Data Carpentry: Building Community Teaching Universal Data Literacy

A Look Back and A Look Ahead from the Data Carpentry Steering Committee

This post originally appeared on the Data Carpentry website

On May 8-9, 2014 Data Carpentry hosted its first workshop at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent). That workshop came out of an identified unmet need for the skills and perspectives to work effectively and reproducibly with data, as data became more pervasive in many areas of research. The biggest difference from other trainings, including Software Carpentry, was not so much what we taught (specific tools), but how we taught it – with a focus on data management and analysis rather than writing software. In all our workshops, we use real publicly available data and the workshop is a narrative, going from start (data and project organization) to finish (analysis and visualization) through the course of the workshop, providing an onramp to using data skills in friendly, accessible workshops. The goal is to teach skills, and even more importantly, to show people what’s possible, and that they can do it, so people have the confidence and enthusiasm to go on to learn more and use these skills in their own research.

That original goal turned into our vision: Building Community Teaching Universal Data Literacy

As Data Carpentry finishes 2017 and merges its governance with Software Carpentry to become The Carpentries, the reasons people came to that first workshop, and why we teach it, still remain. As we look back now at some of the reasons people came to that first workshop, we still see them echoed by researchers around the world:

  • I’m tired of feeling out of my depth on computation and want to increase my confidence.
  • I usually manage data in spreadsheets and it’s frustrating and I want to do it better.
  • I want to teach a reproducible research class.
  • I want to use public data.
  • I work with faculty at undergraduate institutions and want to teach data practices, but I need to learn it myself first.
  • I’m interested in going in to industry and companies are asking for data analysis experience.
  • I’m trying to reboot my lab’s workflow to manage data and analysis in a more sustainable way.
  • I’m re-entering data over and over again by hand and know there’s a better way.

Now at the end of 2017, and with the support of funding from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, there have been 193 workshops on 6 continents, new curriculum in genomics, developing curriculum in geospatial data and social sciences and reproducible research, numerous talks and presentations, development of an assessment program and 561 badged Data Carpentry instructors. We have partnered with Software Carpentry to develop an instructor training program with now 111 instructor training events and 44 instructor trainers, worked with the community to update our Code of Conduct and mentorship, updated operations and workshop coordination and started a Membership program. We now have 54 Data and Software Carpentry Member organizations, helping to build local capacity for data and computational training.

Every year the Data Carpentry Steering Committee and Executive Director set a strategic plan and goals for the year ahead. For 2017, we made motions to commit to conversations about the merging with Software Carpentry, finalize lessons in ecology, genomics and geospatial data, increase the number of Member organizations and workshops to build sustainability and reach more communities, plan a CarpentryCon in 2018 and build infrastructure for lesson development. We met most of those objectives, with CarpentryCon planned for Dublin, lesson releases for ecology and genomics and planning for geospatial, an increase in memberships and workshops and the initial development of lesson infrastructure (more on that coming soon!). Importantly, for workshops, we continue to meet those goals of building skills and increasing confidence in using them. In post-workshop responses

  • 41.4% of people said they gained some practical knowledge and 58.0% said they gained a great deal of practical knowledge.
  • 67.7% of people agreed that they can immediately apply what they learned at the workshop.
  • 84.7% of people agreed that they would recommend this workshop to a friend or colleague.
  • 49.3% of people reported their data management and analysis skills were somewhat higher post-workshop, while 43% reported their skills were higher or much higher.

What has made Data Carpentry possible and continue to grow has been the amazing support, work and enthusiasm of the community. Software Carpentry welcomed Data Carpentry into the community to expand the kinds of offerings available; instructors stepped up and started to teach Data Carpentry workshops; there have been hundreds of contributions to lessons, from the original Ecology ones to new curriculum; and so many have advocated for hosting workshops or supporting Data Carpentry in many ways.

post-workshop survey word cloud

As you can see in the word cloud of open-ended workshop survey responses (above), what stands out, is “instructors”. They are the strength of this organization. In that vision of building community teaching universal data literacy they are building community with each other, with learners in workshops and in the way that they work and interact with others every day. They are working to make data skills more accessible to all and empowering others to do work that has the potential to change science, scholarship and society. As a Steering Committee and Executive Director, we are truly grateful that so many have wanted to help create and be a part of this journey.

We’re excited for this journey to continue with a merger of Software and Data Carpentry into The Carpentries. The Carpentries will provide more effective operations, support more communities and curriculum, provide the quality training and capacity building that matches a diversity of needs, and bring more people to the growing world of data and computation.

In the transition to The Carpentries, there will continue to be oversight of the Data Carpentry curriculum by a Data Carpentry Advisory Committee, which is still being formed, and members of the current Steering Committee (Karen Cranston and Ethan White) will join the governance of The Carpentries in the Executive Council. Karthik Ram, Aleksandra Pawlik, and Hilmar Lapp will step down from Data Carpentry governance. Tracy Teal, the Data Carpentry Executive Director, will be the Executive Director of The Carpentries. Through this transition in roles, we’re continuing the ethos of that first workshop, developing a shared approach to training people in the computational skills to do their work and building an empowered community that continues learning.

We can’t thank you enough for the support of Data Carpentry over these past few years. We have been fortunate every day to work with this community and look forward to going even further together.

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