Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

Communities: The Foundation of Impactful Workshops

I spend a good deal of my time trying to communicate with member organizations about what it is that the Software Carpentry Foundation can do to help them meet their own goals. It is part of my job to showcase to them the return on investment that they’ll see in various areas. The three areas in which this is most apparent are impacts on skills transfer to learners who attend workshops, the lesson material that is publicly available and built by the community, and the capacity building that comes from mentoring instructors who are thinking about impactful instruction in short workshops.

In order to better arrange my ideas I decided to draw a Venn Diagram with circles for Lessons, Learners and Instructors. I’ve tried to use this diagram to build my own mental model for how what we do in terms of core activities can scale and grow. Through this process I’ve come to think of the structure in this diagram as podular (made of semi-autonomous pods), or a fractal element that repeats at various community scales such as university, research network, nation, or worldwide.

The Components of Software Carpentry

At each of our partner organizations we may have lessons, instructors and learners with their own unique and local perspectives, working toward impactful workshops that are appropriate for their own community. Internationally, we are working toward spreading consensus lessons and ethos of using open source tools for open and collaborative science to scientific communities via our workshops while using evidence based teaching methods.

These workshops sit at the nexus of the diagram and showcase, in a focused event, what it is that we stand for. They reflect the impacts we would like to have on changing how science is thought about in the context of computation. The brands “Software Carpentry” and “Data Carpentry” reflect a particular set of opinionated lessons arranged to have specific impacts on learners. This is why we work so hard to make sure that a workshop called “Software Carpentry” or “Data Carpentry” is being taught using our methods (the instructor is “badged”) and with instructors who have studied the community-developed lessons.

Locally when we deliver a workshop we’re working to bring together lessons, learners, and instructors that can deliver impactful workshops. To be prepared for this we strive to convince learners that spending two days with these lessons and our instructors will be impactful and helpful to how they work. When you put this all together, we’re not just developing training and delivering workshops, we as a community collectively own the lessons and are advancing, testing and refining the evidence based teaching best practices that we share with others and reinforce through our instructor training.

Outside of our core lessons and flagship workshops, you are strongly encouraged to duplicate this structure and apply it at smaller scales toward the specific needs of your own communities. This is how we grow and test new ideas and lessons. As you do this we want to know what you’ve learned, we want to hear your success stories, we want to hear about your spectacular failures. Overall, we want the Carpentries together to be a community where the most broadly applicable lessons pertaining to the tools and best practices needed to do modern research can come to be curated and improved together. At the same time, we have thriving global conversations about what gaps there are in our lessons, in our teaching methods, and how can we address those gaps and have more impact on the practice of research supported by computational tools.

One area that this diagram pointed out to me that we could do better at is supporting and helping our learners in their self study. We do know from our website analytics that browsing our lessons is one of the most popular activities among website visitors. We also know, through our instructor survey, that we have many instructors that came to be a part of our community from self study of the lessons online over the years. I would welcome ideas and efforts towards our lessons and our community being more supportive of our learners who are interested in self study. As it is, our lessons are mostly meant to be instructor notes, but if we could find ways to make them more useful for self study, I think that would be fantastic.

What are your thoughts and ideas on this diagram, are there any ways to enhance it or improve it that you see? It has really helped me to organize a jumble of ideas I’ve been dancing around in conversations with partners over the past several months.

Dialogue & Discussion

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