Wrapping Up the Rural Campuses Connection Project Capacity Development Initiative.

A Capacity Development Project Inspired by The Carpentries.

The Rural Campuses Connection Project (RCCP) ran since 2010 in South Africa with the aim of bringing better internet connectivity to various rural campuses of publicly funded universities and research institutions. In the earliest phase the project included funding for physical infrastructure as well as design and implementation of networks. During RCCP phase 2 (RCCPII) a portion of funding was set aside for capacity development around internet connectivity. RCCP was funded through the South African Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), managed by Universities South Africa (USAf), and implemented by the Tertiary Research and Education Network (TENET).

In this post we describe the capacity development initiative that ran from January 2018 to March 2019 under RCCPII.

As many people in The Carpentries community may know very well, 15 months is an extremely short time frame to design and implement a full-scale national capacity development programme with ambitious goals including the establishment of communities of practice. In order to have the broadest possible reach with the biggest chance of achieving some form of sustainability after the grant ended (at the end of March 2019), the project team decided to build on existing initiatives where possible rather than to start from scratch.

Participants and instructors of CarpentryConnect JHB 2018 Participants of the CarpentryConnect JHB 2018 event.

Project Design

In January 2018 the project’s Theory of Change Model was developed to help us consider specific interventions that would lead to achieving our short term and (hopefully) longer term goals. Since the project didn’t have a dedicated web presence at the time, we developed a website where information about the project could be shared.

The aim was to provide capacity development opportunities for the following categories of people: IT staff (specifically those involved in providing internet access at universities); Teaching and Learning, as well as Research Support staff (including the broader IT staff complement, libraries, research offices, university administrators, teaching and learning professionals, etc.); and Internet users (in this context referring to the people at universities who drive internet usage including students, researchers, and lecturers).

Activities

In order to make the programme as accessible as possible to a broad audience, we offered a variety of online (21) as well as in-person events (25). In-person events were run in all nine provinces in South Africa. Below is a list of activity categories that were run under RCCPII along with information about the reach.

Activity TypeNumber of ActivitiesNumber of SA Public Universities Reached*Number of Participants
Blended Learning SIG21663
Digital & Computational (Carpentries) Workshops14**25558
Community Building4996
eConversations714133
Identity Management & Federation11531
Network Design11125
Train the Trainer (Carpentries)31998
Trainer Mentoring1413176

* Note: There are 26 public universities in South Africa. Many more organisations were reached, but since DHET is most interested in public universities, we specifically highlight this. For more information about all organisations reached please see our R Shiny App or data set.

** Note: Two events comprised of more than one workshop running in parallel, so the total number of individual Data, Software and Library Carpentry workshops was 17

Instructors, Presenters, and Helpers

During the 15 months, 79 instructors, presenters, and helpers joined us from 36 organisations across the globe to impart their expertise either in person or via video conferencing. Our instructors and presenters came from 14 countries including South Africa, the United States of America, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, Mexico, Canada, Estonia, Ethiopia, Gambia, Namibia, Uganda, and Zambia.

We specifically want to thank the following Carpentries volunteers who joined us in person. You have made this initiative possible. We hope you enjoy reading about the impact you have had on the South African Higher Education and Research environment!

Abisola SholeyeAfrah KhairallahAllegra ViaAlphonce Bere
Andiswa BukulaAndrew CollierAndries van der WaltAngelique van Rensburg
Ann TreasureAyansina AyangbenroBenjamin EnagbonmaBianca Peterson
Bukola Rhoda AremuCaroline F AjilogbaCaroll HermannDanielle Quinn
Erin BeckerGabriel SalubiGaonyalelwe MaribeGlenn Moncrieff
Hendrik PieterseIsak van der WaltJessica UpaniJuan Steyn
Katrin TirokKayleigh LinoKazeem AlayandeKemi Megbowon
Kirchner van DeventerKudakwashe MadzimaLactatia MotsukuMalvika Sharan
Martin DreyerMojalefa MalahlelaMotlagomang KhantsiNikki Gentle
Phumudzo MuvhangoRooweither MabuyaRorisang MmushiSamar Elsheikh
San JamesSarah BrownSaymore ChifambaSenzo Mpungose
Shun PillaySinkala MusalulaTadiwanashe GutsaThobani Njapa
Zak van HeerdenZine Sapula  

Participants

We reached 775 unique individuals (including instructors, helpers and presenters) with several of them participating in more than one activity. The total reach over all activities was 1,180 participants.

The audience represented a huge diversity in terms of:

  • discipline/department (also support vs research/teaching);
  • career stage or current job role;
  • affiliation - including industry (often startups), non-profits, and mostly academia;

The plot below (downloaded from the RCCPII Shiny App) shows the diversity in participants’ disciplines as well as their job role at the time of the activity.

Participant distribution into discipline and job role

For more information about the reach and impact of this initiative, please visit this page.

Data

The data for the project has been published under open licenses in Figshare at https://figshare.com/articles/RCCPII_Data/7928480. We look forward to delving deeper into the story and impact of RCCPII. There are still many untold stories including for example, how people migrated through the project from learners, to helpers, to instructors.

Twitter data for the hashtag #RCCPII was also obtained from Tweet Binder and is available in Figshare under open licenses. There aren’t too many, which is evident from the fact that South African academia is in general not very active on Twitter. We also missed a load of Tweets that were not tagged with #RCCPII.

The data can also be visualised online via the R Shiny app that was developed by Katrin Tirok. Please visit this page to visualise the data or see the source code for the app.

Carpentries Influence

It is clear that many of the outcomes would not have been achieved, had it not been for everything we’ve learned through The Carpentries over the past years. Some examples include:

  • Building websites in Github Pages
  • Using Github to keep track of things (workshop websites, etc)
  • Using Python, R, and OpenRefine for data analysis, cleaning, and visualisation
  • Using etherpads to promote communication and record keeping during meetings
  • Formatting data properly from the start to minimise time and pain in terms of data cleaning and analysis
  • Collecting sufficient data from the start to be able to answer relevant questions later
  • Publishing data on open platforms for re-use and transparency
  • Tweeting about activities (as means of keeping record and creating awareness)
  • Using Twitter to get help
  • The power of online meetings
  • Code of conduct
  • Creating positive learning environments
  • And much, much more

Acknowledgements

We thank the DHET for providing the funding for RCCPII.

Huge thanks to everyone who contributed to the project in a multitude of ways.

And massive thanks also goes specifically to all of you, The Carpentries community, for providing mentorship, ideas, training, resources, and much more over the past few years, upon which we could build to deliver this project.

Dialogue & Discussion