by Ivana Kajić, WiCS member and PhD student in computer science at the University of Waterloo, working in the Computational Neuroscience Research Group
Programming can help students achieve more in their studies and allow faculty and staff to make light of repetitive and routine tasks, but many shy away from programming because learning to code can seem daunting.
To overcome this challenge, Women in Computer Science — a group of undergraduates, graduates and faculty members dedicated to promoting women who are interested in studying computer science — has offered programming workshops to help any novices and students at the university learn the basics of this important skill.
To that end, two three-day workshops were held during the previous academic year — one in November 2017 and another in June 2018. The workshops' instructors and mentors were current students and alumni of the university, who enjoy teaching and sharing knowledge with others.
Both workshops attracted much interest. Overall, more than 430 applications were submitted for the 60 available spots.
For each workshop, 30 people participated to ensure a high mentor-to-student ratio. Participants learned about basic data types, loops, functions, basic data analysis and data visualization and they were encouraged to learn by exploration and collaboration, while receiving feedback.
While the majority of participants were undergraduate students, the workshops were also well attended by graduate students, staff and faculty members who wanted to acquire a novel and useful skill.
The Python Software Foundation and the David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science provided snacks and meals, further contributing to the collegial atmosphere and engaging learning experience.
The goal of the workshops was to demonstrate that coding is a fun, creative activity, and to motivate participants to enrol in introductory computer science courses offered by the David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science.
A concluding survey revealed that all participants would recommend the coding workshop to others, and 77% rated it as excellent. Almost all — 97% of participants — expected that the skills learned would be useful in their studies or in the workplace, and more than two-thirds found programming less intimidating after learning to code. Although about a quarter of participants found coding as intimidating as before, many expressed new confidence in learning on their own.
Main survey findings