AOPP Oxford Software Carpentry Workshop Debrief

Today I had my first experience teaching a Software Carpentry Workshop at the Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics Department in Oxford. (There was another separate workshop running its second day in Oxford today as well.) The day went well and I feel that students left having enjoyed it and looking forward to coming back tomorrow!

I taught the shell in two halves in the morning, and my co-instructor Jens taught the basics of Python after lunch, also in two halves. We asked for feedback at the end of each one and half hour slot. I was worried this was excessive, but I’m glad we did because it allowed us to adjust the second half of each topic based on what people told us after the first. The shell in particular was a bit too basic for what the learners already knew, so I tried to go at a faster pace in the second half. I think the second half of the material was also naturally more engaging as it moved away from the absolute basics. The feedback suggested that pipes and grepping were the two favourite topics of the morning sessions.

A lot of learners suggested in their feedback that I should have had them download the same example data that I had, so they could also run my examples and commands as I typed them. This seems obvious in hindsight, and I’ll definitely do this next time.

There was also a lot of enthusiasm for the multiple choice questions that were answered by holding up a coloured sticky note and discussed between the learners afterwards. It was the first time I’d tried that technique, so I was hesitant to over use it, but based on the feedback I will try to increase the number of questions I ask and to make them more challenging next time.

The Etherpad didn’t work when we tried it in the first morning session, so we moved on without exploring it too much. I tried to reintroduce it in the second session when it was more stable, but I think we’d collectively lost enthusiasm for it. Everyone was already taking their own notes and no learners contributed to the Etherpad as we taught. Perhaps if I introduce this as the beginning of the day again tomorrow, with new topics, we will get more of an uptake. I don’t think the session particularly suffered from a lack of the Etherpad though.

There were minimal installation issues today and only took a few minutes to get things working for a few people. The Anaconda and Software Carpentry Windows installers are doing their job well. We’ll see if we have equal success with git and some more complicated Python libraries in tomorrow’s session.