Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

T Minus One

Tomorrow (May 3, 2010) will be my first day of full-time work on Version 4 of this course (where "full-time" means "except for getting my daughter a new passport and taking her to the dentist for the first time"). I'm very pleased that Jason Montojo and Jon Pipitone will be joining me part-time for May and June — they helped organize and deliver the most recent run of the course at the University of Toronto, and with them on board, I'm confident that we'll be able to hit our first milestone.

That milestone is to put two or three different versions of two lectures on the web by the first week of June. The topics we have chosen are databases and spreadsheets — more specifically, how to do simple data analysis using those two tools. We've decided to do this for several reasons:

  1. This material will be immediately useful to many of our intended users (particularly those in life sciences).
  2. There aren't many dependencies on other material — in particular, people don't have to learn anything about loops, object-oriented programming, and what-not before reaping rewards.
  3. Getting this stuff up early will allow us to get feedback from users on what formats they prefer.

The last point is the most important one for us. Do our users want webified versions of conventional classroom lectures, like those offered by MIT and Google? Or would they (perhaps I should say "you"?) prefer lots of shorter screencasts, à la ShowMeDo? If so, how should they be arranged? What about examples and exercises: should they be presented in the browser somehow, or should we ask (require?) people to download code and run it on their own machine? Putting a few variations out there and asking people which they prefer seems like the best way to find out.

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