Mark Needham

Thoughts on Software Development

ThoughtWorks University: Pulling the ‘pearls’

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I recently wrote about the coding dojo style week that we ran at ThoughtWorks University last week and I briefly mentioned that we used break out sessions to cover topics (‘the pearls’) that people didn’t totally understand.

To describe that in more detail what we did to start with was write the name of each of the 90/180 minute sessions on a card and put it on the wall under a ‘To Do’ heading:

Twu topics todo
Twu topics done

There were about 10 of those topics and our goal was to cut each of those topics down to a 20 minute introduction that one of the trainers could give when it seemed like a good time.

For example we did a brief introduction to ‘Build and Deployment’ when we first talked about continuous integration and we went through the application architecture just before we started coding our first story.

Our goal with this approach was to encourage a pull based approach to learning over a push based one where we just presented on different topics without giving the grads a chance to properly see if they understood the topic.

The reason that we did such short presentations is that we didn’t feel you can learn that much from a presenation so we wanted to give just enough information that the grads would be able to go and explore the topic more on their own.

To push this further we asked the grads to add any other topics they wanted us to talk about to the board so that we could cover those when we got the chance.

While we were doing these introductory presentations Frankie and Jim came up with the idea of asking the grads to rate themselves 1-5 on their current understanding of the topic and to also give a time limit for the presentation.

We repeated the rating afterwards to see if the introduction had actually been useful and then spent time discussing the topic further if necessary.

This approach worked pretty well for helping avoid the brain dumping that I wrote about last week and the rating system has helped give us an idea of which topics are considered more difficult by the group.

Hopefully within the next few weeks we’ll start to see the grads running their own sessions which will take their learning even further.

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Written by Mark Needham

March 29th, 2011 at 6:32 pm