Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

2015 Post-Workshop Instructor Debriefing, Round 9

This week the mentorship team ran the 9th round of instructor debriefing session. Thanks to Andrew MacDonald, Doug Latornell, Evan Morien, Ewan Barr, Isabell Kiral-Kornek, Jackie Milhans, Kara Woo, Karl Broman and Tiffany Timbers for the great feedback of the workshops at Northwestern University, Simon Fraser University, Swinburne University of Technology, University of Melbourne and Washington State University.

Installation issues

Some workshops had a few installation issues related with:

  • limited internet access;
  • nano on Windows, Software Carpentry Windows Installer didn't work on some machines;
  • Git on Mac OS X, due Xcode and permissions;
  • path to R on Windows.

Except for the path to R, the instructors and helpers were able to solve the problem or working around it.

Shell

We have a interesting discussion about why teaching the shell starting from the theory that if you didn't get through powerful things like batch processing files the shell lesson looks waste of time for the learner. Was suggested to make learners interact more in this lesson and use the exercises to solve the problem.

Tip: If you want to get more space in your terminal when teaching you can change your prompt using

export PS1='$ '

It will only effect the current terminal.

Git

We have a interesting discussing related to using GUIs to teach Git that is related with our discussion about teaching the shell (if we used GUIs we could taught Git without taught the shell). Some instructors believe that teach Git using the shell is better for learners to understand the concepts around Git although GUIs will low the entry barrier for learners use Git after the workshop.

One questions that was raised is "are learners using Git and GitHub after the workshop?". Some instructors reported that yes, they saw a few tweets of learners related to Git/GitHub. The challenges to use GitHub are that (1) only public repositories are free, (2) people can be afraid to make public their unfinished work or "bad" software they wrote. Instructors can help learners with (2) by showing their work in progress and first repositories (e.g. this was the first Django application that I made). Related to (1) instructors can point to GitLab and BitBucket that offer free private repositories.

Python

The only relevant comment about Python is that using IPython Notebook with Git is still challenging.

R

We have a lot of instructors that taught R. Seen that

  • dplyr,
  • ggplot2,
  • RMarkdown, and
  • gapminder dataset/package

are very popular among R instructors.

MATLAB

Isabell Kiral-Kornek leaded another MATLAB workshop that this time was a workshop for predominantly female participants and run by female instructors only.

The workshop goes well with lot of challenges that allow learners to get experience with MATLAB's debugger.

Dialogue & Discussion

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