Looking Back and Looking Forward: Scaling Collaborative Curriculum Development

Learn what we have accomplished with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

In February 2018, Data Carpentry was awarded funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to support creation of sustainable infrastructure and scalable processes for curriculum development and maintenance. In May 2020, our funding for this initial scaling effort wrapped up. Here we report on lessons learned, work accomplished through this funding, and where our curriculum development and maintenance sustainability efforts are headed in the next few years.

Our primary deliverables for this grant were:

  1. Lesson templates and guidelines for open and collaborative lesson development
  2. New curricula and community focus on teaching foundational skills for data analysis and data management in Economics and Image Analysis
  3. An outline and set of milestones for the development of a curriculum in Chemistry.

Major accomplishments in each deliverable area are listed below, and detailed information about each can be found in our end of grant report.

Lesson templates and guidelines for open and collaborative lesson development

Across The Carpentries Lesson Programs, we have more than 40 active lessons, with an additional 30 lessons under development in The Carpentries Incubator and Lab. Interest and momentum for open, collaboratively developed curricula continues to increase, and we want to ensure that we can support and foster that interest and demand. To this end, we:

Flowchart showing process for development of lessons falling into the official track, community track, and Carpentries Lab track of lesson development Flowchart showing process for development of lessons falling into the official track, community track, and Carpentries Lab track of lesson development

  • Simplified our templates and other infrastructure for our lessons and workshop websites, to make it more accessible for community members with a range of technical backgrounds. This infrastructure work will also continue on our new grant.

  • Coordinated updating and release for 36 of our core lessons to provide publication credit for the 1100 contributors to, and maintainers of those lessons.

  • Developed life cycle badges for lessons (pre-alpha, alpha, beta, stable) associated with clear milestones to signal to the community the readiness for teaching.

  • Created a Community Developed Lessons page to serve as a resource for community members interested in teaching Carpentries-style lessons on different topics

New curricula and community building in Economics and Image Analysis.

  • Worked with Dr. Miklos Koren at European Central University to complete an alpha version of a curriculum for economists - including lessons on Stata and the bash shell. In line with our community values around open access, we plan to translate the Stata lesson into R after beta piloting.

  • Prioritised training of Instructors with economics domain expertise. In the past two years, 88 individuals with economics experience have become fully certified instructors and another 58 are in the process of certifying. This represents a healthy instructor population size to support future workshops, as this curriculum becomes an official Carpentries offering and is requested by hosting organisations.

  • Worked with Dr. Tessa Durham Brooks and Dr. Mark Meysenburg at Doane College, and Constantin Pape and Dr. Dominik Kutra at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory to bring an Image Processing curriculum to beta stage in final preparation for publication.

Community building to support a future Chemistry curriculum

  • Prioritised training of Instructors with chemistry domain expertise. In the past two years, 126 individuals with chemistry experience have become fully certified Instructors and another 150 are in the process of certifying.

  • Although we have not yet been able to connect with a chemistry domain expert who has the time and motivation to engage with us in the lesson development process, with the resources and infrastructure that we have established over the past two years, we are now in a position to support community development of curricula in many domains, including chemistry.

Thank you!

The work accomplished through this grant would not have been possible without the immense contributions from so many members of this community, including:

Next Steps

As we move into the next stage of developing and sustaining infrastructure and processes for ensuring the stability and scalability of our lesson stack and community-contributed lessons, we are supported by funding from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Since November 2019, and continuing through May 2021, we are focusing on improving The Carpentries Incubator and The Carpentries Lab as a viable and stable platform for community-driven lesson development and sharing including:

  • Developing an indexing system to make it easy for users to locate relevant materials,
  • Providing a clear pathway for users to submit content,
  • Updating our lesson template to make it more user friendly,
  • Creating clear checklists and guidelines for lesson acceptance,
  • Developing a metadata schema for lessons,
  • Establishing an editorial process for lessons progressing to The Carpentries Lab,
  • Facilitating creation of alpha-level materials for at least three lessons for biologists (prioritizing image analysis, machine learning and/or single cell analysis),
  • Encouraging and maintaining community interest in developing and contributing lessons,
  • Establishing community engagement in lesson maintenance, and
  • Creating a strategy for scaling up the results of this 18-month pilot.

Get Involved

If you’re looking for ways to get involved in curriculum development and maintenance, please consider one of the following opportunities:

We are incredibly grateful to the Alfred P. Sloan foundation for enabling us to initiate this work, and to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative for supporting the next stage of our sustainability efforts.

Dialogue & Discussion