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The Data Carpentry journey to University of Venda, South Africa

Ecology workshop and study group

This post originally appeared on the Data Carpentry website

My name is Ivo Arrey and I am a graduate student at the University of Venda, South Africa. I first encountered a Carpentry-style workshop in 2015 when I was still part of the South African Earth Observation Network and its Graduate Student Network (SAEON-GSN) committee that organised the annual Indibano. Like it has been the culture of previous meetings, we usually set aside a slot for a workshop that teaches a new skill to delegates. I had my first encounter to a new way of automating repetitive tasks using Git and Unix Shell which was a mouth-watering experience and later R for new methods of data analysis to explore. Then came the opportunity to attend the instructor training with Software and Data Carpentry in North-West University, Potchefstroom campus which I immediately knew was the best way to consolidate my hands-on for these new skills which I had begun to grapple with for some time now.

On 15-17 May 2017, we ran a Self-Organised Data Carpentry workshop at the University of Venda, South Africa, the second of its kind in the institution since my becoming a qualified instructor last year. We had delegates from a range of fields including social sciences, ecology, environmental sciences, auditing, natural sciences and hydrology and water resources. Given that this side of the country is under-represented in the Carpentry community, it was the first time for such an involvement for most of the participants.

We started out with an introduction to caveats of data analysis in spreadsheets and then to OpenRefine using a data set from ecology. The response to these lessons were generally good. Most of the participants requested more time to digest the material. The last part of day one was spent on introducing some R. During breaks, many people expressed excitement in using these skills with their research data.

On day two, we started with manipulating and analysing data with dplyr and then later moved to data visualisation with ggplot2. Just like what we experienced in the previous workshop, these two lessons took more time than expected. As a result, we cancelled the lesson on SQL. Like the Carpentries teach in instructor training, it’s more important to be sure learners learn than to cover all the material!

On day three we had planned to provide the opportunity for participants to bring specific problems related to their research data and later introduce the aspect of community building with a Study Group on campus. This led to the birth of the Univen Study Group which had its very first meetup on 9 June, 2017.

Our first Study Group meetup was really exciting as we got to hear from people how they have been exploring the newly learned computing skills. However, the bulk of the discussions were centred on establishing our study group repository on GitHub and making house rules. As such, we had a lesson on version control with Git and GitHub for collaboration. At this time, we have agreed to meet every fortnight to share and learn new ideas on doing reproducible research.

Our journey with the Carpentries has just begun and we are looking to make waves as more members aspire to become qualified instructors in the near future.

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