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July 3, 2014 / carlispina

Learn Coding and Programming Through Projects With Dash

Dash LogoI’m always interested in trying new options for learning web design online, so I was interested as soon as I heard that General Assembly had debuted a free tool called Dash.

Those of you who have tried other online tools for teaching yourself to code will probably see a lot that is familiar about this particular tool. As with other such tools, the screen is divided between the lesson materials in the upper left corner, a text editor in the lower left corner, and a preview of how your code will look on the right half of the page. The preview portion of the screen offers the option to see how your code will look on a regular browser as well as how it will be displayed on a smartphone screen. The lesson materials are presented as slides with check points designated within each slide deck for users to write their own code. Dash does a good job of checking the code that users write, offering hints when they encounter common problems and also knowing enough to evaluate only code, rather than getting stuck if a user does not use example text provided. Having seen some tools that struggle with code evaluation, I particularly like this second aspect of the program. It makes sense that users should be focused on getting the code right and not worrying about typos within the example text that is only provided so they will have something to format. As users complete the tasks at these checkpoints, they unlock skills that are displayed in a separate tab in the same part of the screen as the lesson materials. Hovering over each of the skills that you have unlocked will show a quick overview of what was included in the skill, which makes for a nice refresher if you are coming back to the lesson after some time away from coding. The third tab in that section of the screen takes you to the Q&A Forum where you can get help if you are stuck on a lesson, but unfortunately this forum requires a Facebook account, which seems like an unnecessary restriction. Your progress is automatically saved as you move through each lesson, making it simple to fit Dash’s lessons around your own schedule.

Each of the lessons is kept fairly short, which is conducive to working on these skills a little bit at a time and also makes the process more manageable for those who might otherwise be intimidated by the idea of learning to code. To make sure that users can easily see how they might apply the skills they are learning, all of the lessons are organized into concrete projects, from building websites, to creating a game, to designing your own customized Tumblr theme. Over the course of all of these projects, users can unlock a total of 82 skills, which are tracked on the main dashboard to provide an incentive to continue through each of the lessons. As further encouragement (and a way of marketing Dash), when you finish each lesson you are given the option to share your success on Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr. As you complete tasks in Dash, you will also receive emails from the company with additional content or support. Overall, Dash is similar to other previously existing tools for learning to code, but its project-based approach will likely appeal to some learners. All of the lessons are currently free, so it is definitely worth trying if a project-based approach to learning appeals to you.

Today I also wanted to include a brief note about my summer posting schedule. I’ve decided to take a bit of a “break” this summer to give me more time for other projects. I won’t stop posting here; but for July and August, I will only be writing one post a week. But, I expect to get back to my regular schedule in September.

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