Always Iterating: How Launch Academy Updates Its Coding Curriculum
At Launch Academy, our curriculum is never static: Because tech is always changing, our curriculum needs to evolve along with the coding languages most desired in the workforce. I recently sat down with several members of the Launch Academy curriculum team to get the inside scoop on how and when Launch Academy adapts its coding bootcamp curriculum.
Q: Tell me about Launch Academy’s curriculum revision process and how you incorporate student feedback.
Ezra Skolnik, Experience Engineer: During a cohort, the staff will slowly make updates to the curriculum to edit things that are in need of polish. There will typically only be a focus on the next week of curriculum, so the Experience Engineers (EEs) can focus on what they’re currently teaching the students. Between cohorts, we have a week of curriculum development where we make larger revisions—potentially reordering materials, adding and removing weeks—and take a more holistic view of the entire curriculum and any changes we need to make.
Eben Lowe, Experience Engineer: Regarding minor changes, we have a smaller, shorter feedback cycle [from students and staff] where we update individual assignments. We have a comment system on every lesson, and every week we’ll go through, look at comments that are new, and say agree or disagree. If we agree, we make changes. For major changes, I think of them much more in terms of what we teach, and those [updates] are based on market demands and our own expertise.
Huynh: We have ratings on lessons, so students can leave ratings and comments. We as staff may also leave comments on a given lesson. If we can’t fix issues right away, during that curriculum week [between cohorts] we have “Sweeps,” where we actually go through all the lessons, check out the comments, and and make adjustments as needed.
Q: Do you take feedback from hiring partners into consideration when making curriculum updates?
Huynh: I get informal feedback from Corinne Babel [Launch Academy’s VP of Career Services], and in those discussions, there are different big picture factors that will make us say, OK, we’re going to teach this thing.
Lowe: With hiring partner feedback, when our Career Services team identifies a feedback trend, it’s not so much that we change what we’re teaching, but it may cause us to change emphasis. We once got feedback that a particular cohort hadn’t done well with a specific data modeling diagram. It was already covered in a lesson, but we made a point to teach it harder in the next cohort so they would not have that [struggle] and not do poorly with it in interviews.
Q: Can you share some examples of recent changes to the Launch Academy curriculum?
Skolnik: Between Boston cohorts 16 and 17, the on-campus curriculum saw a couple major changes. Previously the order of the curriculum was week one HTTP, week two and three were React, and week four was Advanced Object-Oriented Programming (OOP). So we took the previous week four, which was OOP, and shuffled it in front to week one and pushed everything back. That was actually a reversion to a change that we had made; it had used to be week one, and we pushed it to week four for a few cohorts, decided it wasn’t working, and pushed it back to week one. We also reorganized the two React weeks.
Lowe: We added at least one more very basic React JSX practice to give students more time with it.
Skolnik: The way I like to think of it is our computer hardware has gotten better, so that we are now able to do a lot of fun things in the browser on your computer that didn’t used to be possible. So now instead of the server, the back end, just sending you a thing and doing all of the hard work on its own, now it sends you another…
Lowe: A tiny app!
Lowe: We no longer think of the web as a series of documents, we think of the web as a series of apps.
Q: Where do you see the Launch Academy curriculum going in the coming years?
Lowe: One structural change worth talking about: If we’ve been on a journey towards using React as a front end, we’re not all the way there yet. We will spend probably the next couple of cohorts finally getting there, to the point where Rails week will be our oldest and most battle-tested curriculum and will be finally ready for its major revision.
In terms of talking about direction, a lot of the recent changes we made to Ignition are very much focused on that last month [of a given cohort]. We have a long-standing group project assignment that we give to students before they go to town on their solo projects. I think the next major architectural curriculum change will be revising that project to be more in line with the stack we’re now teaching. We’re now considering a major curriculum revision to determine how we can give this project to them so they’ll get the most out of the React they have learned, so when they go to work on their solo project, they won’t have to decide, “do I want to use more Rails as a front end and just use some React?” We’ll set them up to very naturally say “Rails is my back end, React is my front end.”
Skolnik: I think the focus moving forward will be on polishing and streamlining the direction we’re currently moving in. That doesn’t mean we’ll stop making changes, we may make larger structural changes to the curriculum, [while still supporting] the fundamentals. We have to teach those things.
Huynh: We’ll continue to perfect the parts of the curriculum to allow people to perform better.
Sarah Pascarella oversees digital content for Launch Academy.