Dev Academy’s Living Curriculum

By Don Smith, Dev Academy educator and curriculum engineer

Here at Enspiral Dev Academy we approach our pedagogy and curriculum like we’d approach a challenge in a programming job — we’re agile, adaptable and constantly learning and improving. This approach was demonstrated in the last few weeks with some fundamental changes to our curriculum. As we’re currently on the hunt for a new Wellington teacher, I’d like to share how we went about those changes. My intent is to show the ever-progressive nature of Dev Academy’s teaching, and the amount of care we place on developing the best possible curriculum and on teaching it in the most effective way for our students. If you’re interested in becoming a student at Dev Academy, check out our web development programme here.

At Dev Academy we teach the server side first at the beginning of the in-class component of our programme (Phase One), and then move to the client side in Phase Two. This is always a huge transition no matter how we do it, it’s just the nature of the beast. In the past we’ve always taught exposing and consuming web APIs in week 4, the first week of Phase Two, as the “gateway” between server side and client side. In the following week we would teach the fundamentals of React.js. Then in week 6 we’d sink our teeth into Redux and async API consumption. This was how we taught the client side.

We use the same curriculum in Auckland and Wellington, and our teachers workshop the classes together. Through the process of some staffing changes we were given the opportunity to really examine this learning progression, and we started raising some questions about whether this was the best way to do it.

What we’ve realised is that the jump from server side to client side can’t be softened. But the problem with teaching APIs first is that we can’t offer the students many interesting challenges that week because they don’t yet know about React — challenges are only based on API use which is slightly less thrilling. If we moved APIs to week 5, and started with the fundamentals of React in week 4, then we could teach API consumption in the context of React, effectively giving students an extra week of learning React. This is amazing because week 4 is the same week that they start their personal projects. If this is the week they start learning React, it gives students the opportunity to build their projects in React if they want to. So they can learn the language and solve problems for their own project at the same time, which has massive benefits for their learning.

Moving the fundamentals of React to week 4 has huge repercussions throughout the rest of the programme that we’re having to adjust, but the benefits are obvious. Students have more time to learn React, their depth of knowledge increases and this means we can give them more interesting challenges to solidify their learning as they go.

This form of pedagogical delivery is called interleaving. It’s shown that if teachers leave one topic behind, move on the next one, and then refer back to the previous one, it enhances students’ memories of the previous topic and therefore solidifies the learning in their minds. So we leave the server side and jump to React, but then refer back to the server when we teach APIs. This allows students to throw themselves into something new and then refer back to the familiar.

Dev Academy prides itself on keeping its curriculum responsive and ever-improving, so that we can ensure we’re delivering the content in the best way possible. This is great for teachers as it keeps us on our toes and makes us ever aware of the ways we can enhance our offering. It’s even better for students, who get relevant material that is real-time updated to suit their needs.
We’ve trialled this new layout for the first time this cohort — we’ll let you know how it goes!
Interested in working at Enspiral Dev Academy? Check out our blog post “Working Wonderfully at Dev Academy”, or Apply Now via our job ad.

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