New Zealand Community Holds Its First Carpentries Chat

Community members gather to discuss Carpentries successes and challenges in Dunedin, New Zealand

The Carpentries Community in Dunedin is gaining momentum! To date, 21 people from the Otago region have attended instructor training and several of these people gathered at the University of Otago on 30th August to take part in New Zealand’s first ever ‘Carpentries Chat’. It was a chance for the local instructor group (and friends/ colleagues) to discuss what we had accomplished throughout the year and what is coming up.

Current State

The two-hour meetup started with a “State of the Nation” provided by Megan Guidry, Regional Coordinator for NZ and the Training Coordinator for New Zealand eScience Infrastructure (NeSI). Megan noted that the Otago Carpentries community stands out from other NZ communities in its commitment to grow and improve with time. She explained that the Otago community benefits tremendously from a strategic commitment to training that is championed by two Otago-based Carpentries institutional Members: The University of Otago and Genomics Aotearoa. Simple things like ‘instructor’ being an acknowledged role in several local instructors’ job descriptions invigorates a community that would otherwise rest too heavily on the shoulders of volunteers with full-time jobs - a challenge that is, admittedly, common within The Carpentries. Such an arrangement allows for this community to confidently run workshops and host complementary community events (such as Tidy Tuesday, Hacky Hours, Resbaz, etc…) with maintained enthusiasm and, hopefully, less risk of burnout.

Following Megan’s update, Murray Cadzow, Carpentries instructor and instructor trainer, reported on some University of Otago metrics:

  • 21 people have attended instructor training in the region,
  • around 20 workshops have been run since 2015, and
  • 7 workshops have been run so far this year.

With these updates in mind, the group continued with casual conversations over lunch before reconvening to discuss specific events and training experiences.

Local Community Activities

Many of the instructors run, manage, or take part in study groups and other events around Dunedin. Several people shared how their groups are going and how excited people were to be learning.

Antje Lubcke, from the Research Support Unit at the University of Otago Library, is coordinating a pilot programme of monthly 1.5 hour hands-on ‘Hacky Hours’ for her colleagues in Information Services. Topics covered include tidy data and data organisation in spreadsheets as well as creating research impact reports in R markdown. Feedback for these events so far has been overwhelmingly positive! The ‘show-and-tell’ format gives attendees the feeling of choosing their level of engagement while exposing people to tools and methods they might not otherwise know about.

Next, Ngoni Faya, the training coordinator for Genomics Aotearoa, gave a run down on the workshops (Genomics Data Carpentry) that he has been and continues to coordinate. While Ngoni has run three of these workshops across the country since July, the first Genomics Data Carpentry workshop in NZ happened at the University of Otago. Interestingly, each of these workshops have had complete attendance and a waitlist. This might be because attendees are required to go through a multistep registration process (a side effect of using NeSI platforms instead of AWS) in order to confirm their seat at the workshop. Thus, those that follow through with the full registration process have significant commitment and buy-in before ever stepping into the classroom.

Lastly, Alana Alexander and Hugh Cross shared a run down of the “South Campus group” - Otago Mohio - which has been responsible for a couple of Carpentries-inspired workshops on genotype-by-sequencing and meta-barcoding. The GBS workshop was well attended but instructors found that the learners’ prior knowledge was particularly challenging with it varying quite a bit topic by topic.

Upcoming Community Discussion

Following the debrief of local activities, we turned to a general discussion on the broader successes and struggles of the local instructor community.

The instructors present were particularly grateful to work with local people who are paid to organise and facilitate workshops. Running a workshop takes a lot of planning – from finding a room and dates to advertising. Having a designated workshop organiser lessens the load on instructors, who can then focus on delivering great training. The group suspects that having this role in the Otago region has contributed to the high Carpentries activity on campus.

As more workshops and events occur in Dunedin, individual instructors are inspired to improve their lesson delivery. A common challenge among instructors, for instance, is delivering content outside of their comfort zone (even if they are perfectly qualified to teach it). This means that workshop organisers sometimes struggle to find a combination of instructors that allows for all topics of a given workshop to be delivered with confidence. GitHub, in particular, is a section that does not get very many instructor volunteers. To remedy this, the group were keen to trial an instructor practice club where participants could practice instructing in lessons they are less comfortable with before teaching in a more structured workshop environment. Additionally, attendees thought it would be useful to have refresher sessions of the instructor training material for the on-going development of instructors.

This enthusiasm for cultivating teaching skills has inspired the topic of the next Carpentries Community call, scheduled for October 15 2019, 12:30 - 1:30pm NZST. During this call, we will discuss the instructor training checkout process, support new instructors/ instructor trainees, and reflect on what practices covered at ‘train the trainer’ events stick with participants as well as what practices continue to challenge even experienced instructors. Anyone interested in teaching tips and tricks is encouraged to come along. You can sign up to attend the call by placing your name in this Etherpad: https://pad.carpentries.org/community-discussions

The Carpentries chat meeting ended with a retrospective on what the community wants to do moving forward. Attendees were encouraged to write down on sticky notes what community practices they hoped to stop doing, keep doing, or start doing. The answers that were collected are recorded below:

Start Doing

  • Cover more advanced topics (beyond live-coding)
  • Engaging PIs in the process
  • Follow up sessions
  • Increase diversity of instructors (especially Māori and Pasifika)
  • More initiative around lesson improvement (i.e. local groups of instructors coordinate - maybe)
  • ‘PD’, ongoing refreshers for instructors
  • Centralised list of training happening in NZ
  • Branch into humanities and social sciences more
  • Workshop calendars
  • Screening participants to give a chance to beginners
  • Carpentries for professional staff (Microsoft application, tips and tricks, VBA, bash)
  • Translate lessons in Te Reo and offer them out in the community
  • Instructor training refresher (casual, perhaps once per year?)
  • Active debrief for feedback post event
  • Thinking about how to get into other institutes e.g. Polytechs
  • Start increasing traffic to [Otago study group] slack channel
  • Encourage more questions/ FAQ/ Troubleshooting in certain language problems (errors in bash/ R/ etc…)
  • National website for Carpentries activities (e.g. Github pages and repo)
  • Share non-Carpentries workshop material through national repo
  • Teach more advanced workshops
  • Encouraging more people to come to the study groups – specifically people that attend Carpentries workshops

Keep Doing

  • The awesome inclusive, super helpful environment of workshops
  • Keep encouraging the development of new content
  • Community chats or zoom calls
  • Run face-to-face instructor training
  • Keep running different/ a variety of Carpentries (SWC, DC, etc…)
  • Keep opening teaching opportunities to everyone
  • Sticky notes
  • Trying to carry on with follow ups
  • The 1hr sessions
  • Meetings like this community chat
  • Study groups (supplementary to the Carpentries)
  • Teaching intro Carpentries material (interacting?) nationally

Stop Doing

  • Forgetting to check out rooms before teaching in them (e.g. connections/ what version of R/ etc…)

Overall, Carpentries Chat was a successful get-together of a local Carpentries-based community. Events like this enhance the sense of working towards a common goal: to enhance the process of teaching and learning digital skills for students and staff at the University of Otago.

Dialogue & Discussion