Supporting Research Software in South Africa and Africa

Posted by a.pawlik on 26 April 2016 - 6:17pm

By Aleksandra Pawlik, Training Leader

Last week the Institute in collaboration with the North West UniversityCape Town University and Talarify helped run the first face-to-face Software and Data Carpentry Instructor Training. 23 new instructors from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya attended the event. After the workshop the Institute's work was also presented at the Association of South African University Directors of Information Technology (ASAUDIT) Autumn General Institutional Meeting. 

The Instructor Training started off on Sunday, 17th April in the evening with a short ice-breaking session of lightning talks during which the participants talked about "The coolest thing about their job" for 2 minutes. The experience in chairing similar sessions during the Institute's Collaborations Workshop turned out to be invaluable!

On Monday we introduced the participants to the Mozilla Science Lab Study Groups. The goal of this session was to create foundations for collaborative, peer-to-peer environments in which researchers can share their knowledge and skills.  After lunch we moved on to the Instructor Training curriculum. All participants were very engaged during the group exercises and were eager to discuss effective approaches to teaching and the practical applications of educational psychology theories. One of the most memorable moments was the conversation we had about the motivation and demotivation in educational setting. Many attendees openly shared their experiences from their school or study years. We also discussed students' approaches to learning and the difficulties faced by the teachers who need to deal with demotivated and discouraged learners.

At the end of the workshop we focused on topics more particular to teaching software and digital data skills through Software and Data Carpentry.  The event was a great success. We had a very diverse audience with 50% female participation. We are now looking forward to expansion on Software and Data Carpentry workshops South Africa and other African countries. 

Thanks to the invitation from Boeta Pretorius, the North West University Chief IT Director, I also had a chance to present the Institute's work at the Association of South African University Directors of Information technology (ASAUDIT) Autumn General Institutional Meeting. The talk on "Five ways to support research software community" was received with a lot of interest. The challenges faced by researchers in terms of software and data seem to bear a lot of similarities internationally. Many solutions and approaches developed and implemented by the Institute seem to translate well to other contexts and countries. It would be interesting to see if any of them would become applicable in South Africa.