Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

The Centrality of the Code of Conduct

This is the first in a series of posts about Carpentries’ teaching practices. Subsequent posts will cover the other practices - live coding, sticky notes, helpers, challenges, etherpads - that make Carpentries’ workshops the success that they are.

I gave a talk recently for the Australian National Data Service on ‘teaching the Carpentries way’. Originally I planned to cover six reasons why our workshops are effective, but ended up covering thirteen, with the thirteenth being the Carpentries’ Code of Conduct.

I left the Code till last because it is probably the most important. Unless people observe the Code of Conduct at workshops, all our other positive teaching practices can count for nothing.

Among other things, the Code of Conduct states:

We are committed to creating a friendly and respectful place for learning, teaching and contributing. All participants in our events and communications are expected to show respect and courtesy to others.

Instructors introduce the Code of Conduct at the start of workshops for a reason. As a community that values diversity and inclusivity, a community dedicated to providing a welcoming and supportive environment for all people regardless of background or identity, the Code sits at the very heart of everything we do.

If someone breaches the Code in a workshop, the Instructor is empowered to warn that person and, if need be, to have that person removed from the workshop. We also encourage Instructors to report the behaviour to us. We have developed a manual on how to enforce the Code.

Harassment is unacceptable, as the Code clearly states:

Harassment is any form of behaviour intended to exclude, intimidate, or cause discomfort. Because we are a diverse community, we may have different ways of communicating and of understanding the intent behind actions. Therefore we have chosen to prohibit certain forms of behaviour in our community, regardless of intent. Read more.

The Code helps people feel safe, which assists their learning. It also makes our workshops accessible to people who might otherwise be marginalised.

While not as serious as religious, sexual or racial vilification, or the other behaviours we prohibit, there are still many off-putting things that people at workshops can do. If learners are worried about being mocked, talked over, treated with sarcasm, condescended to, or made to feel small or stupid for any reason, their enjoyment of the workshop will be diminished, if not extinguished altogether. In those situations, rather than take the offending person on, some people simply prefer to give up on the workshop, thus losing their opportunity to pick up vital skills.

If they choose to stay, the offence will still take up valuable room in their minds, leaving much less space for learning.

It is therefore up to the Instructors to set the workshop tone. If someone is endlessly parading their knowledge, or hogging workshop time to show off, then the Instructors must try to rein that person in. Your learners will be grateful, and they will also feel you are ‘walking the talk’, not just paying lip service to an ideal.

An attendee at a workshop I taught last year wrote on a feedback sticky: “Nice that there are talking rules”. The sticky included a smiley face. A meaningful Code of Conduct makes the workshop better for everyone.

However, it is not only in our workshops that the Code of Conduct applies. We want all interactions within our community to be underpinned by the Code, whether it be contributions to email lists such as Discuss (info on joining all our lists appears on this page), responses to tweets or Facebook postings, discussions about issues raised on GitHub repositories, or contributions to our Slack channel.

As we move forward to the merged Carpentries, it is timely to remind people why we value our the Code of Conduct. The Code is central to our efforts to build a welcoming, diverse, inclusive global community.

COMMUNICATION · WORKSHOPS · CODE OF CONDUCT · TEACHING PRACTICES

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