By Steve Crouch, Software Sustainability Institute, with Karin Lagesen, University of Oslo, and Laurent Gatto, University of Cambridge.
Last month, we held a Software and Data Carpentry Instructor Training workshop at the University of Cambridge, sponsored by the R Consortium. The demand for Carpentry events in the UK, and trained instructors to facilitate them, has always been very high, and I found this to be a very enjoyable event to increase the instructor pool in the UK.
The main organiser of the event was Laurent Gatto, a Software Sustainability Institute Fellow who has delivered numerous Carpentry courses since becoming a certified instructor in 2014. We also had the able helping hands of Paul Judge and Gabriella Rustici from the University of Cambridge Bioinformatics Training facility, who assisted greatly with the event and helped us make great use of the sophisticated presentation systems present in the training room.
The workshop was held on 19th and 20th of September, with myself and Karin Lagesen as instructors. We were delighted with the very high level of engagement from the 25 trainees - this was very much the kind of group we hope to get as instructors! The participants were largely from biological and social sciences, but we also had some from mathematics and physics, and as well as having attendees from Cambridge and across the UK we also had some from as far away as Hungary and the United States.
The high level of interactivity came in handy during the live coding demonstration on the second day, when I introduced a deliberate mistake into my code. The idea is to show the trainees that making mistakes is fine, will happen and gives you a brilliant opportunity as an instructor to show the mental process you go through to diagnose and resolve issues. This is really gold dust to Carpentry learners. Due to misreading my notes, my fix failed to address the problem as I had planned, but with the trainees’ help, we diagnosed the problem and got the code working. I was, perhaps surprisingly, really happy about this hugely ironic twist. It highlighted the point that, even with the staged introduction of a deliberate mistake, real mistakes can and will happen, and encountering a genuine problem such as this really engaged the room in solving it. Of course, this is what you want from an actual Carpentry workshop, so it crucially showed the trainees precisely what to aim for as an instructor when things go unexpectedly—a real bonus!
We got some great feedback over the two days, particularly on the practical exercises and training material, as well as praise for engendering an open and welcoming atmosphere for contribution—a solid foundation for learning. The participants also liked the demonstration videos of poor and good live coding, which really engaged them and fostered some great discussions. As usual, the presentation and live coding breakout exercises were very popular and valuable, although it’s clear we need to devote more time to these activities in the future. Of course, as always, there are also some other things we need to improve, including tweaks to the training and presentation material.
I’d like to give my thanks to Laurent, for organising the workshop, Gabriella and Paul, for helping over the two days, and of course huge thanks to Karin for travelling all the way from Norway to jointly instruct at what turned out to be a very enjoyable and engaging event.