Back to the future: Online Carpentries Workshops now and in 2021

Our community is resilient, patient and very resourceful

On 13 July The Carpentries released a second version of the Official Guidelines for Taking Your Carpentries Workshop Online. The Carpentries Core Team has since then undertaken various initiatives to support remote versions of all Data Carpentry, Library Carpentry, and Software Carpentry workshops.

The quarter in review

The Infrastructure and Curriculum Development teams collaborated in creating an online infrastructure to serve as scaffolds or safety nets for learners who were unable to install software onto their computers using cloud services from MyBinder and RStudio. The workshop website template was also adapted to facilitate workshops scheduled to take place over more than two days which includes a custom schedule file.

The Workshop administration team has worked to improve the efficiency and experience of planning and hosting online workshops. The workshop request form has been updated to include a question about the workshop location (i.e. online or in-person) and continued to improve documentation in support of online workshops (i.e. The Carpentries Handbook, workshops website as well as recommendations page).

The Instructor training team used the switch to online workshops as an opportunity to meet a community need and also launch a new Instructor Training workshop format, the Bonus Module for continuing support of certified Carpentries Instructors. The Bonus Module has proved very popular, selling out quickly and gathering long waitlists, which signifies the communities hunger for this content. Other initiatives included a workflow for gathering and monitoring feedback.

The Community Development team has continued addressing the community’s needs surrounding online workshops. These included troubleshooting and providing guidance when necessary, which included publishing community created blog posts on the topic of teaching online. They also continued to update a list of community-created resources around online workshops.

The Executive team further ensured that there was an alert system in place notifying us when low workshop scores come in. The Core Team is tracking the following core workshop metrics: I felt comfortable learning in this workshop environment; I can immediately apply what I learned at this workshop; Net Promoter Score (How likely are you to recommend this workshop to a friend or colleague?) and I felt comfortable interacting with the instructors.

What have we learnt from you around online workshops?

Overall, we have learned that The Carpentries has made an impact globally on communities who were not used to training in the online environment. We know this from the increase in workshop requests that we have seen this year.

“Our community is very patient, resilient and very resourceful.”

The instructors and trainees community report largely positive experiences with online workshops. In fact, many mentioned being surprised at how smooth online workshops were going. However, we have heard that online workshops present new challenges, especially related to technical aspects of the workshops (e.g., installations) and how to engage learners, but we have seen the community come together over the months to share advice and grow together.

Throughout this process we have heard from our community members about their experience teaching online workshops and to improve the experience we plan to evaluate our current assessments. By improving our current assessments as well as receiving regular feedback from the community, we will be better able to design and implement solutions to improve the learner and instructor experience.

We have also learnt that:

  • Repeated sharing of online workshop resources is key as the resources are new and it is not uncommon for community members to forget about them
  • Our community has settled in and/or adapted to the times a lot more
  • Usefulness of skills shared in our recommendations transcend use in online workshops
  • Community members stepped up to point people to Carpentries resources in response to more general asks on social media i.e. Twitter
  • Individuals are more aligned, comfortable and/or willing to actively participate in online communities
  • We need to continue proactively engage our community to hear about needs arising so we can inform the rest of the Core Team and work to address them comprehensively.

What activities are coming up in 2021 that you should look out for?

We are looking to update the Recommendations for Teaching Carpentries Workshops Online again in early 2021. With this update we hope to outline an example structure for an online workshop that draws upon the existing recommendations, offering a simpler template for those who don’t want to make every choice about workshop format on their own. We will also be revisiting options to improve accessibility in our online workshops. We will continue to update our new Bonus Module to support certified Instructors in teaching online, and will incorporate some online teaching advice into planned updates to our core Instructor Training curriculum as well. Further, in the new year, we are planning to explore if the move to online workshops has changed instructors’ motivation to teach or experience in workshops.

You can also look out for the following:

  • Implementation of new privacy and/or security policies which pertains to the impact on things like recording Zoom calls and sharing instructor/learner data (includes but is not limited to online workshops).
  • We will continue to collect feedback and investigate options to expand our scaffolds to support online workshops
  • Statistics about our online workshops including counts, survey results, etc
  • In January, we are planning on launching a pilot of a podcast utilising content from CarpentryCon@Home. Further episodes will contain content from themed discussions as they happen. These themed discussions may be themed around online workshops.
  • We are investigating adding time zones to the workshop request form which will help instructors in planning for workshops etc
  • As in-person workshops become possible again, we are excited to apply a fresh perspective and use some of the things we have learned through supporting online instruction to re-examine our in-person instruction as well! Cloud instances, formative assessment tools, and even structured breakout groups are all things that could be useful in a classroom as well.

Thank you for all that you have done for the community during 2020 and contintue to encourage community members to attend Community Discussion sessions to share their experiences with online workshops. We would love to see more instructors and learners sharing these experiences because we know we do not reach everyone with our surveys. Sign up for a Community Discussion by visiting this etherpad.

Dialogue & Discussion

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