Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

State of the State: Instructor Checkout

This blog post is the second in a series examining the roles and contributions of the different parts of the Carpentry community. In case you missed it - read the first post in this series, about Maintainers.

Carpentry Instructors are the core of our community. Without Instructors, there would be no workshops. Because of the vital role that Instructors play in advancing the Carpentry mission, we as a community take preparing Instructors very seriously. Before becoming certified Instructors, trainees must show familiarity with our curriculum, demonstrate their teaching skills (with a focus on the Carpentry pedagogical model), and interact with the broader Carpentry community. Software Carpentry Instructors also need to demonstrate familiarity with Git and GitHub.

Since 2015, these goals have been served by a three-part checkout mechanism: Submitting a lesson contribution, Participating in an instructor discussion session, and Presenting a short teaching demonstration.

These steps are estimated to take a total of 8-10 hours and are overseen by the Maintainers group, the Mentoring Subcommittee, and the Trainers group, respectively. These groups frequently discuss how to ensure that our checkout process is continuing to meet the needs of new Instructors as our community grows and changes.

Recently, staff facilitated a set of discussions with the Mentoring Subcommittee, Maintainers, and Trainers, to understand whether there were reasons to remove one or more of the steps of the checkout process, and more broadly, to understand how members of these groups feel these steps are meeting Instructor’s needs. Getting input from each of these groups proved to be vital, as different parts of the community had different perspectives about these steps and how they affect Instructor preparation. Although the decision at this time was to maintain the current checkout process, there were many ideas raised about how we can change this process in the future to better align with the needs of new Instructors.

The three topics raised for discussion were:

  • Removing the requirement for trainees to submit a lesson contribution. This was brought to the Maintainers and Trainers groups for discussion. Many voiced concerns that, without this requirement, new Instructors would not be prepared to contribute to lessons in the future. Other options to require trainees to use GitHub without increasing Maintainer workload were discussed. The decision was to make no changes to this requirement at this time, but to clearly communicate to trainees that rather than creating new issues or putting in unsolicited PRs, they can help by contributing to existing issues, reviewing existing PRs, and putting in PRs for requested issues. The Trainers group will work to better communicate this with new trainees. On the Maintainers side, there is work ongoing to update issue labels to help guide contributions.
  • Removing the requirement for trainees to participate in an instructor discussion before becoming Certified. This was brought to the Mentoring Subcommittee and the Trainers group for discussion. In both groups, people expressed concern that these discussions were necessary to prepare new Instructors to teach. The decision was not to change this requirement at this time, but to continue exploring other opportunities to provide mentorship for new Instructors.
  • Removing the requirement that trainees must complete their teaching demo with a Trainer who did not teach their instructor training. This policy was intended to avoid conflicts of interest by requiring that new Instructors were approved by Trainers outside of their institutions, however, it inadvertently disadvantaged new Instructors in geographic areas with fewer Trainers. The Trainers group passed this change with a vote of 22:1 with 1 abstaining. Trainers are still encouraged to identify any potential conflicts of interest.

To summarize, although all three steps of the checkout process will remain the same for the time being (with the minor change that trainees will now be able to schedule their teaching demonstration with any Trainer), there have been many good ideas generated during this discussion process that will help us as we plan future revisions to continue to meet the needs of our community. If you’re interested in learning more about these conversations, read:

Preparing new Instructors is an important job that is shared across our community. There are many ways you can be involved!

Your help is definitely appreciated!

Dialogue & Discussion

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