Vision and Plans for Curriculum Development with The Carpentries

The Carpentries has seen a growing interest in individuals, research groups, and institutions wanting to develop lessons for their own domain of research. We are very excited by the potential brought by this growth. Diversifying our lesson offerings means we can extend our reach to new communities, and further disseminate our practices of teaching and collaborative lesson development. We also want to ensure that the lessons we offer remain as the high quality level as our members, Instructors, and learners expect. Here, we outline our vision and plans to support this growth in curricula while sustaining existing lessons and our organization. Between now and early 2019, we will be focusing on establishing the infrastructure needed to support lesson development and scaling up our lesson offerings. Starting in January 2019, we’ll have new pathways to onboard lessons.

The Curriculum Development book and training

Software Carpentry and Data Carpentry lessons are designed around a few core principles informed by evidence-based research on teaching and learning. We take an applied approach, avoiding the theoretical and general in favor of the practical and specific. By showing learners how to solve specific problems with specific tools and by providing hands-on practice, we develop learners’ confidence and lay the foundation for their future learning. Our curricula are collaboratively developed and need to be written and organized in such a way that Instructors not involved in their development can teach them.

Developing curriculum is a craft. Lessons that have recently been added to The Carpentries workshop offerings have been guided through the process by staff. We strive to ensure that lesson content matches the skill level of the intended audience and that the lessons can be taught by any Instructor. As we expand our curricula to new domains, we want to empower lesson developers and maintainers by:

  • Articulating and clarifying the elements that constitute a Carpentries lesson;
  • Identifying the skills that need to be included in the lessons;
  • Providing guidelines on how to choose relevant datasets; and
  • Advising on best practices for lesson design.

To this end, we are writing a Handbook on Curriculum Development geared towards assembling lessons for The Carpentries.

We are also planning to develop a Curriculum Development workshop that will teach participants fundamentals of curriculum development and how to design and write Carpentries-style lessons. This training will equip our community with the skills needed to write lessons that can be used in Carpentries workshops or in other contexts. We expect to release the handbook in early 2019, and we will pilot our curriculum development training in March 2019.

New lesson template and tools

We are working on developing new tools and templates for teaching materials across all lessons. The Carpentries recently received a grant from the R Consortium Infrastructure Committee complementing the existing Sloan Foundation grant to support this development. Planning and prototyping have started, and the lesson infrastructure committee will provide updates and opportunities for feedback over the coming months.

New Pathways for lesson contributions with The Carpentries

To support community-led efforts in developing lessons for other types of data or to extend existing lessons to new domains, The Carpentries plans to offer a venue to develop lessons. Initially this will be a repository for community development of lessons (, with the vision of moving to a format where we will provide an editorial role, and our community of Instructors will provide open peer-review of lessons, much as rOpenSci does for R packages.

We know that discoverability of high quality lessons is one of the challenges for instructors looking to use materials in short-format workshops or semester-long courses. The FAIR principles (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable) are just as important for lessons as they are for data. This lesson development framework will allow the community to take advantage of the resources and tools developed by The Carpentries. While some lessons might become formal parts of Carpentries workshops, others may be on topics or domains too specific to be offered as an officially supported curriculum. To aid in discoverability and to support credit for lesson development, we are planning to partner with the Journal of Open Science Education to provide a venue for authors of these lessons to be credited with an official publication for their efforts.

Lessons developed with this model are aimed to last two to four hours. This format will allow them to be included as short modules of our official workshops. More importantly, we envision that they will be a vital element of local Carpentries communities. Not only can these lessons be taught at local community meetups, but we also envision that local Carpentries communities will collaborate on developing these lessons during the authoring phase, pilot them, provide feedback, and engage in collaborative peer review to improve them. These activities are opportunities for Instructors to get a chance to practise their teaching skills and gain experience in lesson design.

Many research groups want to develop curriculum in collaboration with The Carpentries. These groups want to support our organization and our community, as well as benefit from the global reach of The Carpentries and the community contributions that improve lesson materials. We would like to welcome these initiatives with more formal levels of support, which will allow us to provide mentoring and assistance during the development of these curricula, as well as the onboarding of Instructors and Maintainers. We will start incorporating these options in our membership plans in early 2019.

We will be introducing these pathways progressively, and we will provide regular updates on their deployments through our blog and our newsletter. We expect to be able to accept lessons for community peer review in early 2019. If you are interested in being an early adopter and want to include us in grant proposals to develop lessons in partnership with The Carpentries, please get in touch with François.

These additions and changes to our Curriculum structure will provide additional venues for our community to engage, contribute to lessons, and have a significant impact in how learners are introduced to foundational data and computing skills all over the world. We are excited for more of the collaborative and open curriculum development that is core to The Carpentries!


Dialogue & Discussion