Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

A Gentle Introduction

Via several routes, I've been pointed at MIT Open CourseWare's "A Gentle Introduction to Programming Using Python", as taught by Sarina Canelake in January 2010. An hour of lecture a day for 10 days (two weeks), plus two hours of lab per day, it is... "a gentle introduction to programming using Python for highly motivated students with little or no prior experience in programming computers". The pace is brisk:

1 Variables and operators
2 Conditionals and iteration
3 Functions
4 Control flow with while
5 Project 1: structuring larger programs
6 Review, dictionaries
7 Introduction to objects
8 Objects and inheritance
9-10 Project 2: working in a team

If I understand the list of readings correctly, everything we expect students to know before they start Software Carpentry is covered in the first half of MIT's course, i.e., they think that five full hour-long lectures and ten hours of practical work are enough to teach variables, operators, if/else, strings, lists, for loops, functions, and simple file I/O to people who've never programmed before ("highly motivated" people, anyway). By comparison, Version 3 of this course covered the same material in just three hours, though it assumed students had programmed before, just not in Python.

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