Restarting your sessions? Here’s how the Owari Dojo became more resilient

Katz is the champion of the Owari Dojo

Recently, my colleague Sonja and I caught up with Katz — the champion of the Owari Dojo in Japan. Katz shared with us his experience of running online sessions, the challenges his Dojo has faced, and his recent experience of returning to in-person sessions.

Learning from others

When Japan went into lockdown earlier this year, Katz looked at ways that his Dojo members could continue to connect, learn, and have fun. It was clear that online sessions were the safest and most effective way to meet, and Katz held three online sessions between March and May. With the support of the CoderDojo Japan Association, many volunteers were already in contact from DojoCon Japan and other previous regional events. The community was able to support to each other on how to bring their sessions online:

“Thanks to DojoCon Japan, many champions were able to get to know each other and build a relationship of trust. So many Dojos in Japan came up with how to start the online sessions. I did my own online session in March, and was fortunate to join Dojo sessions [held by other champions] — to learn how to do it and what to prepare.”

 

A Ninja at the Owari Dojo

In time, other champions also joined Katz’s online sessions so that they could replicate them with their own Dojos: “Everyone was trying to learn from each other”. Collaboration between Dojos is something that we have seen across the world: Petra in the Czech Republic spoke about hosting joint online sessions with a neighbouring Dojo; Martijn in the Netherlands received some valuable advice from a fellow volunteer about showcasing his Ninjas’ work; and Samuele from Italy helped organise an online MegaDojo with fellow volunteers from across the country.

Embracing challenges and opportunities

Making the transition to online sessions was not without its challenges, with some of Katz’s Ninjas struggling with the new approach. However, collaborating with other Dojos has helped to re-engage some of these young people:

“Many Ninjas were reluctant to take part in the online sessions, even the regular Ninjas. So we only had two or three Ninjas show up, where we usually have six to ten […]. We decided to co-host with other Dojos in June, so we had more Ninjas coming in and we had fun. It was difficult to control the sessions at times with so many Ninjas!”

The Owari Dojo has now resumed in-person sessions

One major opportunity to come out of the online sessions was increased participation from some of the Ninjas who struggled with the social aspect of in-person sessions. While in-person and ‘blended’ sessions (some Ninjas attend in person, while others attend the session online) have since resumed at the Owari Dojo, these Ninjas have become more confident and still have the option to attend online — thanks to the approach that the Dojo is now taking:

“Hosting an online aspect of the session is great [for these kids]. There are Ninjas who just don’t want to come to in-person sessions, so by doing these blended sessions we hope that we are able to provide for both opportunities. But it’s not a perfect system as online Ninjas and on-site Ninjas can’t communicate, so we still have some challenges and we need more mentors who can moderate that.”

Some Ninjas attend in person, while others attend online

One drawback of the blended approach, however, is that the ‘online’ Ninjas and ‘in-person’ Ninjas cannot communicate during the session. To address this, Katz encourages the young people to all introduce themselves in the beginning and showcase their work at the end.

Becoming more resilient

Katz and his volunteers understand the importance of adapting their Dojo, the blended approach is very much a part of this effort:

“Right now, I’m just doing [blended sessions] so that we can make the Dojo more resilient, for example, in the event that there is another lockdown. Then we don’t have to cancel the session because we still have online sessions”.

The Dojo has also adopted all of the recommended guidelines for keeping everyone safe, including social distancing measures and temperature checks. Katz also live streams the sessions for parents — the venue has reduced the amount of participants by half — so they can watch their children’s presentations and know when it’s time to pick them up.

Toru, a CoderDojo Owari mentor, sanitises a laptop before the session

While Katz misses the way things used to be, his Dojo has made an incredible effort to keep Ninjas engaged and this is something to be proud of:

“My feedback is that we just love the in-person sessions we used to have before the coronavirus pandemic — the freedom for Ninjas to do what they like, to interact, to go to other Ninja’s screens and teach and talk and present, to gather around the table.”

We’d like to say a big thank you to Katz for sharing his experience and for showing us how he has adapted his sessions to help Ninjas connect and learn in a new way.   

Explore the options for resuming your CoderDojo sessions:

Please follow the appropriate public health advice for your country/region/venue before planning in-person club sessions. 

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