Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

Maintaining Momentum

For a variety of reasons (which is my way of saying "I don't know why" :-), Software Carpentry has proven really popular in the UK. We have close to 200 people signed up for 40 seats at our London workshop, and over 160 for 40 seats at Newcastle, with more coming in all the time. We also now have groups from three other universities, and a couple along disciplinary lines, asking if we can run workshops for them. However, the funding that has supported this round of work will run out at the end of June, and the earliest we could receive more support from the same source is mid-October. Our challenge now is therefore to find ways of supporting them in the short term so that momentum isn't lost. Here are some ideas; we'd welcome more.

  1. We're already planning to use the London workshop in part as a "train the trainers" event, i.e., to have 10-15 of the participants be people who already know how to do this stuff, and are attending to learn how to teach it. More volunteers, particularly open source developers who live and breathe this stuff, would help.
  2. We could try webcasting workshops so that more people could sit in. I don't actually think this will work very well—past experience shows that being in the room makes an enormous difference to the learning experience—but I thought I'd add it for completeness.
  3. Several people have asked us to write an instructor's guide explaining what we teach, in what order, and why. I'll do a one-page version as soon as I can, based on the MBARI and NSERC bootcamps, but realistically, this is 2-3 weeks of work, which pushes it over the end-of-June horizon.
  4. We could recruit more people to run the online follow-up tutorials we're running after each workshop, so that I can spend more time on meta stuff (like the instructor's guide). Personally, I think grad students who are thinking about academic careers should jump at the opportunity to learn how to teach online, because (a) that's what they're likely to have to do for the next thirty years, and (b) having some experience in doing it will make them look pretty shiny when they're applying for jobs. Any takers?
  5. We can push harder to try to get universities to offer Software Carpentry as a fully-resourced course (i.e., to pay someone to teach it during term, either for credit or otherwise). This is one of our long-term goals anyway, but runs into a chicken-and-egg problem: we have to demonstrate value in order to get resources, but need resources to demonstrate value.

Other ideas? What could we do in the next two and a half months to ensure that things don't go on hold for the six months after that?

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