Software Carpentry Instructor Training 2014

28-30 April 2014, Toronto, Canada

By Phil Fowler, SSI Fellow and Postdoctoral researcher, Department of Biochemistry, University of Oxford 

Highlights:

  1. Meeting the other people training to become Software Carpentry Instructors
  2. Realising you don't have to be an expert coder to teach Software Carpentry (SWC); in fact it is better if you aren't
  3. Putting together a 10 min lesson on a subject of your choice and then being videoed delivering the material (note that watching the video is not a highlight)
  4. Learning some new approaches that could be applied in my regular teaching, not just SWC.

Event report:

The end of April saw the first real (as opposed to virtual) training event for potential Software Carpentry (SWC) instructors. It was held at the Mozilla offices in downtown Toronto and led by Greg Wilson and Warren Code and lasted three days. Previously this has been held as an online course over 12-14 weeks. Although on the over side of the pond, there was a good sprinkling of folk from the UK, including Aleksandra Pawlik from the SSI, Robert Davey from TGAC in Norwich and Gerad Gorman from Imperial, to name but three. As you might imagine, the workshop was itself a little bit like a Software Carpentry workshop - about forty people were all sat around tables with laptops roughly facing a screen making heavy use of (and occasionally breaking) an Etherpad.

The course felt a little backwards to me: we started on day 1 with some educational theory and finished on day 3 discussing practical things to watch out for when arranging a course (make sure the course room is near some un-locked washrooms). Inevitably, as it was the first such workshop, we strayed away from the agenda and probably didn't finish everything. On the second day we had a guest speaker on inverted classrooms, Jennifer Campbell from Computer Sciences at the University of Toronto. I'd heard of the idea before, but not heard a talk describing the difficulties in implementing it. The heart of the workshop was when we separated into small teams of three people. Each person had to design and deliver a short 10 minute lesson on a topic of their choice (relevant to SWC). We were videoed whilst delivering the lesson by another member of the team with the remaining person acting as student. This was repeated twice in different groups and helped pulled together much of the theory that we had discussed in the previous days. As ever the workshop was fuelled with coffee, although as this was Canada it came from Tim Horton's, not Starbucks. Oh, and we got stickers.

I haven't done the 12 week online instructor training course, but I did learn Software Carpentry when it was taught through 12 week online courses, rather than the two day bootcamps, so whilst I cannot exactly compare the two options, I do have an idea of what these long, remote courses are like. In short, if you want to be an instructor and you can attend an actual training course (rather than the online one), I'd definitely recommend the former!