by Julie Lineback
The University of West Georgia is launching an informal coding club to help kids and young adults, ages seven to 17, grow their computer programming skills. The first session will be held Saturday, August 9, from 1 – 4 p.m. in the UWG Education Center 2 and 3 and will be followed by an additional 11 monthly gatherings on the second Saturday of each month, concluding in July 2015.
The club is led by Dr. Adriana D’Alba and Dr. Kim Huett, assistant professors in the department of educational technology and foundations, and by Dr. Anja Remshagen, an associate professor in the department of computer science.
“This program seeks to plant the seed in kids’ minds that technology can be fun,” says Dr. D’Alba. “We want to get kids excited about getting under the hood and working with technology. This will empower them to participate in our technology-mediated world, regardless of the field they work in.”
Dr. D’Alba also emphasizes the club’s goal of reaching out to girls and minorities who are underrepresented in computer science.
“The future is bright for jobs that demand the skills learned from programming,” she adds. “Yet, girls and minorities generally steer clear of such opportunities for a variety of reasons. We at uCode are exploring these reasons, and as time passes, we hope to improve the culture of our program such that it can attract a wide variety of participants.”
Using such programs as Code Monster, Scratch and Minecraft, attendees will create games, animations, webpages, 3-D objects and more. If they choose to attend more than one session, they can either build on previous projects or learn something new via that day’s lesson.
“We anticipate a variety of scenarios,” Dr. D’Alba continues. “Kids may or may not return consistently. We will try to build continuity with kids and encourage them to arrive at uCode knowing what they want to learn.”
Sponsored by the College of Education, the College of Science and Mathematics, Information Technology Services and the Office of Research and Sponsored Projects, the program is unique in that everyone is encouraged to help the participants gain skills and confidence. Community members, UWG’s ITS department and computer science students will have a presence as mentors.
“While we have folks we refer to as ‘mentors,’ anyone and everyone who helps someone else is mentoring,” Dr. Remshagen explains. “Traditional schooling prizes the role of ‘teacher’ as being embodied by one person who knows the most, but at uCode, we want to encourage the sharing of knowledge, skills and ideas.”
Parents are encouraged to attend the sessions as well. She believes that parents, guardians and other older relatives play vital roles in children’s education.
“There is enormous value in parents' modeling an interest in the programming activities at uCode,” Dr. Huett says. “We value parents as teachers and as fellow learners with their kids. We need parents' help to motivate kids and help them to see that coding can be fun. By involving parents in this fashion, they are better equipped to help kids to continue learning.”
She believes that if parents can help young children form pro-technology views and discover what they can do with programming and coding, they will eventually develop the ability to solve specific kinds of problems in our society.
“Learning about technology is important because it gives our kids choices,” she concludes.
For more information about uCode, including how to reserve a spot or sign up as a volunteer mentor, visit www.westga.edu/ucode or call 678-839-6129.
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