Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

Where Next for the Next-Gen Course (and Software Carpentry)?

Titus Brown's next-generation sequencing course has been a great success: so great, in fact, that he's overwhelmed with applications for this year's run. That has made him think aloud (or rather, ablog) about where to take the course next. His options include:

  1. Maintain the status quo (but the effort/reward ratio for him isn't sustainable).
  2. Run it for pay (which would put it out of reach for most learners).
  3. Flip the course, using videos for training and live sessions for tutorials (see below for discussion).
  4. Franchise, i.e., train other people to deliver the course wherever they are (see below as well).
  5. Merge with Software Carpentry.

I'm all in favor of the last option: I would really like to see Software Carpentry become a hub through which other people offer, find, and/or run "software for scientists" training (both live and online). In practice, this would mean:

  1. We handle advertising, signup, and other administrative and technical tasks (like getting web conferencing to work—why is this still so hard in the 21st Century?).
  2. We match instructors with groups of learners.
  3. We help train new instructors by pairing them with people who've already taught material before they have to fly solo. (We're doing this right now, and we'll know in six months how well it works.)
  4. We coordinate assessment, both so that we can improve what we're doing, and so that we can show potential funders what impact we're having.

What do you think? Are you teaching something that we could fold into a larger effort? Would you be interested in helping to teach if we were handling the organizational details, and it was a chance to learn content and method from a more experienced instructor?

And most importantly (at least for me, right now), do you have any thoughts about how we could better organize the collaborative elements of this? As many people have found in the past (and are now rediscovering), canned notes and recorded lectures are a lot less effective than peer-to-peer learning, which is inherently social. I think our experiments running online tutorials using desktop sharing work as well as they do because learners can hear and respond to each other's questions: instead of being one-to-many, it's many-to-many (albeit with a long tail distribution—I admit I do most of the talking). What if anything could we do to make more of that happen? What have you actually used that worked well?

Dialogue & Discussion

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