Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

Waxing poetical in a Software Carpentry workshop

Hi everyone! I just finished running my first segment of a Software Carpentry workshop. I massively overprepared last evening and my notes for the first four lessons of unix shell are on google drive if anyone would care to reuse them.

In any case, one of my students (who had audited one of my other classes) made the following tweet: “Never heard anyone present fundamental computing concepts so poetically as @DenubisX @swcarpentry #MacquarieUni”

At which point, Belinda responded: “Liking the sound of this - will you write up a workshop post for us, Brian?”

And so here I am, accused of poetry.

I think because I semaphored my arms when describing arguments/flags. I stood in front of the group and waved my arms around like I was holding flags, directing trains down different tracks. I also used call and response, asking the audience to complete my statements (after introducing them a few times), which served to introduce nice pauses into the presentation, allowing people to process and ponder.

But … none of this is poetry. I think I was accused of poetry because during the first discussion of command line interfaces (CLIs), I stepped away from the computers and varied my voice and volume and pitch when looking at the nature of computers. And lots of emotive body language.

Speaking to the learner during the lunch break, she tweeted when I was unpacking the why of CLIs in unexpectedly non-mundane (perhaps florid, or purple) detail, sharing my enthusiasm for the ideas with the class.

And most people seemed to respond well to that sort of engaging and obviously “I am interested by this topic and I hope to share my excitement with you” framing.


I think the lesson to take away here is: speak passionately when you can, infecting the learners with your passion at the start of the lesson sells them a reason to engage. (And their body language will tell you if the enthusiasm was, indeed, sold. Pay attention to body language.)


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