Big-Brained Superheroes v. @Codecademy's Web Holiday Card


Over the holiday break, The Big-Brained Superheroes Club experimented with Codecademy’s Holiday Card project, and here are our thoughts about the experience…

On the evening of December 24th, about 12 big-brained superheroes (+a few interlopers) got together in the Yesler Computer Lab to put together a gingerbread house kit and create web holiday cards. Most of our ages ranged from 8 to 11, while there were some as young as 5 and some as old as 12 (not including two big big-brained superhero volunteers). Typically, most of us spend about an hour or two a day on the computer but do not have a computer at home. Much of that computer time is, apparently, spent killing our friends on the internet. Of this group, 6 succeeded in creating and sharing some version of a Codecademy holiday web card.

The Good:

  • The project was freely available…no sign-up or other barriers to entry (just like The BBSC!).
  • The code card was a discrete and fairly relevant project that enabled BBSes to produce immediate results.
  • The card background and object graphics were varied enough that pretty much everyone in our diverse group could find something that didn’t repel them.
  • There were few prior knowledge requirements. If you could read english and had some familiarity with the computer and the internet, you could start producing cards.
  • Theoretically, the card you create is limited only by the time, effort, and creativity you put into it. While there are set pieces, the overall outcome is up to the individual.

The Less Good:

  • Browser compatibility was a challenge. For whatever reason, IE and Codecademy cards didn’t always get along super well in our lab.
  • The instructions and conceptual context were separate from the specific activity of creating a card. Beyond figuring out the cutting and pasting (a challenge in IE) and gaining some level of familiarity with the terms “CSS” and “HTML”, it wasn’t abundantly clear to our big brains how all the pieces fit together. (Even our big big-brained superhero technogeeks didn’t really get it.)
  • Once we got through the cutting and pasting of code for objects, we fell off a cliff (metaphorically speaking). It seemed as if getting text onto the card was like entering a whole other world with virtually no transition from the object world into the text world.

All in all, we love the concept of this project, and our big-brained superheroes didn’t exactly despise it. And its open-endedness could have easily worked for our group of diverse ages and backgrounds. However, it seems that, if this project is ever going to be designed for kids (and us older volunteers, for that matter), it should be revised to incorporate more conceptual framework and process scaffolding into the actual activity of card creation. Audio explanation could be helpful here or maybe pop-up descriptor balloons that address specific processes and concepts. In short, the project would have worked better if users were constantly reminded where they were, where they were going, and how they were going to get there.

That said, creating these cards was still a mildly engaging experience for us, and at the very least, it gave us a break from killing our friends on the internet.