Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

Wrapping Up the STScI Course

The online portion of our work with learners at the Space Telescope Science Institute wound up today. 6 of the 14 people who took part in the on-site workshop submitted "graduation exercise" videos, and three more sent apologies (time pressure, technical difficulties, etc.), which I think is a pretty good completion rate. As always, we finished up by asking everyone to give us one good and one bad thing about the class:

Good Bad
  • Test-driven development
  • Got some experience teaching in a new setting (from my on-site helper)
  • Exercises incorporated a lot of ideas (saw things in context)
  • Liked emphasis on "philosophical" parts: how to share work with colleagues, etc.
  • Liked the way the exercises were structured (e.g., the hints)
  • Useful to see how instructor worked through a problem from scratch
  • Changed the way I think about coding
  • Now breaking code into smaller chunks
  • Course has made me more aware of how I program
  • Now believe that good code should not need to be commented
  • The stuff on SVN was very useful
  • Needed to take personal time to do class
  • Disappointed by the narrowness of topics
  • Frustrated trying to get started (didn't have relevant background)
  • Course repeated a lot of things I'd seen before
  • N-body problem exercise was a biiiig jump
  • Would have liked assignments earlier
  • Time set for this meeting was inconvenient
  • Wanted more tips and tricks, psychology of programming, etc.

Some of the apparent contradictions in the "Bad" column reflect the diversity of learners' backgrounds; once again, I think this was the biggest challenge we faced. Overall, though, it was an interesting contrast to my experience running a class through P2PU. I've taught the content of Software Carpentry dozens of times over 14 years, so I had something immediate to draw on for the folks at STScI. On the other hand, I've never completed a course online myself, so I didn't have relevant personal experience to bring to bear at P2PU. I hope that by engaging local helpers in future bootcamp follow-ups, we'll help to grow a pool of people who can do that kind of teaching better.