All businesses must learn to weather change, but as the call came from the Scottish Government to shut doors this March, it was clear that we were living in unprecedented times – and that meant big changes fast. We had to respond to the crisis quickly to continue to deliver our services and maintain our reputation and standards.
As a digital academy, we teach hundreds of students across our three campuses in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Inverness, so we had to transition our students, our team, and how they worked together in the space of days. CodeClan not only had to figure out how to operate as a digital skills academy remotely but how to continue to operate as a business as well.
Despite being a digital skills academy, we’ve never taught classes in a virtual learning environment before. We’ve always seen our classroom-based teaching as our USP – the high calibre of our excellent instructors and our inclusive collaboration is what makes us special.
CodeClan is not just about immersive classes on programming and data analysis – it’s where we teach students, all of whom have prior career experience, how to embrace a growth mindset, transition to a new industry, master soft skills, and learn how to be effective team members. Students come to CodeClan to understand the potential opportunities in the tech industry and find out what kind of future they can have. The weeks are divided into modules, and the days are split into classroom-based teaching, projects, and lab so the students can learn to work in teams – we try to mimic the “real” tech industry working day with stand-ups and project-work. Our student cohorts work really closely together developing strong connections. We teach them meta-skills and support them to find relevant jobs after they graduate. They leave not only with new digital skills but often with a network for life.
The real challenge was not only to pivot our classes to a virtual learning environment, but to retain the same supportive, collaborative, and sociable environment that has allowed our students to thrive.
How we did it
Our delivery team worked tirelessly pre-lockdown to create an Agile plan to switch to teaching virtually. We didn’t want to dial it in – the changes we made had to be right for our business, our students and our community. We wanted to keep our students as safe as possible in this time while not compromising the quality of their experience with CodeClan. By the time that the lockdown was announced, the students were aware of the changes that were coming, and the instructor and student services teams were prepped for their new challenges. Luckily, the technology to enable this to happen is sophisticated and easily available to all our students.
Our move to a virtual learning experience is interactive and simulates the classroom environment so it can follow the working day as closely as possible. Each day begins with a virtual standup to allow for student feedback. Our classes are live, interactive lessons and are hosted through virtual hosting tools and made available for review afterward. Support continues to be provided through video-conferencing and screen sharing tools that we have made available to all our students. A daily Q&A document is shared to collate student questions. Paired programming continues using tools like Teletype: Atom and Visual Studio. Cohorts on group projects arrange to work together via conferencing or other online tools.
Our students have had a lot of change to their normal schedules, so our instructors have a policy to help manage by offering flexible times for one-to-one support and mentoring. We have increased the number of student support volunteers to help our students manage their stress.
As a team, we all share pictures of our home offices or working areas, our new colleagues (pets and children), do pub quizzes, wear different colours on a Friday, and are involved in an office Bake Off to keep spirits high and come together as a team. We have team mindfulness sessions with a counsellor to manage any anxiety or stress we may be feeling.
Every Friday, our CEO Melinda Matthews-Clarkson holds a Zoom meeting for the whole team to update us on any new developments, to check in with the team as a whole, and to talk about how we’re coping, and what we’re grateful for. It’s important in times of uncertainty to be as transparent and open as possible with your team so everyone knows what’s happening.
Our first online graduation was in week one of the lockdown. Graduation is a time where graduates and their loved ones come into a CodeClan campus for presentations, talks and to celebrate with a glass of fizz. While graduating over video call could have felt like the students were missing out on an important part of their CodeClan experience, it didn’t diminish our students’ success in any way. There were speeches, poems, and even tears as everyone paid tribute to the hard work that had gone into the last three months – we even sent gifts to all our graduates to make the day special. Led by their instructor Alex, a wall of smiling faces appeared on the screen, dressed up and holding glasses, it reminded us that we are all incredibly resilient.
We have found out how flexible and adaptable we can be as a team and as a business. Our students are now embracing working remotely – which is an important skill to have in the tech industry, but also as the whole world has had to transition to working remotely on a huge scale.
The additional benefit for CodeClan as a business is now that our classes are fully remote, we are able to open up our immersive and short courses up to the whole of Scotland. Students who were in remote corners of Scotland would previously have had to relocate to one of our campuses to study. While people are being furloughed or being made redundant, it’s more important than ever to future-proof your skill-set and add to your technical skills. Ironically, the lockdown has made CodeClan’s classes more accessible.