Help Profs Teach Stanford’s Popular, and Now Free, Online Intro to Coding Course

Hello from home, where I’m flattening the curve and seeking the most effective ways to help from a distance. I found a great one for curve-flatteners who love to teach and/or code: collaborate with world-renowned Stanford professors to mentor a group of students as they learn to code from home.

For the first time, Stanford is opening its wildly popular introductory coding class, CS106A, to the public–completely free of charge. CS 106A, taken by almost 1,600 students every year, has been developed over the last 30 years by an amazing team of Stanford professors. I was once one of those students. I took CS 106A with Nick Parlante and was blown away by how fun, well-organized, and empowering it was. The condensed public course, 106A – Code in Place, will teach fundamentals of computer programming with the widely-used Python programming language.

This is not just another MOOC. Yes, there will be three filmed lectures a week. But what makes CS106A special is its section leaders, mentors who teach 40-minute small-group sections of students outside of the lectures. Section leaders are specially trained to help students learn in an interactive and community-oriented way. In order to scale the course to the public in a way that maintains its magic, Stanford is looking for volunteer mentors to fill the role of section leader for students in the public course. Each new volunteer means 10 more students learn to love coding while stuck at home—and that could lead to exponential growth in the number of people in the world with critical thinking and programming skills!

Here are nine reasons I applied to mentor students as they learn to code during COVID-19:

1. Bring together and get to know a fascinating mix of students from around the world: While social distancing has pushed us apart, it also has brought us together. It will be meaningful to connect a group of students from very different backgrounds, all going through this global crisis, and together focus on learning to code.

2. Learn from two legendary computer science professors:  Lectures will be delivered by two legendary Stanford Computer Science Professors–Mehran Sahami and Chris Piech. In addition to teaching my 40-minute section, I will eagerly tune into their tri-weekly 50-minute lectures to pick up teaching tips, good jokes, and a solid dose of humanity. But I do research with Chris and maybe I’m biased. Let’s see what former students on RateMyProfessors.com have to say: On Chris? “No man is perfect. Chris Piech is.” On Mehran: “The most inspiring professor I’ve ever had. Helpful, funny (I mean extremely funny), and clear. He does his best to entertain students. I have never taken any CS class before and now I am in love with computer programming because of him.”

3. Participate in an amazing community of Stanford section leaders: The Stanford section leaders have formed a generous, proactive and empowering community, and I want to get to know them and the other wonderful humans from industry, education and research (this could be you!) who will sign up to mentor.

4. Contribute to an educational experiment that will improve online learning globally:  The Stanford computer science team has designed this course to make online learning more human by keeping the student-teacher ratio 10:1. This is a first-of-its kind offering from Stanford and will provide insights on scaling high-quality learning through online education. I work in Chris Piech’s lab and we share a commitment to infusing digital education with a human touch

5. Teach people useful and fun skills: Coding is fun and it helps people get jobs they can do from home. Amidst massive unemployment some people may hope to pick up a new skill they can do remotely, and I would like to help them.

6. Solidify my own coding skills: Teaching will help me solidify my skills by sharing them with others. I will also get to hone my teaching, communication and people skills.

7. Build resiliency through this tumultuous time: Joining groups, helping others, maintaining relationships and staying hopeful are all proven ways to build resilience. A 2017 survey of Stanford section leaders showed their experience was overwhelmingly positive, with improvements in identity and perceived collaboration in the field of CS, and a large increase in teaching and leadership confidence.

8. Do the best parts of teaching without the pain (that means no grading): Volunteer section leaders don’t have to grade anything. We will just teach one 40-minute section a week for five weeks. For all the benefits of mentoring people and helping them grow, it is not a very big time commitment: 3 hours of teacher training, 1.5 hours/week (30 minutes of prep time for section, 40 minutes of teaching section, and 15 minute weekly staff meeting) for five weeks starting the week of April 13. Details at this link.

9. Increase the number of students who can take the course! Every volunteer instructor gives 10 more students the opportunity to join. And the more students who do (and tell their friends how fun and easy it is to code) the more we will flatten the sickness curve and steepen the curve of people thinking critically and learning joyfully. Given the role that science denial has played in helping spread coronavirus, steepening the critical thinking curve may even contribute to flattening the disease curve.

If any of these reasons resonate, if you are passionate about teaching, programming, or both, and if you have internet connection stable enough for a video call, you can apply to teach at this link by Friday, April 3rd Anywhere On Earth. Check out the announcement to learn more.  If you have any questions please email codeinplace@cs.stanford.edu or DM me on twitter @lisaeinstein



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