to the next. One mentor mentioned to us that she is the only regular mentor, “I have two foreign members of staff who got involved to improve their English but I am the only regular mentor”. In two of the dojos, the participants themselves are mentors: “We have one junior mentor and she is in the teenage room. She started her own dojo in her own school” and another mentor told us that “anyone with a blue belt is a mentor but they may not all be teaching. We have 4 adult mentors and 7 other mentors who are involved in teaching and 2 others are not involved in teaching”. The parents of the participants appear to be the periphery members of the community as they attend with their children and observe what they are doing but one mentor acknowledged that they can often learn just as much as the kids, “Parents have an opportunity to have a good learning experience as well. They can learn the challenge and watch their children learn it as well” and “we rely on parents to be present and to help their child and the parents often learn as much as the children”.

Some of the participants attend their dojo every week. Others will come every few weeks while some may come once and never return again. One mentor explained that they have a core group of participants while others come sometimes, “We would probably have about 12 children each week and never less than 6 or 7. We have a core group which includes my two children and another 4 children who come every week. But a  lot of children will come and go”. Four of the mentors we interviewed weren’t actively mentoring or teaching the participants, they were more involved on the administration side of running a dojo. One mentor sees herself as friendly face for the parents, “I answer emails, liaise with the venue….I see myself as a friendly face for the parents”. Another mentor says her responsibilities are outside of the classroom, “My responsibilities are outside the classroom. For example last week I was in charge of organising a bus to the upcoming Coolest Projects Awards in Dublin”.

Develop both public and private community spaces

The development of individual or group activities that are private, as well as public discussion, face-to-face meetings, online blogs and events stand to enrich individual relationships and the strength of individual relationships enriches these events. The 10 mentors we interviewed were all engaged in different coderdojo classes once a week where the participants worked on their own projects or tasks set out by the mentors. The participants worked individually except for when they helped each other with a problem but all the projects and tasks were individually based. These classes were open to any child to attend but they were private to the coderdojo in question and to those who took part in the class. Public discussion did not take place between the dojos or in a public place. The dojos as part of this study did not hold events outside of the classroom to enrich relationships.  However, one dojo did invite guest speakers into their class, “We do try to organise guest speakers to come in to the class when mentors can not make a class”. The same mentor informed us that they did visit the Coderdojo in CIT  for a workshop but it was a once off “We visited the Coderdojo at CIT in the Rubicon Centre and we did a workshop there about 2 years ago” and they have visited a dojo in Dublin, “My brother runs a Coderdojo in Howth in Dublin and we have visited that”. The collaboration between dojos is little to none and the awareness of each dojos activities is not known to the outside world. One dojo did connect with a Coderdojo at IBM in Ghana through one of their former mentors but it posed many problems, “Through Fred, we linked up with IBM in Ghana and we were teaching them HTML and CSS over webcam. It was difficult because everything in Ghana had to be run through the boss at IBM, unlike here and it also did start at the same time because of the time difference”.

Focus on value

Each coderdojo had different values they wanted to deliver to each of their classes. We asked each mentor the following question: what do you feel are the key values of this coderdojo? The first mentor said that the main value they want to deliver is to follow the “Be cool” ethos of the Coderdojo, “We have one rule, ‘Be Cool’ which is the general ethos. Mess around and joke, have fun but also get the work done. There is no point coming in here to sit down and play games”. Another mentor focused on the children’s learning experience as being the most important value, “I would like the children to learn to help each other. I want them to share their knowledge but I also want them to share their ability….parents have an opportunity to have a good learning experience as well. They can learn the challenge and watch their children learn it as well”. Respect was another key value mentioned by one of the mentors, “Respect, including respect to all ideas and people. Everyone is accepted. The children gain confidence and are comfortable with each other”. Another mentor wanted their key value to be making computers interesting for kids, “The key values are nurturing and making computers interesting for kids. You want to motivate the kids who really want to do it. This is the value I want to make”. One mentor wants the children to be able to think for themselves by taking part in Coderdojo classes, “Don’t be afraid to think for yourself. There are different paths to coding”. He wants the children to realise that they have options. In the opinion of one of the female mentors, the key value of the Coderdojo is that it provides “an introduction to coding before it’s introduced to schools”. She believes “they will need a knowledge of coding in their back pocket whether they are a coder or not going forward”. She also acknowledges the value of the friendships they make, “the friendships they make are nice to see as well. They help each other with the code. It is a community where children can express themselves. It’s ideal for the child who is quiet in school”. In the eyes of one of the female mentors, her coderdojo provides a “social opportunity, fostering self learning and child-led learning”. Another female mentor also draws on child-led/child-centered learning as a key value and she also added inclusion, accessibility and collaboration between kids to that list. Only one of the mentors we interviewed mentioned the value of Coderdojo to third level education and making choices for third level, “From a third level perspective, I hope the Computer Science dropout rate will be smaller because of Coderdojo. Kids don’t have to be afraid of it (coding) because they have seen it and are aware of what it is because of Coderdojo”.

