Hybrid Bootcamps Create Unprecedented Postsecondary Access for Isolated Populations
As the knowledge economy grows in the wake of the recession, employers have a greater demand for highly educated professionals than ever before. Colleges and universities alone have been unable to meet this demand, and private, unaccredited education providers have stepped in to provide students with access to programs specifically designed to get them into high-demand fields. Of course, this phenomenon has provided city-dwellers with more options than ever to pursue higher education, but rural students remain relatively underserved. In this interview, Jeremy Shaki discusses his coding bootcamp’s move to create access to high-quality, career-directed programming for students in an isolated city in Canada’s Arctic Circle.
The EvoLLLution (Evo) Why did you and your colleagues launch a hybrid bootcamp in the Yukon?
Jeremy Shaki (JS): As a brick-and-mortar bootcamp, we always had our eyes on opportunities to scale our business or expand, but we have always been skeptical of remote locations because you really lose the personal aspect, which bootcamps are built off of. We had multiple conversations with the Yukon government in regards to helping the community get more developer-ready talent. What became obvious was there were certain issues that we couldn’t overcome. Setting up a bootcamp in Whitehorse would have been very difficult with the typical 7:1 student-teacher ratio. We wouldn’t have been able to find quite enough talent to teach the courses and we weren’t sure if there was enough demand.
The other opportunity was having the government sponsor students to come down to Vancouver. However, one of the big challenges for a lot of remote communities in Canada is that when someone leaves and goes to a city, they don’t come back. What they were looking to do was to bring an education like ours to their space. We started having this conversation. At the Lighthouse Labs bootcamp, we have 100 percent placement rates of our graduates; every single student who wants to get a job as a developer can go out and get one. What we wanted to do was add that same element of results to a bootcamp in Whitehorse. We knew that the technology was there in order to deliver this purely remotely, however we felt it was really important to integrate these students into our community.
We decided to build a space where students would have a TA onsite who would also act as a future mentor. This space would also provide them with their own network of students, as well as a much larger network in Vancouver where they have the resources to go to well beyond after they graduate.
Evo: Why is the hybrid approach more valuable for geographically distributed students than a purely online approach?
JS: If you look at MOOCs in general and online courses, the biggest challenge is students are not actually being integrated into their communities. People’s career development is highly supported by the immersive aspect of their community. By being integrated with other industry professionals, you don’t just learn from the things you pick up in the course. It’s also about the conversations that you have that help you really wrap your head around a lot of the context of the industry and a lot of the stuff that wouldn’t necessarily stay in a class but allow you to form your own opinions. Both things are really crucial.
A purely online course would never allow for a community to be built in a small place like Whitehorse. All it would do would give a couple people some knowledge and that knowledge would generally go untended to unless they were very proactive online.
Evo: How do the program and student management considerations change when working with students in a hybrid model rather than purely face-to-face or online?
JS: We’re six weeks into our pilot right now. The coding level of the students in Whitehorse is matching the coding level of the students in Vancouver who are taking courses at the exact same time. The challenges really do become the extra stuff around it.
A great example is we have an exam in week four that they have to do and it’s a matter of just tracking progress. This test is extremely difficult. It’s one of those tests where a lot of the class fails. We have a retest and a lot of them do well on the retest. The students in Vancouver knew that that test would be difficult because they had had a lot of chatter with the TAs, with alumni, with other people. In Whitehorse, that didn’t happen. Even though we have Slack channels open so that they’re communicating to each other, and software where they can actually see into each other’s classrooms, you definitely miss out on the direct communication in regards to things other than problem solving with code. We have remote TAs who will jump on and help you solve a problem but you don’t necessarily get the general conversation that comes out of a space like this that can be really beneficial to your development.
Evo: What are the biggest advantages that you have in launching a program like this in the Yukon compared to a local university launching a regional branch campus?
JS: We’re able to be a lot more agile. We’re able to build a programming curriculum that is specifically meant for people within the community or industry. It doesn’t have a huge amount of overhead and it’s also a lot less reliant on needing to find the top-tier talent in every community. At the end of the day, if the University of British Columbia opened up a branch in Whitehorse, they would struggle to find the same kind of talent that we have. We’re able to overcome that in a way that a lot of traditional schools can’t and our agile nature is able to handle the particular needs of each community as opposed to trying to implement a tried-and-true model that might not actually be effective in every location.
Evo: What were the biggest challenges you faced in launching the hybrid learning center in the Yukon?
JS: As a bootcamp that focuses on training professional developers and education that focuses on the results, we had to think about how something like this fit into what we were doing and into our general context of professional development and job placement. We had to think about whether this was still a Lighthouse Labs program if it wasn’t delivered in person.
The other challenges really came down to how to test it and evaluate and understand whether it’s truly effective or whether it’s only effective because you’re putting so much attention on it and you’re working with the right partners in an environment with a lot of interest.
Then there was the implementation of technology. That’s a challenging piece, putting together the technology that allows you to deliver the same type of experience as an in-person experience.
Evo: Is there anything you’d like to add about the work you’ve done in the Yukon to establish the hybrid bootcamp and what you would change going forward to make it a more efficient and more effective process?
JS: In Canada, there’s a really intelligent population but it is not as concentrated as in other spaces. We have a lot of smaller, more isolated communities that don’t want to lose their talent but that are too small for education spaces to be moving into their cities. At the same time, the online and MOOC space has not yet succeeded in finding really good results in delivering online education. What we’re hoping is that putting together a hybrid method like this—with cutting edge, top-notch education—will start helping smaller communities grow.
Schools need to stop being the kind of place that only think about the kind of results of students in the school and not the results of students beyond school. That’s what we’re hoping that we can achieve through this. It’s not just about the eight weeks that they’re there, it’s about what happens to them when they’re done.
When it comes to education, coding is one that actually works the best because the world of code is going remote in a lot of ways. First of all, it’s all online so it makes sense that the people who are doing it are comfortable online but it also allows the community to retain its talent while having access to a global market. A lot of these guys will be able to work on projects that are coming out of Toronto, Vancouver, New York and San Francisco, but do it from their community. That presents some real and exciting opportunities. This allows them to become really strong remote developers who can contribute to their community by bringing in money and building infrastructure and technology within their city. What’s more, with groups like the First Nations—who we are working with currently in our proposal—it allows them to contribute to technology so that it benefits them without having to change who they are. That has really big implications for Canada and that’s what we’re hoping to accomplish.
This interview has been edited for length.
Author Perspective: Business