Budding Techie 2020-21


If you’d gone over our report on what we did with Shuddhi Vidhya in 2020, you would have noticed that we had some issues with ensuring maximum participation from the students in the course we were conducting. We had monthly meetings with the student team leaders to see how students in each team were doing and what types of challenges they were facing. After having a few of those, in December 2020, the teachers and administrators at Isha Vidhya and I had some discussions to see if we could do something to ensure greater participation from the students. The result of the discussions was the decision to conduct a competition with some attractive prizes. And that competition is the subject of this post — specifically, what our motivations to conduct the competition were, in other words, what we were hoping to achieve, the specific design aspects of the competition and finally, the results of the competition!

Why Budding Techie?

We came up with the idea to conduct a competition called Budding Techie, in which students would have to build a HTML/CSS website from the scratch. The primary objective of the competition was to get the students excited about the course and take it more seriously and ensure that they did their best to fulfil the course obligations. It was about introducing an incentive for learning. Ideally, the process of learning should be designed in such a way that it is by itself be a sufficient enough incentive. But considering that we were dealing with 12–14 year-old kids with no supervision (they were stuck at homes with no in-person guidance from teachers), it couldn’t hurt to introduce alternative incentives.

Besides the notion of providing incentives through prizes, there were other reasons to conduct this competition. In my mind, some of those other reasons were perhaps the more important ones. The most important of them was the fact that the competition could be conducted in such a way that it allows the students to express what they’ve learned in the course in a creative way. It would act as a way for us to assess their ability to apply what they have learned, which is more important than simply assessing their ability to just retain the information they have learned. Also, having them build a project and submit it for the competition gives them the executive control over building and creating something, which can boost their confidence in their leadership skills. Although they are not leading anyone else, the process requires that they make executive decisions in designing, planning and executing their project. These are critical leadership skills that require repeated exercising for it to become second nature to the students. Last but not the least, the process of building a project could by itself be a very engaging learning process for them to learn new things that weren’t part of the course. The whole process should increase their affinity towards the subject.

Design of the competition

The rules of the competition were designed in such a way that it wasn’t just the competition that was the focus, but also their participation in the course that was factored in. We announced 3 prizes, items that would be of interest for kids their age, that were based on the quality of their projects and also introduced an indefinite number of surprise participation prizes that anyone who submitted a project AND scored 75% in the course assignments could qualify for. We hoped that this alone should prompt everyone to increase their participation in completing their course assignments.

The students were informed of all the rules, the prizes and what they had to do well in advance so that they had sufficient time to fulfil their course obligations and also work on their projects. They were allowed to build a website on any topic of their choosing. They were informed of how their projects will be reviewed, specifically what we were expecting to see in their projects and how the projects will be evaluated, so that they had some guidelines in planning and designing their project to have the best chance of winning.

Each project would be reviewed on 5 distinct criteria, each worth 10 points. Each project would get a certain number of points out of a total of 50 points divided between complexity, creativity, originality, learning to learn and code quality. Of these the only criterion that needs explanation, one that also happens to be perhaps the most important criterion to support their learning process, is “learning to learn”. The students were told that their project would receive 10 points just on the basis of whether or not they managed to use techniques and concepts that were not taught as part of the course. Throughout the course there was a lot of emphasis on being able to search the internet for things that they didn’t know or looking for new features. So this ability to search the internet and implement new features was emphasised through the inclusion of this criterion.

Overall, we were quite pleased with the design of the competition since it managed to cover all the bases on what we wanted the students to produce and how they got involved in the process. And the results were quite affirmative.

The Results

Overall, 20 students submitted their projects. And I’m pleased to say that each of them exhibited initiative and dedicated thought and effort in expressing their ability to autonomously build websites from the scratch. And I was particularly impressed by how some of the students managed to conceive their own unique concepts for what type of a website to build and how to make it come across as a coherent and useful product. The winners were announced on 9th May 2021.

As can be seen, the results speak for themselves. It’s particularly rewarding to see the fruits of our efforts in having 12, 13 and 14 year old kids build out standalone static websites, that too on their phones! Only a few of them had computers at home, so the majority of them used their phones to write all the code and some of them even managed to deploy their sites online. These are skills that even most professionals would need to Google!

Most of these projects had a coherent vision behind them and they pulled it all off on their own without any assistance from others. I would say that is very commendable on their part and I’m sure it would do something to increase their enthusiasm and fuel their passion for the craft of building websites, but also just building new things in general.

In case you have specific questions or feedback to offer, please don’t hesitate in reaching out to us.

Update — After some Covid related delays in having the schools reopened, we distributed the prizes to all the winners and the participants on the 23rd of December. More details here.

Update II — Some links originally in this post are now not available and have been removed.

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