Combine familiarity and excitement

This means to combine regular meetings, projects, website use etc. with novelty excitement and common adventure in the form of conferences, fairs, workshops and talks. Community members can also ask questions without the fear of getting into trouble.

Each mentor we interviewed mentored at a Coderdojo class once a week for the duration of the Irish school year, September to June. This way they took the same holidays as the Irish schools. Almost all of the dojos noticed a drop in numbers as the year was coming to an end. The Coderdojo is not like school. The classes are not as quiet or as strict and the children can ask questions as often as they want. One mentor has learned that “shouting things at children doesn’t work. It is important to go at a slow pace and to not take it too seriously. It should be fun”. He, along with one of the other male mentors don’t like to think of themselves as teachers. When asked about his role within the dojo he replied, “The fastest analogy would be to say I’m a teacher but I don’t like that term. I prefers not to use the word teacher. Coderdojo is a way of getting away from the school system”. When asked the same questions, the other mentor responded with the following, “I provide continuity from week to week. I recruit other mentors. I facilitate a learning environment. I don’t aim to teach. I don’t like to call it teaching. I want the children to have fun and enjoy themselves”. The same mentor believes coding is something which should be learned outside of schools if the children should wish to do so, “I believe schools have a lot of limitations and we shouldn’t look to schools to solve all problems. Coderdojo is something to do outside of schools, like music classes”.  This opinion is in stark contrast to that of some of the other mentors who believe children have to be shown coding to know what it is so they can make more informed choices for third level education, “In my opinion, if kids aren’t shown it (coding) they won’t know it exists. They will be able to say in years to come “I know what that is”.

All of the mentors we interviewed mentioned that children can ask questions and they will answer them and they will walk around the class to help the children if they are stuck. They encourage the children to help each other too. The atmosphere is different from schools in that the children can talk and have fun. The classes are loud. According to one mentor, “The idea is that the kids have fun, it’s not school. I want the children to learn social, soft skills, communication, teamwork and people skills. I love when the children are cheeky and inquisitive. I like a lively session”. Another mentor makes the point that if it’s too like school the kids won’t want to come back, “If it’s too like school, they won’t want to come back. We might as well walk into a school if we are going to do that kind of thing”.

Novelty excitement and common adventure is missing from most of these dojos as they stick to a familiar routine without shaking it up by attending conferences, workshops etc. Some of the dojos are actively involved in creating projects for the Coderdojo Coolest Projects Awards which are held in Dublin each year. It is the choice of the coderdojo participant/child whether they want to attend or not. One mentor told us that they attend every year, “Normally we have between 6-8 projects going to Coolest Projects, the goal is not to win but it is for the children to learn what other kids can do and learn from each other by looking at projects made for the awards”. Another dojo actively seeks out guest speakers to come and attend their dojo to give a talk to the participants and they have also attended a workshop before, “We visited the Coderdojo at CIT in the Rubicon Centre and did a workshop there about 2 years ago”, and “We tried to enter BT Young Scientist but it never happened. We also try to organise day trips but they rarely happen. But we did visit Blackrock Castle, we had a guy into us doing Virtual Reality and we also had a guy from Google in. We try to organise guest speakers to come in when mentors are unable to attend”.

Create a rhythm for the community

The rhythm of a community of practice is the syncing of familiar and exciting events, the frequency of private interactions and the ebb and flow of people on the periphery  into active participation.

As discussed in the previous section, familiar events are the week to week classes each dojo holds and the exciting events are very few with the Coolest Projects Awards being the only event most of the dojos attend. Only one dojo displayed an effort to interact with other initiatives or organisations. The kids are free to come and go from the dojo each week, it is not mandatory for them to attend each week so in that sense some weeks children will be on the periphery while other weeks they will be part of the core group as they get actively involved in the class.

One mentor informed us they have core group of children who come each week, “We would probably have about 12 children each week and never less than 6 or 7. We have a core group which includes my two children and another 4 children who come every week. But a  lot of children will come and go”. Another dojo is soon going to keep a track of who is or isn’t attending each week so people on the waiting list can join, “We have about 40 participants each week. Generally it’s the same children who come each week…The new person taking over from me is going to keep a record of who is attending and if a child isn’t coming back they will offer that place to someone else on the waiting list”. Parents are also examples of people who are on the periphery and they move into the centre of the community as they learn with their child, “They (the parents) can learn the challenge and watch their children learn it as well. The children need space to learn. It is a good learning environment for them. It can be a joint exercise. I’d like them to have a relationship”.

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