Official Guidelines (V1) for Taking Your Carpentries Workshop Online

The Carpentries convened a COVID-19 Response Task Force in mid-March, and a first version of their work is summarised in this post.

On March 17, The Carpentries convened a Task Force to address the urgent demand for remote Carpentries workshops as communities have shifted to distance work across the globe. The Task Force concluded on April 1, with an initial set of guidelines for teaching, supporting, and communicating about fully remote versions of all Data Carpentry, Library Carpentry, and Software Carpentry workshops.

Task force members:

  • Angelique Van Rensburg (Task Force Lead)
  • SherAaron Hurt (Workshop Administration Team Lead)
  • Serah Njambi Rono (Community Development Team Lead)
  • Karen Word (Instructor Training Team Lead)
  • Juan Steyn (Executive Council Liaison)
  • Elizabeth Wickes (Secondary Executive Council Liaison)

The guidelines for teaching these pilot-phase workshops now have a home on The Carpentries website. We expect to update these guidelines regularly, and will announce major changes to the community. We also plan to host themed Discussion sessions and, ultimately, to offer short training opportunities for current Instructors who wish to advance their teaching skills online. We do not yet know whether online instruction will become a permanent addition to The Carpentries’ supported workshop offerings – this will be evaluated in view of the feedback we receive once in-person workshops become possible again.

If you’ve been following The Carpentries for a while, you may have observed that online workshops have not only been absent from our recommendations; they have been actively discouraged. This is because a number of Carpentries teaching practices do not naturally transfer to a video conferencing platform. Among the challenges:

  • A video conferencing window occupies space on a learner’s computer. Add a coding window and a collaborative document on a small laptop screen, and you’ve got a challenge unto itself – never mind the coding.
  • Learners’ faces are hidden, especially during screen sharing, which makes it much harder for the instructional team to “read the room.”
  • No sticky notes! And hands can be confusing.
  • Side conversations present a challenge. In a video conference it’s not possible to talk quietly in the back while instruction continues. Conversations between helpers and learners as well as those within the instructional team need to be routed elsewhere.
  • Helpers can’t “drive.” As much as we recommend against typing on a learner’s machine, this is sometimes necessary for complex problems. Remote control of learner machines is not straightforward.
  • Socialization doesn’t ‘just happen’. Learners can’t chat with a neighbor or hang around the snack table during a break.

These problems and others are addressed – to the best of our ability – in the new recommendations.

In designing these guidelines, we were grateful to be able to draw upon the efforts and advice of community members who have already been active in addressing this. In this process, it became clear that the options for online training extend well beyond the boundaries of a fully synchronous 2-day workshop. Ultimately, these recommendations may expand to embrace more divergent options. At this time, however, they are aimed at the closest possible match to in-person Carpentries workshops, because this is the most efficient transition model for our global community of 1200+ active Instructors using our established workshop curricula.

It is worth noting that, in spite of this effort at a minimalist transition, we expect that the initial wave of pilot events will be challenging to teach. While we know that new Instructors will be keen to get involved, we strongly recommend that inital online workshops be taught by experienced Instructors, with newer trainees engaged in Helper roles or short instructional sessions. In addition, we emphasize that detailed advance preparation on the part of the entire instructional team is vital to the success of these workshops.

As we look to iterate on this model, we will be soliciting feedback from all corners of The Carpentries community. The transition to online workshops will reverberate across our many subcommunities, potentially affecting not only Instructors and learners but also curriculum Maintainers, Member sites, Regional Coordinators, and more. Your thoughts and experiences are valuable in steering our future course! Feedback can be shared through Community Discussion meetings, and we will also soon have surveys as well as a discussion platform for conversations on this topic.

Looking for the tl;dr? Maybe consider waiting on your first online Carpentries workshop if you aren’t ready to give these recommendations a good read. :) We want your first experience with this new frontier for The Carpentries community to be a positive one for you and your instructional team! We are with you, for you, and all about helping you to prepare. Please reach out with questions! We look forward to learning from your success.

Dialogue & Discussion