Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

A Workshop for Undergraduates at UC Berkeley

We ran a workshop for undergraduates at UC Berkeley on July 9-10, 2015. This was a quickly planned workshop from concept to completion (~19 days). I was excited to run a workshop geared towards undergraduates, especially those involved in research projects in the summertime.

This content (Bash, Python, Git, testing) was perfect for the learners. For some, material was a little slow (especially beginner Bash, due to our intro-to-programming course); the Testing unit was a little advanced and unpolished (for example, the Complex #s example was difficult for many). Overall, we taught to the approximately the middle of our learners, with much positive learner feedback on the content. Learners especially liked the IPython notebook setting.

This workshop was well-organized, but a little unpolished. My co-instructors and I could have used more practice (especially since this was our first workshop). Additionally, since I was the only SWC-certified instructor, there were a few teaching practices I noticed that I fixed on-the-fly (e.g. typing too fast, using too many keyboard shortcuts, some uncomfortable vocabulary like "just" and "obviously"). We're all somewhat new to teaching, and all instructors improved throughout their session. (The Testing section had the most of this, but the learners who stayed were the most advanced. Also, I am aware this iteration of Testing is experimental and I've only seen Katy Huff teach it.) The instructors felt a little rushed for time. Also, light green and yellow were not the best color scheme for sticky-notes.

There weren't many install issues. Attendance was lower than I expected, especially on the second day (of 35 signups, 23 and 17, with 12 who stuck it out to 4pm on Friday). (Although a 25% no-show rate isn't unheard of for a free workshop.) Some snacks were available but not advertised (I volunteered $20). The workshop did happen and learners felt that it was very useful. It felt a little more informal than most others (not a bad thing: free workshop for undergrads, taught by undergrads). I had many requests for video recording and/or slides from people interested who couldn't attend, so I sent them links to the lesson material :-)

Rooms were reserved and list-servs emailed in appropriate time. University administration and student societies were contacted (helpers, etc) wherever needed. (There was a logistical hiccup with a missing projector bag, but aside from that, all logistics went well!) I am much more familiar with the process were I to do it again! Most instructors and helpers are interested in another workshop, and it seems that there is high demand among undergrads (but again, perhaps high value for the individual but not high value for academia.) I will plan the next one with a bit more notice :-)

The main student feedback from the Instructor etherpad is:

Good Bad
easy to follow need more challenges & more time for challenges
good choice of topics (lots covered and comprehensive) could be more conceptual
really helpful helpers more info about scripting
IPython notebook testing was done a little haphazardly
longer but less time per day (3-4 day workshop?)
could be more advanced


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