The Hy-Tech Club goes online, for now

Since 2014, Hyland’s Hy-Tech Club has been a free after-school program for high school students in Northeast Ohio. Students meet at Hyland’s headquarters on a weekly basis, where they eat dinner together with new friends and learn how to code from Hyland employees.

Our spring 2020 semester was well underway when the current crisis started. By mid-March, the state of Ohio closed schools for at least three weeks, while here at Hyland, a majority of our employees began working remotely.

As our Hy-Tech Club students had started to make new friends and formed a rapport with Hyland instructors by this point, my immediate thought was, “We need to figure out a way to continue this program virtually. We owe it to these students to not stop everything now.”

Flexibility is key

Just like school teachers had to come up with online learning plans for their students in a short amount of time and organizations needed to shift to remote workforces, we had to do the same thing. We needed to be flexible.

At first, we planned on only having to do virtual meetings through mid-April. But when the stay-at-home order was extended in Ohio, we decided to hold the rest of the current semester virtually, which ends the first week of May.

We had several things to consider when making this move to a virtual program, including:

  • Virtual resources

We wanted to use tools that students would be familiar with, so we wouldn’t cause too much confusion or stress. We ended up using the same technology for our virtual meetings that we use internally at Hyland, which made rolling classes out stress-free.

  • Physical resources

This was one of the first challenges we immediately knew we’d run into. When students come to Hyland, they use our computers, which are connected to the internet and equipped with the software they need to do their work.

We knew some of our students wouldn’t have their own computers, and some would not have access to the internet. Luckily, the majority of our students were able to get their hands on some kind of device that could work in these circumstances and get online to attend classes.

  • Meeting time

Our typical meetings are from 5 – 7:30 p.m., and we usually start with dinner. Since we’re not eating together right now, we start a little later to take into consideration family dinners that may happen before the meeting.

We also shortened the meeting time so students didn’t have to spend so much time on the computer at home. Our virtual meetings are now from 5:30 – 7 p.m.

  • Student engagement

We worried that we’d lose the fun environment students were used to when they came on site at Hyland. We were also worried that overall engagement might wane. Luckily, our employees have been extremely flexible and adaptable throughout the process.

All 20 Hyland instructors rallied together to make sure the virtual meetings were still fun for students to attend. We are constantly coming up with new ideas to make the next week’s virtual meeting even more engaging. We also encourage the instructors and students to have their web cams on if they can, so they don’t miss out on the face-to-face time with each other.

Staying positive, continuing to learn

So far, things have been going pretty well, considering the situation everyone is currently in. The students who can attend every week continue to do so, and we are making the most of it. Hopefully, these students will walk away from this semester empowered by their new and improved programming skills, and will return for one of our other tech outreach programs in the future.

If there are two things I’ve learned throughout this process, it’s the importance of consistently being flexible and adaptable, and the importance of thinking outside the box. Things can change in a matter of minutes, and it’s important to face any new challenge with an open mind and positive outlook.

Caitlin Nowlin

Caitlin Nowlin

Caitlin Nowlin is Hyland’s tech outreach program manager. Her mission is to give Hyland employees the chance to help close educational gaps in computer science while providing students opportunities to... read more about: Caitlin Nowlin

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