Summary of student check-ins

This post originally appeared on the Software Carpentry website.

Over the last two weeks we've had short one-on-one conversations with the current students about how the course is going for them, and what they've enjoyed and haven't. We've heard from 30 students of the ~48 signed up in the course. For most students, their feedback was about the first three lectures (Version Control, Databases, Spreadsheets) and to some extent the Python lectures.

Here is a summary of the feedback:

Overall comments about the course:

Generally, the feedback was pretty much all positive. Students are enjoying the course so far and see the benefit in learning the material. Some are already using techniques or technologies they've learned (mostly, version control), or are referring back to the course material. Almost everyone that responded liked the short episode screencast format. One student said that they had dropped out of the course because it was hard to decide in advance whether to committ without better idea of the structure/time commitment involved.


The opinion on pacing is generally mixed. Some students are finding the pacing fine, at least one feels we are moving too quickly, and several have found the pace too slow. A few of those that have said the pace was slow also have pointed out that spreadsheets & databases aren't applicable to them or that their interest is more on Python so their opinion might change as the course progresses.

Time allocated for course work:

The most common answer was about 1-2 hours a week spent on the course. Many students (over half) said that they have been busy and haven't had enough time to really work through the course material. A couple of students have said that they didn't intend to spend much time on exercises, but instead will just dip into the course if the material seems applicable to them. Several students mentioned that they find it challenging to do the work at their own pace.

Exercises & Quizes:

Generally students have said the exercises and quizes have been helpful and are good motivators to keep working on the course. Several students mentioned that the quiz was lengthy but not difficult.

Version control:

Most students that gave feedback about the version control lecture said that they were excited by it and thought it would be useful. A reoccurring issue that came up was on how to set up an SVN repository for themselves now that they understood how to use one. They liked the idea that we write up a short HOWTO directed to their sys admins.

Spreadsheets & Databases:

Generally students said they were familiar with spreadsheets and so didn't find the lectures useful. Not many students commented on the database lectures, but those that did either said it was easy or irrelevant to their work. As with SVN, the issue of how to create a database was raised (which we don't cover in our lectures).


Almost everyone seems excited about starting Python, but at the time of our check-ins not many people had gotten into the material. Those that had asked about accessing databases from python, numerical programming (which we are creating a lecture on), and raised the concern that there was a significant jump in difficulty from the spreadsheet lectures to the Python lectures.

Other topics to cover:

We had lots of interest, suggestions and requests for future topics students wanted to see covered in the course. They include:

  • more advanced python programming
  • Web programming (under construction)
  • Programming in Matlab, and integrating with python
  • Working with text (the lecture on regular expressions may helpful)
  • Testing
  • Shell, Make or generally automating scripts
  • Perl
  • Algorithms and parallel processing

Dialogue & Discussion

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