Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

2015 Post-Workshop Instructor Debriefing, Round 14

On July 21 the mentorship team ran the 14th round of instructor debriefing session and received feedback from workshops at the NIH, UC Berkeley and UC Davis.

The workshop at NIH covered shell, Python, Git and SQL. There were about 35 participants with the common bimodal distribution of novices and more experienced users. There were a few installation glitches related to participants not having administrative access on their computers (some were using lab-provided computers). The instructors felt some clarification of software installation would be helpful for shell novices. There were 1-2 helpers on duty most of the time. This workshop faced a few challenges. One was related to government agency regulations not permitting websites hosted on GitHub and the other was that adoption of sticky notes was not enthusiastic, making it difficult to employ standard Software Carpentry methods. One take home message about this workshop was that live-coding is much more effective that a lecture format for delivering the training.

The UC Berkeley workshop had 26 participants split evenly between life and physical sciences. The workshop covered shell, Python and Git. The python sections were done for version 3, based on Katy Huff's June 4 workshop. The testing section on the second day felt rushed. This workshop was planned and executed in just 2.5 weeks, which is less time than usual. Some participants requested a four, half-day workshop format. This type of requests comes up from time to time. Once challenge is that non-local instructors are not usually available over this many days. A couple of minor installation issues cropped up with nano (installer not run). They used green/yellow stickies, which some found hard to distinguish. My experience with stickies is that the red/green combination is often hard to come by at the last minute (I've had to stretch the definition of "red" a time or two) and it's a good idea for instructors to bring sticky notes or make the color requirements very clear to the local organizers.

The UC Davis workshop had 40 participants. 53 had signed up, so the no-show rate was a little higher than usual. The group was more advanced than usual and some found the first day to be paced too slowly. The topics were shell, R and Git. There was a large variation in R experience, less in shell and Git, which were new to most. There were a few issues with installing R packages for non-privileged users. There was feedback that it was hard to follow the RStudio GUI activities because of lack of history, which was helped somewhat by syncing R scripts and shell command history to a Dropbox file. The group was largely UC Davis people with a lot of connections, which was helpful in dealing with mixed experience levels. They had a follow-up session for people to come with questions. Attendance was low, but many of the learners signed up for or were already part of our local R users help group.

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