Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

Catch and Hold

I'm a big fan of Mark Guzdial's work on computing education. Last week, he tweeted this:

Google is made of people who succeed in current CS teaching model. Hard for them to realize that it's wrong for most people. #GoogleCSFirst

Separately, on his blog, he cited John Dewey:

...interest operates by a process of "catch" and "hold"—first the individual's interest must be captured, and then it must be maintained.

I've been thinking about both points a fair bit while making plans for the new year. The people who are most active in Software Carpentry, myself included, are not typical of most scientists, so it's often hard for us to think outside our own heads about what will attract regular scientists' interest and hold it long enough to stick. Claiming that better technical skills enable more open science and reproducible research isn't enough: in my experience, those arguments mostly bounce off people who don't already care. Instead, most working scientists seem more interested in productivity and empowerment. We need to find ways to reconcile these, which means doing more follow-ups like Philip Fowler's.

Further down in that same blog post, Guzdial said something else that I've been thinking about:

We know more about how to retain students these days...consider the UCSD results and the MediaComp results. But...we are particularly bad at catching the attention of women and minority students. Our enrollment numbers are rising, but the percentage of women and under-represented minorities is not.

We've made progress with respect to gender balance (even outwith our WiSE bootcamps), but not with under-represented minorities, with smaller, poorer, and more remote schools, or with developing countries. Building community in the global South is a high priority for the Mozilla Science Lab, so we'll be trying to reach out more widely in the new year, and would appreciate any introductions our readers or alumni can make.

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