Earlier this July, we were invited to present WordPress at the first ever Code4CT event. Run by InnovateSA, Code4CT aims to educate high school girls from a local South African township about web technologies and how to employ them to create successful online presences.
As passionate members of the WordPress Cape Town community, we strive to take up any opportunity to share our love for WordPress, the technology which has changed all of our lives. Hugh and I went along to speak to the girls about WordPress, leadership and having the courage to take a chance on an idea and to bet on themselves.
The lay of the land
Upon arriving at the False Bay College in Khayelitsha, Hugh and I met a group of twenty five open-minded, wide-eyed and eager young students, settling in after a weekend of fun during their school holiday. The week past saw the students learning about HTML and CSS, developing their own “about me” pages from scratch (that’s right, no starter HTML or anything like that!).
The week following the “WordPress Week” is the week where the girls would form groups, interact with a client and build a full mobile-first website for their client (a local company here in Cape Town was assigned to each group).
Teach a bunch of high school girls everything they need to know about WordPress in one week? Sure! We decided to spice up the challenge a bit and aimed to teach is all in one day. Challenge accepted. While at first a bit unsure about what this “WordPress thing” was, a few smiles and laughs helped to set the mood for how we all learn best; a fun and relaxed environment.
Getting down to learning
Having given several WordPress learning day seminars, Hugh and I have had the opportunity to try several approaches to teaching WordPress; from “your website is a house” analogies to explaining the history of web design and diving into code. While each approach has it’s merits, we had one day with these girls and wanted to share as much knowledge as possible.
We adopted the lightning method. The quickest possible route (fewest clicks) towards achieving each step.
WordPress was set up for each girl’s personal website so we got straight into the learning. We presented clear slides outlining how to add posts, pages, widgets, menus and more, as well as what themes are, how to select them and what to keep an eye out for when choosing a theme. We went through an explanation of how plugins work with WordPress, what to look out for when installing plugins, being careful to install only the plugins they need (instead of a flurry of “I want all the plugins ever”) and a few tips on some great plugins to get them started.
Needless to say, we shared all of this information with time to spare, and were able to enjoy a really insightful lunchtime chat session with the group, learning more about their goals and aspirations, and how technology can help them to achieve these goals.
While the main focus of the week was around setting up mobile-first websites for their designated clients, we decided to appeal to the group’s competitive side and run a little competition as well. This was for their personal websites.
During discussions, we always ask if anyone has a question about anything at all, at regular intervals, to ensure everyone understands what they need to, and that we haven’t left anyone confused. Upon seeing the first hand go up (there aren’t always many questions when the group is shy), the first question we received was; “Where do we get an awesome hoodie like the ones you’re wearing?”. Hugh and I both sporting our limited edition designer WooThemes hoodies at the time, we should have anticipated this question.
The girls worked on their websites tirelessly over the coming days, with a limited edition pink WooThemes hoodie up for grabs for first place, as well as WooThemes and WordCamp Cape Town t-shirts for several runners up.
One week following the event, a presentation and prize-giving was held at the Bandwidth Barn, a popular tech startup co-working space in the bustling suburb of Woodstock in Cape Town. The girls were all bussed in and excited to share their mobile-first websites with their clients. Each group presented their research, discoveries and the outcomes of their projects, with the clients sitting right in front of them. For someone who is presenting to a client for this first time, this is no easy feet. Imagine that it was your first time ever building a mobile website, and you’re a high school student, and now you have to pitch your project to the client in front of a room of people?! Most would run and hide, but these girls stood up and shared their findings with the room; a proud moment I’m sure they’ll all remember forever.
Following on the presentations, it was time to hand out the prize for our little competition.
The winner was Anita who spent hours quietly working on her website, adding funky colours and exploring all that WordPress has to offer. Well done, Anita!
The success of an event such as this can be gauged on so many levels. For us, the main success criteria is that the students left with two gains; new knowledge and a hunger to learn more. As we had many questions from the girls about whether or not they can continue to work on their websites, I’d say that both new knowledge and a desire to learn more were definitely gained.
A huge thank you must also go to Emma and Tegan of Innovate SA for including us in their event, as well as to Dane for helping with the continued WordPress tutoring and to the tutors who gave up their time from UCT to help the girls with their learning.
Here’s to the next one!