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Interview: Thriving in lockdown - how a coding school in Vietnam beat the odds

With the world in the firm grip of COVID-19, and over a third the entire planet’s population on some form of lockdown, many of those locked down have taken to the internet in droves to work, learn and socialise as the world pauses around them.

And even in countries less affected than others by the virus, new behaviours are emerging to combat it as businesses migrate to remote working and reliance on internet connectivity ramps up.

CoderSchool, where our publisher honed his coding skills and learned machine learning mechanics, is evidence of this trend.

The business is based in Vietnam, a country where a comparatively small 241 people have been infected by COVID-19 and none have died, but CoderSchool moved their entire operation online anyway.

“We’ve been running all current full-time courses online since March 10, as we thought it was a much-needed measure to prevent the spread of the current pandemic,” says CoderSchool marketing executive Duong Le.

“We are glad that we’ve made a timely decision to ensure our students’ health safety, along with our staff's.”

Timely it was – for context, New Zealand went into lockdown on March 26, over two weeks after CoderSchool acted. 

Many businesses are suffering as a result of lockdowns and the necessity of remote working, and universities are struggling to cope with the explosion of demand for learning from home.

But James Park, the student experience co-ordinator at CoderSchool, says his experience with the online move has been mostly smooth.

Like many businesses, schools and government departments around the world, CoderSchool is making use of Zoom as the main tool in their arsenal to facilitate efficient communication.

Before the migration online and the adoption of Zoom, the school used a Discord server to interact with each other, as well as an internally developed website platform - the 'Learning Portal'. 

But with face-to-face communication temporarily suspended, Park says more firepower was needed.

“The key feature in Zoom that we utilize is called ‘Breakout Rooms’, which allows us to split our classroom into smaller groups without needing to set up another virtual meeting,” says Park.

“Our instructors and teaching assistants have the ability to move between the rooms to assist groups that get stuck on an assignment.”

Park says it has worked so well because the curriculum was able to be implemented in much the same way as before, with the same teaching methods and levels of interaction, but just on a different platform.

Much like their conventional, offline curriculum, when the day is done the instructor calls back every student on the course to the same Zoom meeting to debrief on the day's activities before ending the day's session.

And, just as in pre-COVID-19 times, the recorded lecture is uploaded onto the Learning Portal for students to review.

There’s even evidence that CoderSchool’s new online regimen may be more beneficial for both students and teachers than its conventional layout.

Like any educational institution, student feedback on instructors is critical in improving curriculum and content, and CoderSchool's move online looks to be facilitating growth in constructive criticism.

"We’re seeing more engagement in our feedback system with the courses being online," says Park.

The new online element has also provided an opportunity to shake up the usual teaching methods, adding a layer of excitement to lectures.

“We've also added another measure of having non-academic team members occasionally attend lectures and labs,” says Park.

“This gives us another point of view to strengthen our course and improve the experience.”

In its second week of fully online learning, CoderSchool provided a free week-long crash for basic web development and basic machine learning. This proved to be a hit.

“Only four days after the announcement, the courses attracted nearly 500 people signing up,” says Le.

“CoderSchool wants to take that opportunity to offer something back to society, by helping everyone who is interested in coding find a better way to spend their time working at home - learn all the basics of web development, data science and machine learning.

And despite CoderSchool adapting well with social distancing and remote learning, Lee admits: "It's been good online, but we do miss being in the same room." 

If you want to learn more or apply to CoderSchool, visit their website.

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