Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

2015 Post-Workshop Instructor Debriefing, Round 19

On September 29th the mentoring subcommittee held the 19th round of Instructor Debriefing and had some interesting discussions about our lessons and opportunity for learners after the workshop.

Installation issues

Instructors reported the same rate of issues as in the previous debriefs: few problems with Nano, version of Python, Git for old OS X, ...

At one of the workshops instructors had problem due mix of files with the same name but different case, e.g. file.txt and File.txt. Windows and OS X are case insensitive systems!


Some instructors suggested improvements to the pre- and post-workshop survey. The assessment subcommittee is working on a new version of the survey. If you want to help with the surveys please contact Jason Williams.

Buddy Support System

Instructors from one of the workshops reported that they:

...introduced a buddy support system, where participants were split into higher (A) and lower (B) technical skill groups based on their submissions for pre-workshop survey. The most highly skilled participant from A was paired with the most highly skilled from B, the next highly skilled from A was paired with the next highly skilled from B, etc. At the workshop, nametags with their paired buddy on it were given out, and the pairs were asked to identify each other and sit together. Overall, the participants rated the buddy system 4.0/5, and was found to be generally effective.

Lesson topics

Instructors from one of the workshops reported that they wish that the Python material be simplified because:

...it still caused a few pacing and conceptual problems, with lesson threads (in particular the NumPy and matplotlib material) getting a bit lost down digression/overly technical rabbit holes, and the fact that some language basics are taught after the more advanced use of libraries and data manipulation.

The development subcommittee, in charge of our lessons, had one meeting on October 15th where changes to the Python lesson were discuss. More information soon.

Live log

The last workshop at the University of British Columbia had a live log of shell commands during the shell and mercurial lessons on a web page. Doug Latornell allow us to share how they did it:

Create live-log.sh and add

HISTTIMEFORMAT="%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S $ "
PROMPT_COMMAND="history 1 >> ~/history.txt; rsync -qz ~/history.txt URL_OF_PUBLIC_REMOTE_SERVER:PATH/TO/PUBLIC/DIRECTORY/history.txt"

to it. After that run source live-log.sh at your shell. Important points:

  • HISTTIMEFORMAT is used just to add timestamps to the commands.
  • PROMPT_COMMAND is responsible for most of the magic.
  • You can replace rsync with any other tool that sincronize files between machines, e.g. Dropbox. The advantage of rsync is that users will use a clean url that you can set up in advance. If you are going to use rsync you must install rsync on your machine and on the remote server plus setup SSH key.

Steps after the workshop

Instructors from the University of British Columbia also reported that they have a community study group that are great to plug learners into after the workshop. Many others universities have similar groups that we can work with and could be interested in take part on the instructor training that we will run this December. If you know or are involved with such group, please advertise the instructor training.

Dialogue & Discussion

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