When I'm not creating, browsing, or forking pens, my day job is a lecturer on a Media degree at a University. The course itself covers a broad range of disciplines and I teach web and new media skills to students with varying levels of interests in the subject.

Because of this wide variety of subjects covered I only get 3 modules across the degree programme where I can actually teach code. And I've come across a problem:

My students like CodePen too much

In the first year the students follow the classic local dev workflow - build a site using a text editor and deploy it online. It's tough for them; most of them (and some years all of them) have no coding experience at all, and in 8 weeks they achieve a lot.

But it's tough. Even the students who enjoy it fear it a little, and often they won't code much before the second year module.

In second year I introduce CodePen and we start playing with more advanced CSS and JavaScript as a means to producing Data Visualisations. CodePen is brilliant for this for the following reasons:

  • It allows them to quickly get back in to code without the worries of remembering how files connect together
  • They get instant feedback in the preview window when they write their code
  • Showing them a new library or pre processor is as simple as selecting from a drop down, rather than firing up terminal.
  • We can all share work between us allowing for some great peer to peer learning

CodePen is definitely the right tool for this module.

The problem comes in Year 3. The students love CodePen so much that it has now become their main development tool. Sometimes it is their only development tool.

No one loves CodePen more than me (Seriously. I will fight you for her hand in marriage) but it has its place and must be used as part of an overall toolkit.

For several of my third year students we designed projects specifically to get them off CodePen and back to building in a more traditional development workflow.

So what do I do?

In an ideal world, with a curriculum focussed solely on web development, I could deliver a lot more around industry standard development workflow, but with so few modules I don't have that option.

I would hate to give up CodePen in that second year module - In fact, I won't; It's too perfect - but I think I need to start stressing even more that it has its role and sometimes you need to go deeper.

A lot of this comes down to confidence - The beauty of CodePen is that it is the least scary, least intimidating, most friendly code platform and community online, so I need to find some sort of gentle transition back to the scary world of files and folders.

My current thought is to get the students to use the built in "Export as .zip" function each week and start to engage with what they created on CodePen in a local development environment.

The second year module gets in to full swing this week, so I'll be trying this out from tomorrow. Wish me luck, or give me any advice as to how I can send my CodePen addicts to rehab!


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