Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

2016 Election: Cam Macdonell

Background & SWC Involvement

I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. My involvement with Software Carpentry began in 2009 as a helper. I helped at a handful of Edmonton bootcamps before completing instructor training in 2013. I have been an instructor for 9 bootcamps, 6 for Software Carpentry and 3 for Data Carpentry.

I love my job because I love teaching. Software Carpentry is a great organization to work with in that I enjoy the audience, the perks of travelling and meeting other instructors, and the lessons I’ve learned about effective teaching that have improved my own lectures.

I hope to join the Steering Committee to contribute back to this great organization.

Joining the Steering Committee

While I am happy to pitch in where needed, given my experiences I believe I can contribute in three specific ways: expanding the Software Carpentry learner audience, guiding lesson development, and improving post-workshop assessment and support.

Over my years of involvement I have thoroughly enjoyed teaching bootcamps and meeting learners from diverse backgrounds. Several of the bootcamps I have taught have been targeted towards librarians. For these bootcamps, I developed some new lessons utilizing librarian data and formats. As well, the starting point of presumed knowledge had to be lower. I have also taught a few Digital Humanities bootcamps and I believe that Software Carpentry can expand the lesson materials for this audience as well. In joining the Steering Committee, I would look forward to increasing the delivery of bootcamps to these and other audiences. Collaborating with the British Library’s Library Carpentry initiative and Data Science Training for Librarians (DST4L) is something I would hope to be involved in to avoid duplicated effort.

Lesson materials and instruction are the “bread & butter” of Software Carpentry. There is a quote about software that is very true - “Software is never complete, only abandoned”. I believe this mindset applies to lesson materials too. Our teaching materials will never really be “done”, they must regularly be revisited and improved. In joining the steering committee, I would take pride in ensuring our materials and instruction remain at a level of excellence to ensure the continued success of Software Carpentry.

What happens when learners leave a workshop? This is a question I’m very interested in. Unfortunately I think the answer for many learners is that they fail to apply the lessons they’ve been taught because there are hurdles such as:

  • relating lessons to their own data and processes
  • a lack of retention of lessons taught
  • bad tools that are entrenched in their work environment

Exploring how to support learners post-workshop is very important. I think developing and evaluating some combination of online resources, mentoring relationships and other follow-up will help more learners transform the way they work. In addition to helping learners, increased post-workshop follow-up will allow Software Carpentry to produce evidence-based results showing the effectiveness of its teaching method.

STEERING COMMITTEE · ELECTION 2016

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