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Learn To Code

Codecademy

 

Introduction

What is Codecademy? Simply put it is a website that serves two distinction functions, first and most obvious is that it attempts through the use of lessons and exercises to bring an awareness and heighten sense of achievement when learning to programme. It does this through the use of tokens and points, although having completed the course available I am not sure what the maximum score achievable might be. There is no league table that I am aware of so cannot compare notes so to speak. The second function I can tell you nothing about, other than the fact that it has the means for others to upload their lessons and exercises in a given discipline.

Javascript

At present Codecademy.com only supports one language and that is “Javascript”, this being true as of 4th February 2012. At first I had thought this wouldn’t be a limiting factor as there were many many lessons and exercises to complete. I heard about Codecademy for the first time last Monday 30th January 2012 from Gary Cordery, I actually started the published exercises (I say published because I thought more was on the way) and managed to finish the entire course in perhaps over a day or so. I just couldn’t put it down I was learning something, I wasn’t fussed with all the points and badges I was awarded, I was just enjoying it for myself.

The code itself is aimed at the beginner it does not include things like file handing but does touch on aspects of programming considered advance such as arrays. The fundamental aim here being to get the novice to be comfortable with code to reward and encourage those achievements as they work through the course. Much of the more advanced code I feel is glanced over rather than built on for example by the time you reach the Blackjack project you would expect it to include all the code you have learned in previous lessons such as the arrays. Perhaps the author just forgot to include this within the final project but I would have expected it to be included. The course despite the fact I spent a little time on it, (took me over a day to complete) don’t be fooled this is not an easy course. The guidance though is well constructed and the lessons do not allow much by way of mistakes.

There is a good level of support though where others have commented or redefined the question to aid in it’s understanding of the original problem required to be solved.

Comparison

I have done a very quick comparison with the popular w3c for schools W3Schools suggested by another SoSLUG member which is a good site but does not teach code or coding practises or styles, instead it tests your knowledge only, this is great if you already know how to programme and absolutely useless if you do not know were to start. Actually I have to eat my own words whilst the above in actual fact is true there is a quiz, it is not the whole story. What I neglected to realise was that in many aspect w3schools is similar to that of Codecademy in that it does supply an editor and a console to manage.

It should be noted that W3Schools.com apparently is not affiliated to the W3C in any way. Allegedly when asked to explicitly state this, W3Schools have declined to do so.
They are not therefore an authoritative source of information. On the whole the information is correct, but there are errors; especially where they have been slow to update information which is no longer current. There are other equally good, if not better and more up to date, sources of information. In referring to other sites, it does not necessarily mean SoSLUG endorse their use.

In common with of sites that offer certification, unless they have support from government, or the relevant standards institution, such certificates are probably of little value.

Codecademy takes a different approach it assumes no previous knowledge and teaches the art of programming all be it at a basic level but hell you got to start somewhere. Right from the start you have three areas you need to observe and respond too the left most column consist of the question and description of what you are being asked to do. The second column couples the editor and a console window with the editor top most and the console output underneath. You build your code in the editor, and when you are ready you initiate with the run button, the console window provides you with the result your code initiated and a link to move to the next lesson. Word of warning you can crash your browser when the code is incomplete, incorrect or corrupt.

Objectives

It is clear to me that the Codecademy site has aspirations to include other languages and if it does I for one will add to the skills already learned. The downside though is that good though these exercises are it is disappointing the site was not launched with a variety of languages rather than just the one. More disappointing still, the lessons and exercises provided can be completed in just over a day for a complete and self confessed novice like myself. But and I guess this might be the point because I am left very thirsty for more and eagerly waiting for additional exercises even on Javascript.

What I liked about Codecademy

No advertising, completely free to join and use, rapid response to a function component that should have already worked on the site during the process of working on the site. Plus the considerable support by way of FAQ’s for each sub section of the exercises. For now the site is leaning towards being used as for want of a better description, a teaching aid, it is thankfully total devoid of any advertising I really hope it can stay that way.

Codecademy Updates

This last weekend Codecademy updated the Javascript profile 5th February 2012, most of the lessons and exercises thought complete were now showing incomplete. They were not of course, some new material had been added but in a rather odd way. In addition to this the skill level required was off the charts for a self confessed beginner I spent many hours trying and deciphering the code to move on to the next section.

Sadly the good explanations instruction, and hand holding was there no longer. In some cases the instructions far from being descriptive where now non existent. The manner in which this new content was added also leaves me cause for concern, rather than add a new chapter to existing lessons the new lessons and projects were added in this case to the Introduction (Lessons) and Functions (Projects) sections. I attempted these new lessons and projects but I did not feel as though I was progressing, more than going round and round in circles.

As quickly as the lessons arrived then the lessons were gone, the only measure that proves I had done as much work as I could was the additional points and the additional badge awarded. This last code provided by Codecademy was bloody hard, I still felt that I wanted to try and I still felt that I wanted to achieve, but the constant drain due to lack of proper instructions was having a “oh! I think I will give it up now” effect, I didn’t but my energy levels dropped considerably.

Links to other free programming sites

We have already mentioned w3schools.com and whilst this has a quiz and tutorial for many languages not just “Javascript” it appears to me a least to depend to heavily on learning by familiarity. By that I mean the code is already written for you, to try it does not offer a description of a problem and allow you to solve it.

Another similar site to that of w3schools.com is a site called Hurricane Electric it also has many programming languages including that of “Javascript” but again copy the above and try the code. However it is well laid out, and has the benefit of no advertisements again it does not describe the problem required to be solved.

Summary

Codecademy has some advantages over the others mentioned not least of which the no adverts, the clean layout and a hand holding logical approach to building javascript programs. No teaching system is perfect but there are forum blogs on each of the exercises listed, the descriptions for the most part are sufficient to build your program that complies with the characteristics of the question.

W3schools is in the opinion of this beginner cluttered confusing and is a focus on generating money perhaps to keep the site going perhaps for profit so the clean look is not there. Descriptions and instructions are better that the other sites but relies on the code being already written and the user or would be programmer to try this code. On the plus side you can modify the code and observe the output on a browser simulator. Codecademy also provides you the ability to modify the code if fact it encourages you to write it from scratch hopefully your solutions will match theirs.

Hurricane Electric is the newest one I have tried, it again has a clean uncluttered look with no advertisements but there is no project description and no question, just copy this parrot fashion and you will learn to code. Unfortunately, whilst you will attain high scores by using this site it’s seem’s to me at least that this course is a stepping stone to further learning, rather than a tool that can teach you another language.

Author: Derek Shaw - Page reference: 2050
Last modified: Derek Shaw - 2015-01-20

Categories: Uncategorised

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