Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

Why attend a Software & Data Carpentry instructor training workshop?

Note: the following post was written by Carrie Andrew, University of Oslo, after a request to write a testimonial of her participation in a Software/Data Carpentry instructor training workshop.

The SWC/DC initiative is a cutting-edge program that promotes computer and data skills to those who need the greatest help, but are often the most put-out to learn: beginners. It is taught by an ever-increasing, diverse assemblage of people across private and public, academic and non-academic, research institutions. The common denominator is that all have an interest and motivation to promote computer and data skills within STEM organizations. Even more interesting: The program is designed to be self-destructing. Once educational and research organizations are globally saturated with keen, well-trained individuals who can stand-in as the SWC/DC person(s) for their institutions, the initiative promises to end. When the need is met, it self-destructs, thus promoting change from the bottom-up, a grass-roots initiative for our futures!

SWC/DC are built on a volunteer network. This promotes a welcoming and positive atmosphere throughout the entire hierarchy, from teachers to students. People understand the need for computer and data skills. Meaning: anyone with even a novice skill set can contribute in teaching activities (from blogs, course content and rubric, helping and even being instructors)! The only stipulation, beyond interest and motivation, is that all who contribute in teaching must take an instructor training course.

Wait.  A course?!  For the teachers?!  Yeah… uhm…

….[sigh; glance away; tapping foot]….I’m kind of busy….

No, no, the SWC/DC instructor training course is highly worthwhile to take! At first it could seem like a potential barrier to building a volunteer network, who by definition are already volunteering time from their jobs for the inititive, and maybe have already taught. It’s not a barrier, however. It’s a bridge. Or a helping hand. Or a community that helps, so many helping hands. And, to remind, they are all so nice and positive, because they are volunteers. Nice, positive, helpful hands. Isn’t that what education should be? As you could learn in the workshop, they think so.

There are many reasons to attend an SWC/DC training course: The instructional training is quality, to the point that it would be worthwhile to attend irrespective of future contributions to SWC/DC (but we all hope you do contribute). It opens discussion on pedagogy, teaching-types, technological advances, equality and stereotypes, and provides a wealth of reference material to continue the thoughts beyond the two-day workshop limits. Second, it is also a training course to become an instructor for the SWC/DC initiative. Want to contribute? Then attend the workshop! Third, it builds a network of computer and data people, from across institutions, and with as open and positive an atmosphere as possible.

The instructor training course begins with a crash-course in pedagogy before gently corralling students towards the diving board of instructional experiences, teaching, with video-recording exercises. These exercises are stressful for most, but are designed to help elucidate good points, point out blemishes, and recommend new methods — all before standing in front of the classroom. What better way to find out you pull your hair whenever you are not sure about an answer? Or that your voice raises two octaves? Do you know your ‘tell’? Just think, you could learn about this in a safe, open atmosphere (as with the instructor training course), or you can wait for your next job, which might be teaching to undergrads who really don’t want to take the class. And you have to design the course. A little guidance would be nice in that situation, and this instructor workshop extends beyond the SWC/DC goals by providing that. And if you already have teaching experience, bring that with, discuss and learn how to tackle those issues that always bothered you!

People seem constantly leave the instructor workshops satisfied, open to discussion and better equipped to converse and investigate teaching further. The final reason to take it: it’s free. You could easily pay for the same education elsewhere, but with more competitive and less-nice people.

Just make sure to help out those who helped you, and contribute to the initiative after!

Dialogue & Discussion

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