Next level: Study Groups

When it comes to the continuation of learning to code after a Rails Girls Beginners Workshop, the Berlin community is kind of trailblazer. We have some of the longest standing project groups (Ruby Monstas, Rubycorns ) and the Summer of Code emerged from this amazing community. We have come to a point where the Ruby User Group’s demographic has visibly changed and other initiatives (just look at ClojureBridge!) are emerging from/within our orbit.

Study Groups Vanish Way Too Often

However, we have also noticed over the past years that some study groups continue longer while others stop meeting after a while. Sometimes, this just happens because everyone’s priorities change, and that’s perfectly fine. Other times though, it’s a combination of various things: coaches are new to this kind of teaching setting and don’t know how to set up the meetings, attendees are not sure what they can or want to learn. Maybe the knowledge / experience levels of all participants are quite different and it’s a challenge to satisfy everyone’s exploratory spirit. This can get quite frustrating, for both learners as well as coaches.

So far, we (the orga team) haven’t meddled much with the study groups, mostly because of a lack of time but also because our priority has mostly been on getting people started, on taking away that initial feeling that programming is a magical riddle. We’ve always understood the study groups as self-organized, while our role was more that of an advertiser.

A More Structured Approach

Apparently, this is no long-term solution. While there are many motivated coaches and eager learners, there is definitely a lack of knowledge on how to successfully run a long-term learners group. That is nobody’s fault, but we would like to change it. Our goal for the next months is to have (at least) two more study groups (one on Tuesdays, one on Wednesdays) that will work similarly to the Ruby Monstas – meaning that they will eventually be able to accommodate different levels of learners and collect some of the newbies after a Beginner’s Workshop. But most importantly: meaning that people will be empowered to keep the study group running for a long time, even if attendance fluctuates. We’re taking the Monstas as an example mainly because there are already many resources and a lot of experience that they are happy to share.

So, this is how we want to approach it: At the end of June, we will host another Coach the Coaches. The topic will be on successfully running and contributing to a study group.

Coaches who are interested in taking on the task could maybe „intern“ at Ruby Monstas, so that they can get an idea on structures, teaching styles and so on. Ideally, they are ready to start a Beginner’s Group after our next workshop in the end of July.

We understand that running a study group is quite a commitment, so let’s point out a few things:
  • You don’t need to be a Ruby / Rails expert to take charge of a study group. We believe that the person ensuring that the group meets once a week, no matter what, does not have to be a person with *all* the knowledge about programming. You may just as well be more of a facilitator.
  • You don’t need to do this for free. This is a big commitment, and while we would never suggest that learners pay for your time, we encourage employers to allocate work time specifically to running / coaching a study group. In the end, this benefits companies as well – because who is not looking to hire some fresh talent sooner or later?
  • You do need to be willing to get feedback, learn and improve. If you are familiar with Agile Methods, try to see each meeting as a mini-sprint and learn to retrospect effectively. Especially in the beginning, much of the work will be emotional labour: Understanding who learns best how; finding a rhythm for the group; getting through feelings of frustration because some technical issue was taking up the entire evening; and so on. Understand this as an opportunity for yourself to grow, too.

Are You In?

We, the orga team, are no experts in coaching or running a study group. We can facilitate knowledge sharing between the more experienced coaches and new coaches. We can provide you with a flood of eager learners. We can offer to find a place that will host your study group. But in the end, it’s up to you to run this thing and help people get to their next level of coding.

If you are interested in learning more about running a study Group, please come to our next Coach the Coaches event in June. More details can be found here.