Wednesday, November 14, 2012

New Zealand Prime Minister Cuts His Teeth Programming Using Code Avengers

We have been having some great fun here in New Zealand. Check out this recent article about the Prime Minister writing his first line of code using Code Avengers!

PM learns to program the ‘Code Avenger’ way

While he’s unlikely to give up his day job, Prime Minister John Key has added another string to his bow – learning to write computer code in JavaScript.

Mr Key learnt his new skill during a visit to technology company Orion Health using a New Zealand-made learn-to-code software programme.

Created by PhD student Michael Walmsley, Code Avengers uses cutting-edge learning principles to make learning to code simple, fun, intuitive and addictive.

Using the Code Avengers programme, Mr Key was able to write his first lines of code and see the results within minutes – a digital avatar of himself.

Sporting an All Blacks jersey, Mr Key’s avatar flashed onto the screen with a message  saying “Leveraging NZ innovation to promote information science in schools”.

Orion Health test team leader Michael Trengrove, who guided Mr Key through his first coding lesson, explains.

“New Zealand is facing a critical shortage of IT graduates. Despite the massive demand for IT technicians across almost every industry, only limited numbers of young people are learning the skills that could see them landing well-paid jobs.”

“Part of the problem is the outdated perception that IT is the sole domain of geeks who spend hours staring at computer screens in dimly-lit rooms.”

“The reality is that IT is about working in teams to create innovative solutions to the problems people are facing.”

A lack of good resources for school teachers to use in order to teach the basics of IT is another part of the problem, Mr Trengrove says.

That’s where Code Avengers comes in.

As part of an Orion Health-sponsored project to teach coding basics to disadvantaged teenagers in Christchurch, Mr Trengrove tested two learn-to-code programmes – local product Code Avengers and US product Codecademy.

Released with a lot of hype late last year, Codecademy utilised its $10 million start-up capital to design a slick looking product with an impressive website.

Code Avengers, on the other hand, cost less than a $1,000 to launch with little fanfare and no fancy website (yet).

However, when it came to getting the teen coders to use the programmes, Code Avengers left its big, American rival eating dust, Trengrove says.

“The way the lessons are structured in Code Avengers is world-class. The students learn a new skill, they use that new skill straight away actually writing software and then they have a review.”

“The students learn in very small increments but they’re always learning. There’s very little written  documentation, it's mostly all hands on and the students pick it up very quickly.”

“We found with Code Avengers that although it didn’t have the $10m of venture capital behind it and it was developed by a single PhD student,  the pedagogy outstripped the well marketed American rival.

Leveraging NZ innovation to promote information science in schools

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