Highlights from the recent Instructor Training in South Africa

New instructors from the East Coast of South Africa join The Carpentries community

The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in Durban, South Africa, hosted its first Carpentries instructor training from 18th to 20th of March 2019. This training was conducted by us - Katrin Tirok (Durban), Samar Elsheikh (University of Cape Town), and Saymore Chifamba (Siyavula, Cape Town), the three brand new trainers in South Africa, and Malvika Sharan (EMBL) from Germany.

Katrin organised this training in association with the Research Flagship in Big Data and Informatics at UKZN and the RCCPII Capacity Development Initiative managed by Talarify. Co-funding the training allowed us to invite participants from different institutions to enhance the networking of future instructors and convey the idea of a larger community right at the training. Our participants came from the University of Fort Hare, University of Zululand, Rhodes University, Mangosuthu University of Technology, TENET as well as from UKZN. They represented postgraduate students, lecturers, professors and support staff coming from the computer, environmental, health, information and library, life, and social sciences.

Carpentries instructor training in South Africa had previously taken place in the Western Cape, Gauteng, and North West. Although these events were open to everyone, Carpentries workshops are still rare at institutions on the East Coast of South Africa. With over 30 new instructors trained from the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, we hope to influence a larger community in South African institutions with computational skill workshops. We had many fruitful discussions about The Carpentries and how we can improve data and computing literacy at our universities. In this post, we share some of the highlights of this training.

Highlights of instructor training in Durban, March 2019 Highlights of instructor training in Durban, South Africa, March 2019


  • We ran a networking event on the first evening of the training to give our future instructors the opportunity to get to know each other and to meet with interested researchers at UKZN. Our host, Prof. Francesco Petruccione (Pro Vice-Chancellor - Big Data and Informatics at UKZN), introduced his vision of Python as a language of instruction next to English and Zulu at UKZN. He motivates and encourages others at UKZN to build a community and hold workshops in all schools and colleges across the campuses.

  • The group vibe was incredible throughout the training. Participants from the different institutions and disciplines actively engaged in classroom discussions. An efficient icebreaker (see below) and the networking event, complemented with frequent breaks and delicious local refreshments facilitated more conversations beyond the classroom.

  • We extended our training by an extra half day, where we introduced the different Carpentries curricula and types of courses that our attendees could organise in their workplace. One of the most enjoyable sessions on this day was the workshop planning session, where we grouped the participants as per their affiliation (i.e. institution). The participants were then asked to discuss the logistics and different stages of planning involved in organising a workshop. Our participants thoroughly enjoyed this part and enthusiastically presented their plan to the entire classroom.


  • We noticed that some examples in the course materials are not relatable for non-American and non-European participants. It was evident that the materials need to be adapted in order to facilitate a better learning opportunity for participants in different countries and cultures.

  • The no-show rate was relatively high, 10 participants did not show up and one person joined without registering for the training. Although all attendees had agreed to join all sessions in the registration form, some local participants skipped sessions because of teaching/work obligations, whereas external participants were present throughout. Having a training ‘away from home’ can be beneficial for attendance, but would require more funding.

  • Identifying funding resources for Self-Organised workshops was raised as a major issue. Participants could benefit from gathering ideas and seeking alternatives. We can invite suggestions from the community members regarding what kind of budget is required for organising training events in different locations (e.g. country, city, class size, etc.) and how one can manage it.

Going forward

  1. Things we would keep the same as they were great:
    • Icebreaker: We used this opportunity to get to know our attendees in three words, while they got the first taste of expressing their views in the class. By asking the question “Something that you are proud to have done in the last week.”, we also got a sneak peek into their individual interests.
    • Longer group activities: The course participants had several opportunities to work with each other and practice topics such as concept maps, workshop planning, and recording sessions for teaching and coding.
    • Warm up sessions: After the lunch breaks, we allowed participants to think about the relevance of the topics that were scheduled to be taught next. We asked a few questions such as “Think about the challenges that you can face while teaching? What skills can you use to address the difference of expertise in your classroom? Why do we need the Code of Conduct?”. These questions prepare people to think about practical applications of the learned concepts such as the importance of asking for feedback, setting code of conduct, taking care of accessibility and be more receptive to challenges that others might face.
    • Multiple trainers: As we suggest our new instructors that they should never teach alone, this idea is equally important when we facilitate instructors‘ training. Specifically, in our training, a mix of background, expertise, and style of teaching allowed collaborative teaching by facilitating open discussions with the class and individual interactions during different practical sessions.
  2. Things we would like to change for the next time:
    • Examples to be used in the classroom should match the possible experiences that your participants can relate to. For example, the memory exercise should be done by using a list of words in the language that participants are more comfortable with, create a slideshow for the words rather than taking the online test (to avoid dependency on the internet), and country-specific examples should be adopted by trainers to fit the country they are teaching in.
    • Some sessions took longer than expected, in particular, those involving practicing teaching and discussions. Some participants had not prepared a teaching sample or experienced technical difficulties. Better communication through emails before the training can help to avoid some of these problems. It is usually more difficult to break up group discussions in an in-person training. This gives us an opportunity to develop and add strategies to the trainer material to allow time management in future courses.
  3. Things our learners can do:
    • They can use their current motivation to make sure that they complete their check-out and get certified to lead future events.
    • They can collect information about the resources they need for organising workshops in their institutes and reach out for local support.
    • They can partake in the community and identify individuals whom they can reach out to for personal advice and guidance.
    • They can contribute to a branch of training material specifically adapted for African/South African instructor’s training.
    • At this in-person training our participants got to hang-out with each other and directly connect with the local community members. We hope that this will allow them to collaborate more in the future.

Feedback summary:

Feedback from participants was collected before lunch and at the end of each day. The participants enjoyed many aspects of the training: the amount of new knowledge they received in those few days, the interactive learning environment, clear communication and explanation of the concept as well as the quality of the materials, examples, and activities. Meanwhile, few participants commented on the pace and time management, as some sessions took longer than expected, while others were relatively short. Another problem pointed by participants was unexpected technical issues (internet problem and temporary load-shedding), hence they appreciated the increased use of sticky notes instead of online collaborative notes. Overall, both the trainers and the participants enjoyed the process of exchanging pedagogical knowledge and left the training with ideas and motivation.

Dialogue & Discussion

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