Collaboration and creativity between staff, students and graduates

We spoke to Dr Cecilia Oyugi, Academic Mentor and Chris Blakey, London Met graduate, about working in partnership to create an engaging and practical bootcamp for programming students.

Date: 20 April 2023

During the 2020/21 academic year and the height of the pandemic, Dr Cecilia Oyugi, Academic Mentor for Applied Computing and Computer Science and Chris Blakey, a graduate in BSc Cybersecurity and Digital Forensics joined forces, bringing their ideas together to work in partnership to create an engaging and practical bootcamp for foundation and undergraduate programming students.

Cecilia came up with the idea for bootcamp-style programming sessions as a way to keep students engaged with their studies when moving online and to replicate the collaborative environment in-person sessions can create; once students were allowed back on campus, in-person sessions continued.

She said: “Programming is one of the most challenging modules for level 3 and 4 students, so I thought I could create a space for them to learn more about programming in an understandable and collaborative way, learning from an expert and hopefully from each other. I asked some students about the potential for a bootcamp-style project and what they might need, and they thought it would be beneficial.”

Little did Cecilia know that Chris wanted to create a similar project-based way of teaching programming, in a way he could give back to the University, he said: “Cecilia was my academic mentor, and throughout my time at London Met, she had done tons for me, and so had the University – it’s amazing how much the University had done for me.

“I wanted an opportunity to give something back, and one of the things I’d noticed was the way programming was taught (not just at London Met but other universities)...didn't really inspire students to want to go out of their own way and pick up the nuances of programming language or necessarily prepare you for the real world. So, I came to Cecilia with a suggestion that we come up with a project-based way of teaching programming, where students pick something they want to work on – something practical they would enjoy using and go from there. I’d teach them how to find third party libraries they’d want to use and how to understand general concepts of programming on a more engaging level.”

In partnership, Cecilia and Chris organised a seven-week long bootcamp, taking place once a week for two hours on a Wednesday (with an extra group on Sundays which the student attendees created themselves). Sessions were very interactive, with up to 50 students in attendance sometimes.

Cecilia said: “Students worked in groups on problem-solving tasks, debating and coming up with solutions – it was very engaging and created a peer community amongst current students and graduates, and students and mentors; students loved the process and feedback highlighted it met the needs they had. Sessions were also recorded so nothing would be missed.”

The reaction and feedback to the bootcamps was very positive, and beyond the expectations Cecilia had. She said: “I thought the bootcamp would provide a space for students to develop skills, but I didn’t realise how enthusiastic they would be. There was an increase in confidence and collaboration amongst students who got involved, and even an improvement on module assessments which was brilliant.”

Chris reiterated this, saying: “I had quite a few students reach out to thank me for the course and to say the bootcamp had been really engaging and they felt more engaged in programming overall, so that was great to hear. It also created a framework for students to learn more about programming outside of class; communicating with each other and showing each other what they were learning in the projects they’d created.

“I think the mindset of students who took part was that they wanted to go out and learn more about programming and to do it in their own time as well; I think the framework we created helped with that too, that there was a support group around for students working towards furthering knowledge.”

As a collaborative project, with student partnership at its core, Chris spoke about why student partnership is so important, especially as a graduate: “I think it’s easy to coast through university and accept a lot of the help the university gives and not ask the question of how you can give back. It’s easy to not realise how beneficial it can be on both sides. Essentially, I was looking for a way to thank the University for all they had done for me, but actually this project helped both of us. It wasn’t just me giving back, I was able to solidify my skills by teaching other students and it’s been brilliant for my employment prospects since as well, a lot of roles I’ve gone into since graduating have an element of training teammates or gathering knowledge and disseminating back to a team so some of the skills I picked up in the bootcamp are pivotal to my career.”

Cecilia agreed student partnership can be beneficial, adding “Working together and listening to each other is so important; if we listen to students then we might be able to get the best out of them, and if we listen and learn from each other, then we can make improvements. I think the key takeaway is, to try things out, you don’t know until you try, and it can take time, but the return may be high and more effective in the end.”

We asked Cecilia and Chris which Student Partnership Agreement (SPA) values align with this project most. Cecilia said: “Definitely collaboration, working as partners to create something that made students feel empowered. It also consolidated knowledge and friendships were made too.”

Chris believes the project covered a lot of the values, he said: “Learning programming is quite a daunting task, especially for somebody who is new to it – you know there’s a huge body of knowledge out there and you’re often subject to imposter syndrome, feeling like you’re facing this massive mountain to climb, so I think the bootcamp probably did help with some students’ mental health, as they were able to get exposure to what programming is really like, and finding simple, engaging and practical ways to write a little piece of software, rather than incredibly complex and advanced algorithms. It was also a great example of collaboration and creativity between staff and students, both former and current."