The Carpentries: helping your training ideas to grow

Posted by on 17 December 2019 - 6:47am
plant sprout in hand
Photo by Ravi Roshan on Unsplash

Training courses run by The Carpentries have to meet extremely high standards set by the organisation and its members. Developing these courses is a challenge, and something that is best done with input from the whole community.

Two recent initiatives by The Carpentries therefore aim to identify the best of these nascent courses, and help them develop into fully usable resources.

The first of these initiatives is the Lab, which was set up in early 2019 to collect high-quality, community-reviewed courses as they were developed, and make them visible to the community. These courses already follow most of The Carpentries guidelines and templates, showing best practice in developing and designing lessons. The courses are ready to be finalised with help from the community, and potentially moved on to become full The Carpentries products.

Meeting the demanding The Carpentries guidelines can be a real challenge and it is useful to work with other people who have already been through the process, or simply bring new ideas to what is being done, says Institute training lead Aleksandra Nenadic.

“Lessons have to follow the templates, and conform to the code of conduct. They have to teach an open source tool, and then there are format rules too: they have to be able to be taught in an hour and a half, in three hours, or in six hours. And then there are curriculum development guidelines laid out in The Carpentries curriculum development handbook that’s been developed over the past year. It’s a lot of work,” Nenadic says.

The second initiative, the Incubator, was developed later in the year when it became clear there was a place for an intermediate step for less-finished products. Many courses were half developed, or even just ideas, and there was a need for somewhere people could discuss what they were doing and find potential partners and help in what they are doing. The Incubator therefore allows developers to post both partly-completed courses, and even just ideas, to find other people who are interested. This also helps to prevent duplication of effort in designing similar lessons, if someone has already started work on something that others are interested in.

The Institute has been involved in much of the work on these new developments, Nenadic says.

“We made a big push to support the community in developing new materials, hosted workshops to teach curriculum development and built people’s skills in that, based on The Carpentries curriculum development handbook,” she says.

Catherine Smith is Research Fellow and Technical Officer in the Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing at the University of Birmingham, and an Institute Fellow. She has not yet used the Incubator or Lab, “but I learned of them at CarpentryConnect Manchester 2019 and I think they are a great idea. I think that this is a great way of expanding the range of material available and also for instructors to find other people with whom they might be able to collaborate to develop the material further. I think that this could help the curriculum opening up a bit more beyond its traditional home of science and engineering. I’m particularly interested in this since my background is humanities,” she says.

 “I am quite new to The Carpentries community but my experience of the community so far suggests that allowing the material to develop organically like this could work really well,” Smith says.

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