VALRC collaboration teaches new skill to adult learners

David C. Shepherd, Ph.D.
David C. Shepherd, Ph.D.

By VCU School of Education


A group of Virginia adult learners recently began a free online bootcamp in computer coding, thanks to a joint venture between the Virginia Adult Learning Center (VALRC) and the VCU College of Engineering. VALRC is a division of The Literacy Institute, a center affiliated with the VCU School of Education.

The idea for the joint venture originated with Katherine Hansen, VALRC’s communications and community engagement specialist. Early this summer, Hansen read about Code Beats, an online computer coding camp offered to children by David C. Shepherd, Ph.D., associate professor in the College of Engineering. She reached out to Shepherd to see if something similar could be offered to adult learners.

The idea came to fruition in mid-August when an announcement was distributed introducing the new adult learners bootcamp. In the first 24 hours, 32 people signed up. The timing is especially critical for the thousands of Virginians left unemployed due to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Adult education will be instrumental in helping many Virginians get back to work. Providing a pathway for learning computer coding is a great way to learn a new skill that could provide a life-sustaining wage to many adults from the safety of their own home,” Hansen said.

VALRC’s mission is to strengthen Virginia’s adult education and literacy system through professional development, resources and collaborative projects. During the bootcamp, adult education instructors will be available to assist the adult learners, and children of those learners are also being encouraged to get involved.

Code Beats uses Hip Hop and other styles of music as a fun way to learn computer coding. Each one-hour class ends with a coding assignment for the evening, to be shared with the entire class the following day. At the end of the two-week camp, a competition decides which adult learner has created the best beat.

Hansen said it goes beyond just having fun.

“We hope to demystify computer coding and make it accessible to an audience that may otherwise never have been exposed to it.”