Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

Software Carpentry with R at Griffith University

We had 27 people register to attend, with 22 attending the first day. We offered these workshops free of charge so we had been cautious about drop-out numbers.

I had 2 who had previously mentioned they were only coming to partial sessions and one dropped out the next day. We accepted everyone who registered and attempted the software install (our capacity was 30).

The attendees were quite interactive and attentive and seemed to pick it up quite well - even by the end of the second day. We had one or two hurdles - mostly in the way of French keyboards which turns out are quite tricky to code on. Two students had firewall issues with eduroam but had been quite prepared and downloaded all the programs and data so it didn’t slow them down until the Git tutorial.

We trialled a few new things this workshop:

Firstly, we used three sticky notes instead of two - ‘I’m going okay’, ‘please go slower’, ‘help’. We had the thought afterwards that we should have gone green, orange and red for these respectively (similar to traffic lights).

Secondly, we bribed them with chocolates. We used Freddo frogs as prizes for those who got answers correct or had really good questions. This was extremely popular. Towards the afternoons as well we were quite generous with the chocolates in the thought that a sugar kick was probably quite welcome.

Thirdly, we ended up skipping the etherpad and just including all links and links to data in the workshop page.
I included all direct data links for our pages and how to unpack the zips for the data, and the direct link for the lessons for each section. I also included the link to the Resbaz cloud that we used as a back up. That way, everything was in the one place that was going to stay online for a while.

Fourthly, I created a registration page via Google Docs that asked them what class they were attending, whether they were a staff/student or had eduroam and what operating system they were using, then presented them with customised install instructions. These custom instructions were then emailed to them along with a confirmation, location for the class, pre-workshop survey and the github information page. This gave us a final number of attendees and helped us gauge how people went with the initial install, and made the start of class a bit speedier. I’m more than happy for anyone to steal the code for this - It’s just done up in a Google form.

As a follow-up, the attendees were emailed with the post-workshop survey and links to Hacky Hours and the HPC/data storage services (as these seem to be often the high priority with those researchers who are learning to code).

Some quick fun stats:

  • 2 attendees were UQ, the rest from Griffith Uni
  • 57% hadn’t attempted to code in R before the workshop
  • 71% hadn’t attempted to code in Bash before the workshop
  • 89% hadn’t attempted to code in Git before the workshop

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