Thinking big – can we virtually connect kids to the @CoderDojo experience?

Written by: Leigh Graves Wolf

Primary Source : Leigh Graves Wolf, September 10, 2015

I had lunch with a friend (and great colleague) this afternoon and he asked me if I knew of any coding/technology communities for his 10-year-old niece.  She is interested in coding/making/tinkering, but, lives in a very small town. I checked to see if there was a CoderDojo in her area (they are popping up in the US!) but there was nothing close by where she lived. I also checked Kim‘s incredible Tech-Girls website to see if there were any opportunities there.  There were (not surprisingly!) some promising leads and virtual events – but nothing immediately struck me as filling the need for community and social collaboration my friend’s niece is searching for.

So I tweeted out to the universe:

And the wonderful universe replied (you can view the conversation thread here.)

SO here are my initial thoughts.  At first I asked about a “virtual CoderDojo.” But on my long drive home I was thinking that this may not be the best way to connect to a community.  I have been in countless virtual rooms (with video, audio, chat, all of the above) and I have found it hard to collaborate in the same way we have all seen at CoderDojos.  Then, I thought about recent work my colleagues in the College of Education have been doing with telepresence and the Kubi and Double “robots.” (See the full story here.)  I have had a few classroom experiences with the telepresence robots and they do give the virtual participant a solid presence in the room. You can turn and see who is talking, if you have the robot on wheels you can actually move around the room – all the things lacking if you log into a virtual space.

Which led me to two possibilities:

Thinking VERY big:

What if a few CoderDojos around the world were able to get funding to have a team of robots.  Remote/rural/homebound kids could find a directory of available slots and log in!

Thinking smaller:

What if, instead of the robot, a CoderDojo adult volunteer served as the telepresence? The remote participant could log into Periscope/Skype/FaceTime and then the volunteer could act as the guide/presence taking the participant around the room. Remote/rural/homebound kids could find a directory of available slots and log in!

In either case, you’re taking the remote participant and embedding them right in the action.  If they need help with Scratch, they can zoom over and find that affinity group, share their own screen, talk one on one, etc.  Has anyone out there in the CoderDojo universe tried this? Anyone interested in giving it a go?