CarpentryCon @ Home: Growing Carpentries through a Growing Community at Oklahoma State University

Following up on the CarpentryCon @ Home session, Growing Carpentries through a Growing Community with the session hosts

CarpentryCon Session Etherpad and Information located here.

Our Carpentries organization here at OSU is about five years old. We feel pretty good about how it has grown and transformed over that time. Some of the biggest changes included transferring program administration and “ownership” to the Library, replenishing our local instructor base as it turns over, and adopting tools to more effectively promote workshops and engage volunteers. Other successes have included collaborating with some regional universities to help nurture their Carpentries programs, and seeing our workshops fill up with a waiting list on a continual basis.

We have had some struggles as well. Though our instructor pool has stayed relatively constant, it hasn’t grown enough in numbers to allow us to expand into teaching more of the Carpentries lessons beyond the STEM fields. In addition, there has been an obvious need to help workshop participants find resources after they leave the workshops in order to grow their skills and successfully use the tools taught in Carpentries for their research. We have dabbled a bit with brown bag meet ups that failed to launch and briefly with a mentoring group we called the OSU Wizards that was halted abruptly when the campus was shut down by COVID-19. We see that growing the Carpentries community is vital to keeping our Carpentries program healthy. A little research into the lifecycle of volunteer-led and nonprofit organizations showed a pretty predictable curve: fast growth when the program is new, steady growth as it reaches maturity but then a decline phase that, if not stopped, will lead to the death of the organization. CarpentryCon @ Home was the ideal opportunity to learn from the experiences of others and to share ideas for revitalizing and growing Carpentries communities. From the discussions during our session on “Growing Carpentries through a Growing Community at Oklahoma State University,” it was clear that we are not the only ones who have anticipated this issue.

Not surprisingly, we spent considerable time discussing changes to Carpentries communities brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since all instruction and meetings have moved to an online environment, both the benefits and the drawbacks of this change should be taken into consideration. The challenges of providing workshops online could create a barrier to offering workshops as frequently as we have in the past. Recommendations from The Carpentries organization, as well as our own experiences, suggest that workshops need to be smaller and that technology may present significant barriers for some participants. These issues are likely to reduce the number of people who can be accommodated in workshops over a semester or year. At the same time, remote workshops can be accessible to people over a larger geographic area and may provide more scheduling flexibility. This holds true for instructors as well, who can teach workshops regardless of physical proximity to campus. Planning for half-day workshops, spread out across a stretch of days or even weeks, will appeal to many juggling scheduling challenges and will reduce “Zoom fatigue” for both instructors and participants. These are opportunities to exploit in order to increase the potential pool of participants and future instructors.

Some of the other ideas from the discussions about expanding Carpentries communities are listed below.

  • Be intentional about instructor recruitment and communications. Identify groups that may be underrepresented and reach out.
  • Encourage instructor development by diversifying workshop types and sharing teaching opportunities at other sites.
  • Recognize that community building is an important component of the Carpentries experience. Include it as a part of your job description and document your efforts.
  • Recognize that efforts such as “Hacky Hours/OSU Wizards” will require commitments from faculty and a core group of experts. Are there alternatives such as creating a Slack workspace to encourage making connections and getting questions answered? Make sure that program changes are sustainable and don’t drain resources from existing successful efforts.
  • Identify partners to help expand the Carpentries reach. Libraries and computing centers are usually central to campus communities and offer diverse outreach opportunities. For instance, the computing center can help develop a community of practice for expanding skills.
  • Be sure you are using all the platforms that Carpentries provides such as the Conversations Repo(https://github.com/carpentries/conversations/) and the Community discussions to answer questions as they develop and hear new ideas that will prevent future engagement problems.

We are optimistic that the OSU Carpentries organization is back on the growth side of the curve and with expanded outreach and improved communications, we will be able to keep our community healthy as we continue to meet our campus’s need for software, data and computing skills instruction.

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