T5-STEM1-3 - Informal Teaching within the CoderDojo Movement: An Exploration of Mentors’ Teaching Practices in Dojos in Ireland

3. Research Work In Progress
Abeer Alsheaibi1 , Meriel Huggard1, Glenn Strong1
1 Trinity College Dublin

‘Work in Progress’ CoderDojo is an international network of volunteer-led, free, independent, community-based computer programming clubs for young people. The CoderDojo movement was established in Ireland in 2011 and since then, the movement has expanded rapidly - by 2018 , there were  over 2000 verified Dojos reaching over 60,000 young people in more than 110 countries worldwide. In these programming clubs (called Dojos), young people (called Ninjas) aged between seven and seventeen years old, learn coding, develop websites, create games, construct mobile applications, and explore technology in a social and innovative environment. Dojos are usually organised and delivered by volunteers (called mentors). 

The mentors are drawn from a very diverse range of backgrounds; for example, they may be computing professionals, school teachers, university professors, undergraduate or postgraduate computing students, parents with an interest in programming or previous Ninjas. Within Dojos, mentors who guide and facilitate learners are free to use any learning theory they find is best suited to their needs and to the needs of the ninjas. 

To date, there is almost no empirical research on teaching practices within the CoderDojo context. Thus, the learning setting of a Dojo where young people are learning in an informal context about computer programming guided by mentors who have no formal training as educators provides a unique and novel environment for a deep exploration of how the teaching practices of mentors evolve to suit the needs of the ninjas.  

This work in progress reports on the initial findings of an empirical study that aims to answer the following research question: What teaching practices underpin current mentoring practice within Dojos in Ireland? The study aims to capture the mentors’ understanding of teaching and how this informs their practice within the informal learning environment of a Coderdojo. The participants are drawn from Irish Coderdojos as this is where the movement has been established for almost a decade. This study draws on both qualitative and quantitative data including semi-structured interviews with mentors, observations of Dojos and survey data. In particular, it will explore the preliminary findings of a thematic analysis of that data that identifies common themes and patterns in mentoring practices within the CoderDojo movement. The outcomes of this work will not only be of interest to all those engaged in mentoring within the Coderdojo movement but it will also provide informative insights for those seeking to engage young people with computing and programming in informal learning environments.

Keywords: Informal learning, Teaching practice, Programming, Programming clubs