Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

August 2013 Lab Meeting

We held another of our semi-regular online lab meetings yesterday, complete with a theme song. We ran the meeting twice to accommodate different time zones; those present were:

11:00 am 7:00 pm
  • Greg Wilson (Toronto)
  • Azalee Bostroem (Baltimore)
  • Justin Ely (Baltimore)
  • Molly Gibson (St. Louis, MO)
  • Ted Kirkpatrick (Vancouver)
  • Rohit Mehta (University of Connecticut)
  • Paul Wilson (U. Wisconsin)
  • Jeramia Ory (Wilkes-Barre, PA)
  • Jory Schossau (Michigan State U)
  • Lex Nederbragt (Oslo, Norway)
  • Lynne Williams (Vancouver)
  • Ross Dickson (Dalhousie U.)
  • Amy Brown (Toronto)
  • Aleksandra Pawlik (SSI)
  • Alexis Pyrkosz (Michigan State U)
  • R David Murray (Amherst, MA)
  • Neal Davis (UIUC)
  • Aron Ahmadia (Army Corps of Engineers)
  • Neil Chue Hong (SSI)
  • Dave Lane (Catalyst IT, NZ)
  • Greg Wilson (Toronto)
  • Preston Holmes (Santa Barbara)
  • Amanda Whitlock (Chapel Hill, NC)
  • Emily Davenport (Chicago, IL)
  • Ian Mitchell (Vancouver, Canada)
  • Damien Irving (Melbourne, Australia)
  • John Blischak (Chicago)
  • Jory Schossau (Michigan State U)
  • Philipp Bayer (Brisbane, Australia)
  • Promita Bose (Atlanta GA, USA)
  • Luke Lee (Houston, TX, USA)

There was a lot to announce:

  • We're switching web hosting services over the next couple of days—we'll try to minimize disruption, and apologize in advance for any outages.
  • We have some new instructors to welcome.
  • We have pulled together a lot of the lesson material that people have created over the past twelve months in a form that we hope will be easier to re-use.
  • We also have a new look for bootcamp home pages, and, thanks to Preston Holmes, an illustrated guide for creating them. We'd be grateful for improvements to the styling of the former, and for feedback and improvements on the latter.
  • And we've simplified the procedure for building the web site, which will make it a lot easier for people to contribute to our blog.
  • Amy Brown, our indefatigable admin, has updated our operations guide and created some checklists for hosts, instructors, and other bootcamp roles. The static pages on our web site are the reference versions; going forward, we'll copy these into a Google Doc for each bootcamp so that the people involved can keep track of what needs to be done. (We thought about using GitHub tickets for this, but it's a lot easier for non-technical people to tick off a box in a spreadsheet.)
  • Meanwhile, thanks to a lot of hard work from Jory Schossau, we now have some standardized assessment questionnaires. Again, the static pages on our web site are for reference; learners who register through EventBrite will fill out the pre-bootcamp questionnaire there, and we'll create a Google Form per bootcamp for learners who are registering in other ways.
  • The curriculum for instructor training has stabilized (although we'll be adding one more exercise based on discussion last night). We are also now designating a lead instructor for each bootcamp who will be responsible for making sure that the curriculum is set, a teaching schedule is drawn up, and so on.

And like any good meeting, this one produced a few to-do items:

  • I'll put "how to get involved" into a top-level menu item to make things more findable. (The pull request is already in, and should be merged today.)
  • We'll add a "How to Teach on Windows" section to the operations guide where advocates of various approaches can write up the pros and cons of using Cygwin, Git Bash, virtual machines, and SSH'ing to a Linux machine. (We're never going to converge on a single solution to our problems, so we'll document what has worked so that instructors can make informed decisions.)
  • I'll ask instructors-in-training to create a mock bootcamp home page as an exercise to familiarize them with what's available and how to use it
  • We'll write fewer bootcamp summary blog posts in the coming year, and invite more experience reports, personal views of the world, cross-posts from our friends, etc. (My personal goal is to write less than 50% of the posts in 2014.) We hope this will enlarge our audience, and encourage more people to help steer Software Carpentry.
  • Instructors-in-training will be partnered with someone who already has an instructor's badge as a mentor.
  • We'll explore the idea of secondary instructor badges for teaching on Windows, bioinformatics expertise, and other special skills.
  • We'll also try to find new ways to encourage people to become bootcamp helpers: the instructor pipeline is under control, but we're often short of extras to wander the room and assist during practicals.

A lot of other ideas were kicked around during the two meetings, and I'll try to summarize those in another post soon. For now, though, I'd like to thank everyone who joined us for yesterday's meeting, and everyone else who has helped bring Software Carpentry so far in the past twelve months. Our next lab meeting is tentatively scheduled for Thurdsay, September 26—I hope to see you all then.

Dialogue & Discussion

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