Jumping in the deep end

This past week my colleague Greg Wilson kicked off another round of Software Carpentry’s online instructor training (the 10th cohort, I believe). Software Carpentry is the leading educational program of the Mozilla Science Lab (which I head up), and a core piece of the puzzle in changing the way researchers do science on the web.

In the past year, over 3,600 researchers, librarians and other members of the scientific community have participated in a bootcamp, learning how to use the shell, introductory git and version control, some data analysis and testing. The training is designed to help serve as a jumping off point for researchers to help them introduce efficiency into their work (and with any luck, lead them to doing more open and collaborative research). We also are fortunate to have over 130 volunteer instructors coming from a wide variety of backgrounds, and a series of online (and soon-to-be in person) trainings to help further increase that number. And we have big plans for the program moving forward, exploring ways to move from short two-three day trainings to longer term engagement and learning.

I’ve long been a supporter of the program – even before joining Mozilla to lead the Science Lab, and have even participated in a bootcamp as a learner myself.

This week, I took another leap and attended the first session of Greg’s online training (notes from that class can be found here), and started reading “How Learning Works” – the assigned course reading material. The training runs over the course of 12 weeks, with the class meeting every two weeks to discuss homework and the readings. Greg has crafted the course to focus heavily on teaching others how to teach rather than how to teach specific components of the bootcamp material (such as python or SQL). It’s rooted in educational psychology, looking at how students learn, and how to craft effective material to maximise learning and impact.

What am I hoping to achieve? Well, there are a few desired outcomes on my end, outside of practicing what we preach and learning more about the inner workings of part of the program. First off, I’m eager to get a better understanding of the process of graduating from a learner to an instructor (and outside of the instructor training, I have a lot of technical proficiency to build 🙂 ), and experience Greg’s training for myself. Also, as someone who’s worked close to code but not often been the one programming myself, this exercise – with the end goal of being able to eventually help out with bootcamps – will give me a reason to embed these practices in my day to day. It also gives me a way to keep learning and engage with our outstanding instructor base in a new way (more on that later, and many thanks to those who’ve reached out to help so far). And beyond that, it gives me a better idea of where we need to focus out attention following a bootcamp to provide pathways for others to gain confidence and fluency in the skills taught, continue learning, and eventually one day, be able to give back and teach.

So, what’s next?

I posed to the instructor list a call for tips, tutorials and recommendations, so that in parallel to Greg’s training, I can also actively work to get up to speed with the bootcamp materials. I’ll post some of those recommendations in a subsequent post, and please keep those recommendations coming. Over the course of the next few months, I’ll be working to break away from some of my cheat sheets and gain more confidence in my technical skills, particularly around bash, git, python and SQL.

I’ll be blogging about the process, as well – as I’m sure I’m not the only dabbler interested in brushing up their skills so they can help with the program.

And with that, I have some homework to see to.



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