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Are office hours the secret to learning online?

Why you can't take the human element out of online education

Skillcrush instructor Emily Davis mugs for the camera

The learning process is confusing, and frustrating, and exhilarating. Sometimes, all at once.

The past few months, since we first launched our Skillcrush 101 class, have been a huge process of learning for our team. We have learned tons about what matters to students, what doesn’t, where they get stuck, and what assumptions of ours were dead, dead wrong. The list of learnings is long, but there is one super important learning that trumps all of the other lessons:

You can’t take out the human element out of education.

Think back on a time when you have learned something super new and challenging. What did you do when you got stuck? What helped you get unstuck?

For most people, the answer is that they turned to a fellow student or teacher and asked for help. And it worked! So simple. So obvious! So not-usually-possible-when-learning-online.

But how do you bring the human element into learning online?

How we have solved this problem is by giving students 24 hour email access to our Skillcrush instructors, hosting weekly office hours, and creating an email community where students can reach out to one another.

But what does this REALLY look like? Does it actually work? Or are we all talk?

Now you can be the judge!

When technology permits, we like to do office hours over Google Hangout. Video is just far more personable, and we love to meet and greet our students “in-person.”

Last week, however, we conducted an office hours with one of our students who didn’t have access to a video camera. So instead, we gchatted her up. And she was gracious enough to offer to let us share our office hours session with you.

Read our office hours transcript

The Office Hours Transcript
Dee is one of the Skillcrush instructors, Leah is a Skillcrush 101 student.
Dee: Hi there!
Leah: Hello!
Dee: How’s it going?
Leah: Good – I was excited to get to the CSS part this week in class
Dee: Sweet! So what can I do to help?
Leah: Well, here’s my challenge – I am starting a digital services division for a marketing agency that has provided traditional marketing services to nonprofit clients for 30 years now.
Dee: Oh that’s exciting!
Leah: So, I am doing things like designing email templates even though what I really am is a strategist/analyst person. SO, what is the best way to get faster? I am really, really slow in HTML
Dee: I would say the best way to get faster is to practice- I know that sucks to hear a little.
Leah: No worries
Dee: But here’s what you can do. Look at the images of example sites we provided in the downloads section- you have about 4 to work with right now. Start with the first image. And try to code it from top to bottom…
Leah: ok
Dee: without looking at the source code until you’re ABSOLUTELY desperate. Move through each of the 4 projects (they are varying degrees of difficulty), then move back to the first one and go through it again and again until it’s second nature
Leah: gotcha – that will be good practice
Dee: try that out and report back :)
Leah: will do!
Dee: Also, I can recommend 2 good books you can add to your library as references
Leah: sure
Dee: 1. HTML & CSS: http://htmlandcssbook.com/
 avail on amazon, kindle and hard copy
Leah: Great! I heart my kindle.
also avail on kindle and hard copy
I heart my kindle too
 :)
So those will serve as good reference guides
Leah: Awesome – that will help.
Dee: make sure to download all our cheat sheets. Print those out and put them up somewhere in your house
Leah: I have done that already – they are fabulous!
Dee: glance at them often so that they get ingrained. I would say stick one up in your bathroom mirror.
So that even when you’re not “studying”
you kinda start looking at it while you’re brushing your teeth and stuff
Leah: will do! My husband will wonder what I am trying to brainwash him with :)
Dee: that really helped me in the beginning. ESPECIALLY with CSS
 when you get into confusing concepts that take a while to click
Leah: True that
Dee: putting them everywhere will help :)
Leah: My other question is — how do I get things to consistently render correctly in IE? Sadly, this is what most of our clients are using.
This is actually what is taking up most of my time at work
Dee: IE is SUCH a pain that the universe has sort of collectively agreed to use duct tape to make things work in there. You’ll have to Google things and find solutions. Stack Overflow is a good resource. Mozilla is a good resource to search for stuff too. https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/
Leah: Yeah – it is a pain. We need to go where our audience is, and it’s in IE.
And thanks for the Mozilla reference. I can’t believe I am going to start being a web developer on top of everything else. It is empowering!
Dee: you can TOTALLY do it
Keep in mind that its one of those jobs where you’ll never know everything and you can always learn more.
But you’ll figure out what you need to know for the projects you need
Leah: true that!
Dee: and become well versed in that
It’s just like a language. there will always be words you dont know
HTML/CSS ARE languages :)
Leah: That is definitely true. I have a degree in music, and it’s the same thing – music is also a language
Dee: oh man
music is like, the COOLEST language
and just like with that – its all about practice practice practice
Leah: Yeah – practice doesn’t bother me at all.
Dee: you get quicker and things flow better the more you are subjected to it
you’ve got the right mindset
which is the most important thing in development
Leah: Definitely. We are going to end up contracting out a lot of the developer/template stuff but I still need to be able to do some of it so I know what I’m talking about
Dee: over time, it gets really easy bc of the repetition and practice.
Leah: Thanks so much for your time, Deepina! The class is great and I’m enjoying learning to code in a systematic way, rather than just trying to figure it out on my own
Dee: anytime! we are so happy to have you here. let me know if there’s anything else I can do to help.
Leah: Will do – have a great weekend!
Dee: you as well :)
Leah: :)
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One сomment

  1. So true! You absolutely can’t take the human element of learning. When I took a front end web dev class through General Assembly, I discovered how incredibly useful it was to go to office hours to get help on my homework and final project. I know I wouldn’t have learned as much as I did if I didn’t get help from someone focused on providing support and tips on best practices.

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