Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

2016 Post-Workshop Instructor Debriefings, Rounds 04 and 05

On February 23, Rayna Harris, Sheldon McKay, and Tiffany Timbers ran the 4th round of post-workshop instructor debriefing. On March 8th, Rayna Harris, Raniere Silva, and Belinda Weaver ran the 5th round of post-workshop instructor debriefing.

New lesson materials

  • Data Carpentry Genomics Lesson. Greg Wilson recently sent out an email about updating the lesson maintainer roles for Software Carpentry to jump-start finalizing the Ecology and Genomic lessons. These aren’t final yet, but the Iowa State University instructors spent about considerable time putting together a genomic lesson. You can view the Git repository with their lessons here.

  • Defensive Programming with Python. On Day 2 of the University of Pennsylvania workshop, Byron adapted the Python materials to teach defensive programing, testing, and other tools that were applicable to the audience and could be incorporated immediately into the learner’s research programs. Rayna encouraged Byron to contribute with the new Python Novice Gapminder lesson.

What worked well

  • Amazon Web Service EC2. Data Carpentry workshops used Amazon’s instance for cloud computing. For instructions on using EC2 in your workshop, see this lesson.

  • Split screen Git. At our Brisbane workshop, Selene Fernandez Valverde used a split screen to simulate two different collaborators when pushing and pulling with Git and it worked really well. It helped people see what was going on.

What could have gone better

  • Picking and choosing parts of the lesson. A common thing instructors struggle with is deciding exactly what pieces of a lesson to teach given the time constraints and the skill level of the learners. For instance, Byron reflected that he might could have spent less time on relative/fixed paths in favor of more time spent on scripting. As a newbie, Leah found working off the script made it difficult to flow through the material as she was unsure how much she could divert from the lesson.

    We all struggle with this and have different solutions. April Wright gets a lot of useful comments, feedback, and suggestions when she tweets or blogs about her lesson. So, good communication is key. Also, a repository of lesson flow charts would be nice, but I don’t think that resource exists yet.

  • Windows and gitbash. In the Brisbane Python lesson, we had problems with copy and paste on gitbash on the Windows laptops. This made it hard using wget and curl as people had to manually type in the download link for data, and were unable to copy and paste other material.

Installation problems

  • Some students had problems installing Python and accessing Jupyter notebooks from Opera and Internet Explorer.
  • Git is not on the default Data Carpentry Instances. This is not an issue, per se, but the instructors did have to stop and retool during the Git lesson because of it.

ICYMI: Thoughts On Combining Debriefing Sessions with Instructor Checkout

Belinda Weaver wrote a nice post on helping instructor trainees finish their training. Then Greg Wilson suggested combining the lesson discussion with the debriefings. Kate Hertweck agreed and suggested merging the lesson discussion with the pre-workshop help session.

Instructor training is a valuable and critical part of our community, and we value your opinion on these matters. If you haven’t already, take a look at these posts and share your thoughts.


We are very grateful to the instructors who attended these debriefing sessions. By taking the time to reflect on their teaching experiences, they are helping to strengthen our community.


Dialogue & Discussion

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