Learning to Teach Never Ends

This post originally appeared on the Software Carpentry website.

A month ago I took part in the first face-to-face Software Carpentry Instructors Training run by Greg Wilson from Software Carpentry and Warren Code from University of British Columbia. Unlike most of 40 participants, I had already completed the instructors course which Greg regularly runs online. My primary aim to attend the face-to-face training was to observe and learn how to run it because the plan is that the Software Sustainability Institute (which I work for) will support running such training in the future. So I attended the training in Toronto as a certified instructor and also as a Software Carpentry co-admin in the UK. Wearing different hats allowed me to look at the event from different perspectives and this is probably why it took me so long to write this post.

Others were much quicker:

Here is what I gained from the training.

Learning how to teach never ends

As said I completed the second round of online instructors training in 2013. But over the course of 3 days at the Mozilla office where the training was hosted I learnt yet a number of things that help me reflect on my teaching:

  • I very much enjoyed the University of Toronto's Jennifer Campbell's presentation on flipped classroom and the discussion that followed it.
  • I finally have enough concrete examples and arguments to try to convince people that simply posting materials and videos online isn't going to solve the educational problems of this world. And it won't, on its own, address the issue of unequal access to education. But it can be very helpful when used wisely.
  • Backward lesson design isn't the easiest thing to apply in practice when I'm trying to develop material (almost) from scratch. But this approach helps me a lot when I find myself in a mess of trying to teach everything at once not being able to priotirize and decide on the lesson layout and contents.
  • We used concept maps during the online training and since then I had a bit of ambivalent feelings about them. They were fun to create but pretty much useless when I looked at them a few days, let alone weeks, afterwards. I also struggled with interpreting the maps that others created. But it was at the instructors training in Toronto that I learnt that the maps are mainly useful to facilitate the thinking process rather than be a reference material.

"Impostor syndrome stays with you forever"

That's what Greg said and at first it got me really depressed. But then actually, it made me feel more comfortable with myself. It means that the fact that at every bootcamp I feel like "I don't have the qualification to teach this" is just a natural symptom of the impostor syndrome. There are a number of ways to deal with it. But I realized that the more I feel like an imposter, the more motivated I am to improve my knowledge and skills.

"Those who can't do it go into teaching" is a lie

I've heard that statement a number of times - not at the training in Toronto, no. Sometimes it was said just as a joke. Sometimes, with a bit of a cringy smile, it was said by Those Who Can Actually Do It - genius programmers and scientists. So yeah, maybe I can't do it and so I teach. But the people I met at the training in Toronto, they can definitely do it! They want to teach to pass on the useful skills to others and not because they are incapable of working with software and science. That sweeping statement is simply not true.

We need to work on Software Carpentry administration

Together with Giacomo Peru of SSI, I co-administer Software Carpentry bootcamps in the UK. Having the experience of being an instructor and an administrator allows me to move around the Software Carpentry infrastructure pretty smoothly. But at the last session on Day 3 in Toronto when we discussed the practicalities of running a bootcamp, it was clear that even with the comprehensive operations guides, the instructors may get lost. And indeed, as it was discussed during the recent lab call, the work on improving the bootcamp management process are soon to start.

Software Carpentry folks are a great bunch :-)

That is something I already knew before I went to Toronto. I have taught at over 12 bootcamps and writing this blog post made me realized that I always worked with different instructors! I've never taught with the same people twice. The same applies to the helpers. And, apart from instructing twice at the University of Manchester where I work, I went to different venues in the US and Europe and met a number of different hosts. Software Carpentry people are fun, inspirational, impressive and very friendly. I'm really lucky to have an opportunity to hang out with them. As an co-admin in the UK, I get to work with even larger pool of Software Carpentry folks - although, most of the interaction happens online. With Software Carpentry growing internationally bringing people together in one place is always going to be a major challenge but it's well worth it. We all had a great time in Toronto!

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