This article was written for our sponsor, Momentum.
Within the past few years, enrollment in online education and distance learning has grown at a rapid pace and Momentum, a Durham-based coding school, has embraced this trend.
Traditionally, the school holds its courses in-person, but with the recent need for social distancing it's decided to innovate the curriculum while pivoting to online learning, using various tools and software along the way.
While the first cohort to experience Momentum's virtual learning hadn't anticipated doing so (classes began months before the pandemic hit the country), the experience has been surprisingly seamless given the limited warning.
"We had some assumptions about what the process was going to mean for our students, like if we were going to be able to get people engaged still, and all of those assumptions were very much dispelled — our students did an amazing job with their final projects," said Jessica Mitsch, CEO and co-founder of Momentum. "We used Zoom as our method for teaching classes and it has so many tools that make the classroom experience surprisingly great, like breakout rooms and the ability to raise your hand and ask questions. It was a different learning mode, but it let some students really thrive."
The culmination of the semester, dubbed "Demo Day," saw students showcasing their final projects in front of their classmates, instructors, alumni and other professionals in the area. While Demo Day has always been an in-person event, the switch to virtual allowed it to be more accessible for a wider number of individuals and professionals.
Students were able to record videos of their presentation as well as create video resumes, testing their virtual savvy in the process.
"It's an excellent resume-builder to be able to say that you worked remotely, especially from a software engineering perspective," said Brandon Miller, a software developer and former talent acquisition manager for TransLoc. "Being able to coordinate with your team and version control can be a really tricky thing when you're not sitting next to each other, so communication was key. That was important to learn for a lot of us — just how to use the different tools and how to communicate effectively virtually. There were typical struggles, but I think we all came together and helped build each other up to get the work done that we needed to do."
After the conclusion of the previous cohort's demo day, the latest round of classes at Momentum kicked off on April 20. While they hope to return to campus before the course is over, the instructors and staff are fully prepared to take on the trials and triumphs of the virtual classroom.
Additionally, to make online learning as accessible as possible to students, the Momentum classes will be offered in phases every month. There are four total phases spread out across the 16-week course, with a new phase starting each month. To begin the next phase, the prior phase will need to be completed first. In structuring the class in such a way, students are able to take courses at their own pace.
"For whatever reason, if you aren't able to complete a phase, you're able to start taking it again that very next month, so it doesn't really interrupt your overall schedule," Mitsch said. "For example, maybe you struggled with phase three, and you needed to retake it for an academic purpose. If you get stuck and need to take some time off, we've created a schedule now that gives people the flexibility to drop in and drop out when they need to."
As the team considers new innovations to the program, the students who have already completed the course are now prepared to apply their coding skills to the outside world. Even in the midst of an unpredictable job market, a tech-centric skill set like the one Momentum provides is still in high demand, For those who have completed the class — even in the midst of stay-at-home orders and social distancing— job prospects have been promising.
"In 12 weeks, I have now completely 180'ed in my career, and I've already had a few calls and interviews with people from my network. Also, our director of career services [Katie Dunn] has been fantastic. She set us all up with Trello boards to manage our search, a database of interview questions so we can better prepare, and mock interviews with people from different companies all over the country," Miller said. "I know multiple cohort members that I've spoken to have also had interviews, so I think our prospects are still moving forward nicely."
While learning to code remotely may seem like an intimidating challenge, modern technology has made it easier than ever. In Miller's case, his cohort was able to attend class through Zoom, communicate through Slack, and code collaboratively through screen sharing and platforms like Virtual Studios.
To welcome the newest cohort to the world of virtual learning, the team at Momentum has gone the extra mile to make the online classroom as interactive as possible with virtual games and interactive experiences. Most semesters start off with a welcome party consisting of dinner and ice breakers, and the virtual semester was no exception — although the game of Two Truths and a Lie was done over Zoom this time.
Moving forward, Mitsch and her team hope to continue innovating Momentum in whatever ways are called for. And while Momentum's foray into online learning is fairly fresh, it's opened the door to explore what opportunities the future might hold.
"Could we serve people in other parts of the state? Does the boundary of the classroom turn into a boundary of time zone in the future? Those are active questions that we're asking, but we haven't reached a conclusion on yet," Mitsch said. "But this skill is always going to be in demand, and technology companies in particular are using a lot of this type of modern software. This change to a remote workforce has been fairly easy, which is part of the reason why there's never been a better time to pick up a coding skill and get into the tech sector."
This article was written for our sponsor, Momentum.