What do you get when you combine a state-of-the-art open source content management system with a seemingly endless need for developers, an instructor passionate about developing Drupal talent with solid fundamentals and best practices (yours truly), six eager, geographically diverse students (pictured above - more on them in future blog posts), and a modern online classroom environment (the topic of this post)? If the content management system is Drupal, then the only answer is the online version of the Drupal Career Starter Program: Drupal Career Online.
This week marks the start of the first session of Drupal Career Online, an immersive 12-week online training program designed to take people passionate about technology and turn them into Drupal professionals. The curriculum is the result of continuous development and improvement over the past three years, and now features a dedicated web site, PDF handouts and reference documents for every lesson, weekly self-assessment quizzes, screencasts covering important concepts and a healthy dose of Drupal community involvement.
With Drupal Career Online, we've ventured into new territory. This is our the first long-form training presented purely online. Seven hours of instructor-led classes and four lab hours each week - both facilitated with GoToMeeting and IRC, which present (what we thought would be) challenges to both the instructors and the students. Turns out, there are some great advantages.
As the primary instructor, my biggest concern was ensuring I could make a connection with the students. Not being able to read their body language and facial expressions to ensure that everyone is engaged, nor being able to walk over to them and peer over their shoulder to see where they might be struggling and provide advice and encouragement could be a challenge. We considered several online classroom solutions and decided on GoToMeeting for several reasons, including strong compatibility with both Mac and Windows and the ability to make any of the students a presenter at the click of a mouse.
After the first class, many of my concerns immediately dissipated. The ability for almost everyone (up to six at a time) to leverage their webcams for face-to-face conversations put us all at ease almost immediately. With Drupal Career Online students mainly beginners, the ability to quickly switch between each student's screen allowed us to ensure that everyone got up-and-running with a local development environment in a minimum amount of time. Dare I say that using GoToMeeting was actually an advantage in this area compared to a traditional classroom where sharing a student's screen usually involves a really long video cable (and an adapter or two) or students relocating to the front of the room. Being able to nimbly switch between screens was a surprisingly big win on the first day of class.
I think it is safe to say that we're all looking forward to the upcoming 11 weeks of our interstate virtual class, where we'll be covering everything from Drupal fundamentals, module and theme development, Git, and more contributed modules that I care to count. Stay tuned for more posts about Drupal Career Online, the technology we're leveraging, and of course our newest students and the learning community we develop as we progress down the path of Drupal knowledge.
Nine weeks in and any apprehension or concerns I had as to how this type of instruction would be are a distant memory. Mike presents class handout material; pdf documents, well ahead of time to allow time to prepare for each week, to include quality recorded "screencasts" The format is one day of instructor led content including site build exercise, then day two, a lab day for student to student interaction & Mike to referee..ha; then day three of instructor lesson content explanation. There is plenty of time for question & answer.
Speaking for myself & feel my fellow five classmates would agree; this has been an excellent comfortable learning environment. From instructor interaction, student to student interaction and as Mike points out the ability to share screens with ease and visualization of instructor & fellow students embarks a comfortable atmosphere to promote sharing, questions, concerns and offer help to others. A true collaboration and preparation to take us into a career in Content Management /Drupal. 11/02/14 Bill Pollard