The vision for our Learning products is to use the power of MDN to teach web development to future web developers. Experiments with new content (the Learning Area), new formats (Content Kits) and new contribution paths (the MDN Fellowship) are underway. Each of these experiments is the culmination of months of planning and development.
Furthermore, experiments in the Reference product such as Helpfulness Ratings, the Metrics Dashboard and Interactive Code Samples promise new opportunities to improve MDN’s Learning products.
In other words, MDN’s Learning products enjoy plenty of enthusiasm and forward momentum. I propose just two additional experiments to supplement those already underway.
1. Discussion Areas
Someone recently created a page in MDN’s new Learning Area asking for help:
“Good day, I have a problem with nsIWebProgressListener for extension firefox. I need a status is target blank, mean: when user on click to tag a (<a href=”www.mysite.com” target=”blank”>) then we have a this status.
Please, help me.
Learning Area wiki pages are not well suited to this kind of discussion. The Learning Area does include a link to the Webmaker forums which are definitely more suitable. But they are not focused on the same audience of aspiring web developers.
I have spoken several times with learners who chose to invest in development training at a coding bootcamp such as The Turing School or Code Fellows. For them, the peer group afforded by such opportunities was very compelling.
Learners need a way to discuss their subject with others who are learning the same thing at the same time. We should identify a forum/forums focused on the same audience and subjects as MDN’s Learning Area. A dedicated area of the Webmaker forums is probably the most lightweight place to explore the usage and implications of this feature. We should be able to answer these questions through observation:
- Do people use the forum?
- Do they help each other?
- What management does the forum require?
With those questions answered we can decide whether a more involved solution is justified.
Status of this experiment: Product stakeholders recognize the gap, but nobody is currently working to address it. The proposal needs more discussion and commitment.
2. Exercises in Github
Analysis and surveys of the online learning space suggest that online learners are constrained by sandboxes. They learn from online tools how to code; they do not learn from online tools how to build and launch web sites.
The Turing School maintains its syllabi, lessons and activities in a Github Repository. This creates additional opportunities for students to interact with git and Github, both critical elements of the modern web developer’s toolkit.
MDN can adapt this approach to work for thousands of learners. Specifically, MDN can create activities in Github that require users…
- to fork and/or clone a repository
- to deploy their work to Github pages
This approach offers numerous benefits:
- Learners use the same source code management tools that real web developers use
- Learners create measurable artifacts of their progress, which can help identify opportunities to improve lessons or activities
- Learners build a website in their own Github repository that may help demonstrate their skills to future employers
The open-source Nodeschool.io offers training in this format. We could create a Nodeschool.io activity to accompany one of MDN’s lessons and track usage that way, thereby learning answers to these questions:
- Do people start the activities?
- Do they complete them?
- Does their work demonstrate fluency in the lesson the activity accompanies?
Status of this experiment: Proposal to Learning Area stakeholders met with enthusiasm. Needs specification and an engineering commitment.