Getting Students to Code: The creation of a Geography Programming Bootcamp

Date: 05/06/2019

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Jo Wilkin and Kate Rawlings

The ability to automate the processing and analysis of data through programming is an increasingly sought-after skill in academic research and in the workplace. For Geographers, programming has traditionally not been taught as part of the undergraduate degree, leaving them with a significant skills gap as they look for employment. To acquire these skills relies on students navigating multiple self-learning tools, that without outside help and guidance, can leave them more confused and stuck than before they started.

To address this gap in the market, so to speak, we created a three-day course specifically to teach undergraduates within the Geography department to program – our aptly named, Geography Programming Bootcamp! Our two key aims were:

  • To introduce students to programming and the main tools used for common geographical analyses.
  • To allow students to gain confidence in learning new technical skills and seeking online resources for learning and fixing code

Over a year, we set our plan into motion, creating all of our content, advertising to students, liaising with department staff, recruiting volunteers, proofreading code and sorting technical equipment. After our sign-ups went live in January and we had 25 students keen to participate and a further 23 on the waiting list. Finally, the 1st April came around and the bootcamp began, starting with getting the students to program a toy robot, but soon progressing to automating processing in ArcGIS and writing scripts in several popular programming environments. By the end of the course every student had created a script to process and map many months of crime rate data, which when run took less time to run than manually processing them all! But most importantly the students left the course with more confidence in learning technical skills and the tools needed to continue their programming journeys.

The experience of creating and running a course has been fantastic for us both and we have learnt so much about teaching and improved our own programming skills. Being able to use the skills we have learnt during our PhDs and pass these on to the next cohort of undergraduates was very rewarding, and we hope we have inspired some to continue their technical learning. We would like to thank the GIS teaching staff in the Geography department for their encouragement and support and all our fellow PhD students (especially Chris, Rebecca and Josie) who volunteered their time to help run the course smoothly. So what’s next? We would like the course to run again in Southampton next year and we are currently looking at expanding it beyond the university, as well as finishing our PhDs of course!

 

“The biggest thank you ever… for delivering this course in such a professional and yet enjoyable manner! I’ve actually learnt so much and I’m now at a level that I didn’t even know I could achieve.”

 

For more details, check out our story map: https://arcg.is/unazm

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