Make School was and still is predominently an in-person program for computer science education. Students appreciate the social, in-real-life apects of a more traditional education enviroment. And, the completion/success rates are very high (70%+), especially when compared to industry-reported online education completion rates (15%-20%). So when we set out to build our own online eduation platform, we decided the core idea should be to bring social and community aspects of our IRL program, you guessed it, online.
Specifically, we focussed on a built-in chat/messenger app. Chat allows synchronous communication and would give students a "live" presence. This was to be the primary feature of the platform besides the tutorial content itself, and much of the marketing effort was based on us providing this "collaborative and social environment".
• Break up students into groups ("Pods")
• Pod members can see each other's progress
• Enable students to ask their pod for help
• Chat window to include global chat room and the ability for students to direct message each-other
• Include link to the Discourse forum for common bugs and asynchronous communication
• Include link to our 1-on-1 technical support partner
We wanted to encourage students to help each other. When the chat button is clicked, a direct message chat window is created (see below).
• 300 students paid $100 for the Online Academy.
• 71 students (or ~24%) completed all of the tutorials.
• 18 (or 6%) pushed a game to the Game Showcase page.
These seem like modest numbers, but they're actually very good in comparison to most MOOCs (where the completion rate is on average between 15%-20%). We considered this a great start for a first version.
I think the chat room achieved it's primary goal of making people feel like they were part of a community. Many student's questions were answered and conversations were had. Instructors were able to participate which gave Make School a good presence.
The chat room became a great place for user feedback. In a few days I was able to fix a number of UI/UX issues that students were having.
I think we were on the right track by splitting the students up into pods, but we fell short on mentorship/guidance. Students reported that they wanted more structure, like a weekly pod meeting with a Make School instructor.