Coding camps at The University of Texas at Dallas are helping area school children sharpen their computer literacy and skills through interactive online classes this summer.
The camps are the brainchild of Dr. Jey Veerasamy, senior lecturer in computer science and director of the Center for Computer Science Education and Outreachin the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science.
Veerasamy has long had a passion for helping children in kindergarten through high school learn the essential concepts of computer coding.
“This is not just for kids going into computer science. Coding is the fourth fundamental skill besides reading, writing and math,” Veerasamy said. “Any area you go into now, you have to use a computer to handle data.”
The University began the summer program by offering just one camp for high school students in 2012. This year, using online platforms for remote learning, UT Dallas is offering nine weeks of camps covering 25 topics. More than 550 students have registered, some for all nine weeks of camp.
Most camp instructors are computer science master’s degree students, many of whom have teaching experience.
In a virtual setting, camp instructors use a three-step process to ensure students are learning the coding skills. Instructors use hands-on examples, ask students to repeat the problem-solving skills and then tackle a new problem together.
“The goal for instructors is to minimize speaking and focus on active learning,” Veerasamy said. “They rely on the power of the tool and keep it engaging.”
In camps for younger children, groups of up to six students use online programs such as Scratch to create games and animations using basic building blocks of coding.
The programs are basic, “like having bumpers on a bowling alley lane,” to make sure students are on track, Veerasamy said. Students take turns showing the instructor their screens.
“These camps are all hands-on. It’s not like their school year. Hopefully they’ll have so much fun, they won’t want to leave camp by the end of the day,” Veerasamy said.
Older students in groups of up to a dozen hone their coding skills in camps that are run like UT Dallas courses. Topics include advanced Python programming, Android app development and even an artificial intelligence workshop.
Instructors use Blackboard Collaborate so students can see the teacher and ask questions in real time.
“It’s as close to in-person as possible,” Veerasamy said.
The goal of the camps, he said, is to provide all students with basic literacy of programming concepts.
“We want them to gain some passion for it, to be curious about it and to improve a little bit of their problem-solving skills. We want them to know how to dissect and attack a problem,” Veerasamy said.
Online Summer Camps
While on-campus UT Dallas summer camps have been canceled, some are offering online programming. More information can be found on the Programs for Minors page.
ABOUT THE UT DALLAS COMPUTER SCIENCE DEPARTMENT
The UT Dallas Computer Science program is one of the largest Computer Science departments in the United States with over 3,315 bachelors-degree students, more than 1,110 master’s students, 165 Ph.D. students, 52 tenure-track faculty members, and 44 full-time senior lecturers, as of Fall 2019. With The University of Texas at Dallas’ unique history of starting as a graduate institution first, the CS Department is built on a legacy of valuing innovative research and providing advanced training for software engineers and computer scientists.