Software and Data Carpentries: Building Campus Capacity

May 23, 2017
Amy E. Hodge
Chris DeBoever and Mary-Ellen Petrich at Carpentries Instructor Training
One thing Stanford Libraries knows about running Software Carpentry and Data Carpentry workshops on Stanford’s campus is that workshop demand is high. Case in point: when we invited post-docs for a Data Carpentry workshop on an upcoming weekend this June, we had 120 people interested in the 40 available seats. 
 
That’s some serious demand. 
 
Software and Data Carpentry are sister organizations focused on teaching computing best practices to scientists. The idea is to make research faster, more efficient, and more reproducible by teaching scientists the basics of version control (usually Git), task automation (using the shell), and modular programming (typically in Python, but sometimes R). The two-day, hands-on workshops are taught by volunteer instructors, but workshop hosts are responsible for other costs, like instructor travel and food.
 
Last week 13 Stanford students, post-doctoral fellows, and Stanford Libraries staff got together to help us better meet our growing demand. How did they do it? They participated in two-days of instructor training focused on pedagogy, or the methods of teaching, something many subject experts who teach in their areas have never learned.
 
"I was somewhat familiar with some of the pedagogical ideas that we discussed during the training,” said instructor trainee Chris DeBoever, "but the workshop and practice sessions helped to cement them further.” Instructor trainee Javier de la Rosa agreed. "Research-based teaching and their approach to pedagogy is definitively going to help me in the long term."
 
By building up our local pool of certified Carpentries instructors, we’ll be able to hold more workshops for less money. Which means we can meet a lot more of the demand. That’s great news for all of you!
 
"The workshop really challenged me to think through what it means to teach computer skills to a novice,” said instructor trainee Claudia Engel.  “It was extremely helpful to see the instructors model the kind of teaching they expect us to do.” 
 
While our trainees had great things to say about the instructors, Erin Becker (Associate Director, Data Carpentry) and Karen Word (UC Davis) had similar feelings about the trainees. "Huge thanks to Stanford for helping to make this an especially rewarding Instructor Training! We were thrilled with this group’s readiness to jump in with fresh thoughts and ideas…” And as proof of their enthusiasm, three people had already completed one of the post-training certification requirements before the training session was even finished!
 
We have biology professor Martha Cyert to thank for this recent training session. Last summer, Professor Cyert was awarded a supplement to an NIH T32 Cell Molecular Biology training grant. This grant funded a year-long partnership with Software/Data Carpentry that included training for 15 new instructors from Stanford. The grant also covered the additional costs for instructor travel and food that allowed us to hold a more engaging in-person training instead of doing it remotely via the web. 

Instructor trainee Mary-Ellen Petrich summed up the experience nicely. “I was really enthusiastic about becoming a Carpentries instructor because it gave me a chance to improve my teaching skills and to meet a great group of people who are also inspired to share what they know about programming and data analysis." 
 
You can read about previous Libraries-sponsored Software and Data Carpentry workshops here, here, and here.