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Speaking at People Team camp

I had the privilege to hold a web development workshop at the People Team summer camp. People Team is a fairly popular youth camp where participating kids choose some focus topic and attend to various lectures, workshops and activities during the week.

The topics range from learning languages, through arts, sciences, robotics, cooking, environmental protection to of course IT and programming. They are all pretty interesting, and for the last few years the IT HR company IseeQ has been responsible for organizing volunteering speakers and trainers for the IT focus topic – this is where I got into the picture.

via People Team Facebook

Preparations

Of course I had a lot of questions, mostly the usual ones when you prepare with some training or presentation: what’s the topic? Who is the audience, their number, age group, skill level? How interested, involved are they going to be?

Most of these parameters were unknown or only partially known, basically, the training was for 11-17 year olds who are generally interested in IT but not necessarily have prior programming experience.

As title, I chose “Web development and security” – a popular topic. I wanted to introduce them into the world of the Internet that we use every day but probably don’t know what happens behind the curtains.

It’s not just about how HTML and JS works, because there is a lot more to the Web than just web programming.

How did the Web start out and how did it grow and evolve into what we see and experience today? What were its original goals and values, who used it? How does it work on a principal level? What are the most important topics, issues and controversies surrounding the state of the Internet and its usage today?

I think that these topics are especially important to the digital native generation, for whom being online is like water or air: they have never lived in a world without perpetually staying online.

I created a presentation draft in Joplin and some Codesandbox samples to tinker with in the browser. I decided not to make a classic Powerpoint presentation: it’s too much effort, and given the circumstances, I knew I’d likely have to improvise. Moreover, using a good old whiteboard or flip chart is more personal, credible and may even boost information retention (i.e. listeners will remember more).

Action

After waking up early in the morning, finishing the outline and saving some supplementary images into a folder, I jumped on my trusty Kawasaki bike to make my way to the venue.

During the first part, which was the presentation about the Web itself, the participants were as involved as a group of random kids could be at 8:30 AM in a summer camp. Fortunately, good conversations emerged once we started unpacking more interesting topics such as cybersecurity and data protection. The audience seemed to be genuinely interested and hopefully are now eager to learn more about these important topics.

After a break, we moved into the computer lab, which was set up in a long and narrow corridor. This was the only way to ensure that everybody gets a computer to work on.

Unfortunately, the moment they opened their browsers, their attention level was seriously diminished. Just imagine the difference of effort between opening a code sandbox and starting to learn HTML, vs. opening your favorite game or just chatting. See…?

Nevertheless, after a short intro into what server-client architecture means and playing with the browser’s developer tools, we managed to create a few simple HTML pages linked to each other. Having no time for complex JS interactivity, we just maxed out what one could fit into an hour-long workshop.

Takeaways

  • If you don’t know your audience ahead of time, prepare with multiple scenarios. I haven’t used about a third of my presentation material (OSI layers turned out to be too advanced for this morning in a summer camp…)
  • Prepare for the worst circumstances – for me, this was not having a whiteboard and projector during the workshop session. I made a chat session, but it didn’t work out well – in hindsight, a screenshare could have worked better.
  • If the session is not a formal speech or lecture, not having a PPT presentation works just fine. You can easily lead the conversation and use a whiteboard to take notes.
  • In general, you’ll have less time than you think and less material to teach than planned.

All in all, this was an exciting experience for me as a lecturer. I enjoyed preparing for these workshops and giving back to the youth as a volunteer. I’m looking forward to repeating this next year, too!

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