A new crowd of *Carpentry trainers emerges

We just wrapped a Software and Data Carpentry Instructor Training taught by Greg Wilson and Ariel Rokem, with a guest appearance by Tracy Teal, at UC Davis and it went pretty well! I completed my training last year and have since taught a SWC workshop, and it was interesting to revisit the training materials after having taught a workshop (and organized many others, though not SWC affiliated).

I’m going to start out with my biggest qualm about instructor training and then talk about what I really like about it.

What to improve

Many people don’t know what to expect when entering the room at 9 am on the first day. Some people, like myself during my own training, have not previously been to a Software or Data Carpentry workshop even if they have the knowledge base to teach the material. Other people expect the training to be like a mini bootcamp on SWC materials, although it is clearly stated on the workshop page that “This is training for teaching, not technical training; you do not need any particular technical background, and we will not be teaching that”. Even with the listed schedule, I think spending a few moments on the first day reiterating that the training is focused on pedagogy and mentioning that day one is focused on theory and day two is focused on practice would give learners some grounding. I’m happy to hear opinions on this.

What was good

The instructors are fantastic and, as a result, learners are enthusiastic. It’s really informative to watch Greg use techniques mentioned in SWC recommended reading (here and here) in the classroom. To make himself familiar, Greg introduced himself to people as they arrived Monday morning even though it’s difficult to be “on” on a groggy Monday morning when most people don’t know each other. He also did a great job of dealing with distractions by quickly dismissing them using the minimal amount of attention needed to do so (seems like some techniques for teaching grade school children translate well to adult audiences!).

This workshop isn’t easy to teach. Imagine leading a discussion on common nervous ticks displayed while teaching and knowing that this encourages the class to become hyper-aware of your own uhms and errs! However, there is something powerful about the trust an instructor puts in a class while making himself or herself vulnerable in this way. Greg and Ariel did a great job of embracing this.

Tracy’s overview of Data Carpentry was well received and gave learners a good perspective on the difference between the two organizations.

The instructor training uses multiple methods to collect learners’ opinions and exemplify recommended feedback methods to use during a normal workshop. The two methods we used were Minutes Cards (given two colored sticky notes, write something you liked on the green one and something you didn’t like on the red one), and One Up One Down (go around the room, people alternate in saying something they liked or something they didn’t like while answers are recorded on the board- no repeats!). As you can imagine, these elicit different types of feedback. You can see what people liked and didn’t like here:



According to the Minute Cards, more than a few people had a strongly positive response to our discussion of the Code of Conduct right before lunch on the second day. Also according to the Minute Cards, a debrief after lunch would have been helpful because of the tense nature of the discussion.

What’s new and exciting!

Something new we are tinkering with is Edthena, a potentially new way of facilitating lesson feedback. Once given credentials, people can post 2-5 minute videos of themselves teaching, and others in the same community can leave suggestions and praise as comments on the videos. We had one learner post a video of himself teaching after the first day and he received feedback from Lex Nederbragt (in a very different timezone) overnight which he could review the next day. This is still very new, but I’m excited to see if it pans out as a normal part of instructional review.

The secret best part of the Carpentries (Carpentry Carpentry?)

The best part about being involved in the *Carpentry ecosystem is the supportive community surrounding it. I’ve been lucky enough to interact with quite a few fellow SWC instructors throughout workshops hosted through my job as a Training Coordinator this year and while teaching a workshop at BIDS a few weeks ago. Although it’s difficult to convey this in a two day workshop, the awesomeness of the community was mentioned while wrapping up on the second day. I’m really excited for this new crop of people to become more involved and experience it for themselves.