Standing out from the Crowd at Big Nerd Ranch Bootcamps

Kristin Marsicano

4 min read

Mar 13, 2014

Standing out from the Crowd at Big Nerd Ranch Bootcamps

What drives me as an instructor is my desire to connect with my students. To know what they want to learn and why they want to learn it. To understand what they already know and figure out how we can use that as the foundation for something more. As a teacher, I want to meet people where they are with the material, figure out where they want to go, and help them find a path.

Fortunately, my role as an Android instructor at Big Nerd Ranch offers me the opportunity to connect with and help students in a way that I love. Here’s what is great about teaching our bootcamps:

Working closely with students

Having one-on-one interaction with students is important. And it’s not just the quantity, but the quality, of the one-on-one time. As an instructor, I can work directly with a single student to figure out how to help him or her best proceed on the path to learning. I can have conversations with students to understand what their misconceptions are, what things are going well and where they need further instruction.

Face time is crucial to developing a relationship and trust. And trust is important because learning can be a scary thing. It’s scary to admit you don’t know something or that you are struggling with material. As students get more comfortable with the instructor, they start to be more forthcoming about what they need and what they think is hard.

A mix of hands-on labs and lectures

Something I heard once has always stuck with me: “As a teacher, it’s not what you say or do that matters… It’s what you get your students to do.” In Big Nerd Ranch bootcamps, students are supported as they do hands-on work.

A majority of student time is spent “on task,” doing actual programming in our top-notch guided labs. Students not only get to live and breathe the concepts and material, they overcome a huge barrier to entry by getting experience with the development tools they will be using in practice. By getting hands-on practice with the support of an expert to walk them through issues as they come up, students are better prepared to make applications on their own after the class.

Awesome class materials

I’ve read a lot of technical books and textbooks in my time. Android Programming: The Big Nerd Ranch Guide is by far one of my favorites from both a learner and an instructor perspective. The book is practical and thorough. It is fun to read and has a sense of humor. It has the right mix of basics and challenging material. The guided labs are easy to follow and complete. The fact that the materials are solid allows me to focus more time and energy on my students.

Motivated students

Big Nerd Ranch students are motivated. They come to the Ranch because they want to learn a particular subject. They have taken a whole week away from work, from family, from their daily life, to learn this one subject. Motivated students make for a more focused classroom and increased opportunity to learn from peers. I love hearing the conversations between students as they help and challenge each other.

No grades

Best of all, I don’t have to assign grades. But how do students know if the week was a success? The answer is different for each person. One of my favorite parts of the week-long Big Nerd Ranch course is helping people define what success looks like for them. I help them determine what they want to get out of the week and then remind them of it. As an instructor, I try to help my students assess throughout the process where they are with respect to their goals, and help them adjust their course if necessary.

Students see me as a peer

The Big Nerd Ranch experience helps students see their teacher as a peer. We eat three meals a day together. We hike in the afternoons together. We spend all day in the classroom together.

Being seen as a peer is a huge benefit. It helps students open up to me. It also helps them feel comfortable in asking questions and for help. Rather than being seen as a “sage on the stage,” students begin to see me as a peer or a guide. And I quite like that.

Empowering students to learn

To me, teaching is about empowering people to learn, encouraging them when they want to give up on learning, and challenging them when they think they’ve learned enough. All of this requires getting to know the learner, as well as being open to adjusting your role as a teacher as the needs of the learner changes.

I love to help people define and achieve their learning goals. This is what drove me to be an instructor. Teaching at Big Nerd Ranch offers me the opportunity to help people figure out what they want to know, what they don’t know and how they can close the gap. I hope students find the experience as fulfilling as I do!

Mark Dalrymple

Reviewer Big Nerd Ranch

MarkD is a long-time Unix and Mac developer, having worked at AOL, Google, and several start-ups over the years.  He’s the author of Advanced Mac OS X Programming: The Big Nerd Ranch Guide, over 100 blog posts for Big Nerd Ranch, and an occasional speaker at conferences. Believing in the power of community, he’s a co-founder of CocoaHeads, an international Mac and iPhone meetup, and runs the Pittsburgh PA chapter. In his spare time, he plays orchestral and swing band music.

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