„Hello, World!“: a Python course for beginners with the Codingschule Düsseldorf

By Alessandro Grazi

My adventure in the world of the Digital Humanities, which started about a year ago in Innsbruck, continued last October and November with a Python course for beginners offered by the Codingschule Düsseldorf.

I did not know what to expect that Autumn Wednesday evening, when at 6 pm I connected to the Zoom link of the Python course I was going to attend. My curiosity was soon satisfied by the appearance of a young, bespectacled face, that of Jannik, our competent instructor. Shortly after that, my fellow viewers revealed themselves, rigorously with their microphone “muted” and their videos on, as we have all rapidly learnt to do during this pandemic. There were not many of us, luckily, I must say: initially only five plus our instructor. The mixed composition of the attendees mirrored the course’s intended audience, that is, basically anyone that for professional, study or private reasons wishes to get a good introduction to the programming world with Python. There was Rita (except for Jannik’s, the names of the real participants are fictional), a high school student, who wanted to learn Python to be ahead in her IT class at school; Sandra, who needed to increase her programming knowledge for professional reasons; but even Karl, a fifth grader accompanied by his mom, who needed to fulfil a school requirement; or Max, a Computer Science student (thus way more advanced in computer knowledge than any of us), who can actually already program in Java and wanted to learn an “easy” software. In sum, the participants’ backgrounds and level was rather diverse, but this did not create a problem for the speed and homogeneity of the course.

The course was well organized and divided in 5 meetings of two hours each. Each meeting covered a different topic: 1) introduction, built-in functions like Input and Print; Variables; Data types; 2) Data structures: Lists, tuples, dictionaries, and strings; 3) Control structures: Conditions and loops; 4) Functions and libraries; 5) Object-oriented programming. In addition to the clear and logical structure, the course had three further positive elements. In the first place, each session included a hands-on part. This directly gave us the opportunity of trying the newly learnt skills in practice, increasing the efficacy of the learning process. We did not need to download the software itself, but we could program on repl.it, an online, free platform that allows its users to program with Python. During the hands-on sessions the teacher divided us in random sub-groups, in order to carry out the tasks together. In turn, each participant would share the screen and, helped by his/her group mates, he or she would carry out the tasks. Jannik would join one or the other work group, in order to verify how things were proceeding. Secondly, every meeting started with a summary of the previous one. This was a good way for us to “start the engines” and warm up. Finally, what I believe was the most important positive element of this course, each week Jannik gave us assignments for the following week. This was crucial for our further training. There was total freedom about doing the homework or not. Obviously, it was in one’s own interest to actually do the assignments, which were then corrected together at the beginning of the following meeting. Very importantly, the Codingschule provided a so-called “cheat sheet” with a summary of all the functions we learnt and, even more usefully, the teacher’s PowerPoint presentations.

Of course, all this would have not been equally effective, had we not had an excellent and communicative teacher. The teaching pace was ideal for beginners. It was not so fast that one could not follow, but it was not so slow that one would get bored. Jannik explained everything in a rather clear manner and was always available to repeat concepts or answer any of our questions. His availability transcended the mere class time, as he was willing to discuss private issues related to the course before and after the course itself. Organization and communication with the pupils were excellent too. The teacher communicated with us via email but also through a Slack chat, both as a group and individually.

All in all, I would warmly recommend this Python course with the Codingschule Düsseldorf for all the aforementioned reasons. It is ideal for scholars in the traditional humanities who, like me, are transitioning to a digital methodology.  Perhaps, the only small shortcoming is that the course is led in German, which might be an obstacle for non-German speakers. But if you have at least basic German knowledge, do not hesitate, it is a lot of fun!

Cite this article as: Alessandro Grazi, "'Hello, World!': a Python course for beginners with the Codingschule Düsseldorf," in Digital Humanities Lab, 12/02/2021, https://dhlab.hypotheses.org/?p=1822.

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