Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

Feedback from Newcastle upon Tyne

This week's Newcastle bootcamp, organised by the Digital Institute at Newcastle University with the Software Sustainability Institute and SoundSoftware, was the first Software Carpentry bootcamp run entirely locally in the UK. For the organisers it was a slightly nervous experience, hoping we could get the material to hold together in presentation without Greg's experience at hand.

Feedback from the learners was generally good on the material, the venue and the structure. The most common complaint was that it was hard to follow along at times, and I think there are several areas where we'll be able to improve the "flow" for future events.

Notably, this was the first bootcamp I've attended at which nobody found the room too crowded or the wrong temperature. Result, Newcastle!

Here are the good and bad feedback points. Some points were close duplicates, and I've put the additional ones in brackets (e.g. Python was cited three times).

Good Bad
  • Python
    (+ Choice of Python as easy scripting language)
    (+ Gives me confidence to start using Python)
  • Use of coloured sticky notes
    (+ coloured notes as an unobtrusive way to request help)
  • The "Bringing it together" section
  • Good mix of content
  • Version control
    (+ integration with Bitbucket)
    (+ version control tips e.g. archive, bisect)
    (+ use of recipes as version control material)
  • Coding along with the presenters
  • Lots of helpers
  • Good temperature in room, open window
  • Arrangement of room into groups for collaborative work
  • Self-guided exercises spaced out through the presentations
  • Easy to ask the helpers for help
  • Use of open source software
  • Test-driven development
  • Online lecture content to back up teaching
  • Lots of breaks
  • Good course description
  • Inclusion of general advice for coding (as opposed to specific syntax)
  • SQL
  • Felt like we ran out of time at end of first day
  • Would have liked more about testing
  • Cygwin
  • Sometimes problem material got in the way of the subject
    (more time worrying about overlapping rectangles than how to
    program a test)
  • No handouts, and screens difficult to read as forgotten my glasses
  • Should have introduced Python lists and other structures earlier
    (presenters forgot to do this before using them in an exercise!)
  • Not enough window real-estate
  • Couldn't always follow material before it disappeared off screen
  • Presenters sometimes forgot we were not necessarily interested in software engineering
  • Pace too intense for non-expert programmers
  • Interrupted by fire alarm
  • Coloured notes would have worked better in the other order
    (that is, holding up "not OK" first — didn't always dare if everyone else had just held up "OK")
  • More use of microphones
  • Went a bit fast
  • Half the class was facing back wall!
  • Would have liked some harder exercises
  • More consistency of laptop presentation
    (i.e. always same laptop with same window layout)
  • Shell scripting section a little easy
  • Didn't always notice when a presenter had started typing, they should read it out
  • More pointers to additional material online please
  • Some exercises had too much literal typing
  • (from a presenter) Would like to have improved the presentation of functions

UNIVERSITY OF NEWCASTLE

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