Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

Plans for 2015: Lessons

The previous three posts in this set looked at instructor training, workshop organization, and the twin challenges of mentorship and assessment. In this final one, I'll summarize the state of the changes we're making to our curriculum.

We described the new template for lessons back in October, and since then, a handful of people have been working to improve it and to extract our existing lessons from the 'bc' repository and convert them to the new format. The first step has taken longer than planned: we want to be sure we get the entire history of each lesson, so that people receive credit for the work they've done, and thats proving to be a slog.

The good news is, you can now see what the result will look like. Our novice lesson on SQL now lives in this repository, and you can view its rendered form in this GitHub pages site. There's still a lot to do—the learning objectives need to be cleaned up, the challenges all need meaningful names, and there's clearly lots of scope for improving the lesson's appearance—but the pieces are there.

You can also see what entirely new lessons will look like. This lesson (which is rendered here) takes a bibliography embedded in a spreadsheet and converts it to a single-table database so that we can ask questions like, "Who has co-authored papers with whom?" Along the way, we show learners how to use the shell, Python, Git, and SQL together, so the lessons serves as a good half-hour capstone at the end of a two-day workshop.

We obviously still have a lot of work to do, but I hope we're finally in sight of a system that will make it so easy for instructors to add their personal notes to our lessons that they will routinely do so. As I've argued elsewhere, that would be the start of a real revolution.

p.s. If you'd like to help finish the "bibliography in a spreadsheet" lesson, please file an issue, send a pull request, or just send an email—like our other lessons, it will need a maintainer.

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