Software Carpentry: University of Chicago

Day one of SWC at University of Chicago is well underway. Thoughts, comments, and pictures…

(1) Motivate the students

At this workshop, no one has spent much (if any) time motivating why these students should learn to program and do so with “best practices” like version control and testing. I find the absence of such a discussion rather disconcerting as an educator. Nowhere has anyone said what our learning objectives are or why they are important/relevant to each student’s life.


(2) Remember the small thingsĀ 

This workshop is taking place outside of office hours at the university. As a result, there aren’t any kind graduate secretaries around to help us print assessments / find USB drives for handing out virtual machine images / sending mass emails to the student audience. It’s important that someone keeps track of all these “small things” for any workshop. Some of them are:

  • Get index cards to use for minute cards
  • Print pre/post surveys (unless you are using SurveyMonkey)
  • Set up HipChat or Etherpad for realtime chat during the class and distribute the link


(3) Installation problems

While the IPython Notebook is really nice as a teaching tool, the installation problems (combined with using a virtual machine) make the extraneous cognitive load for this course worryingly high. I’m really not convinced that we are doing students a favor. Wouldn’t they have an equivalent (or possibly lower) extraneous cognitive load using IDLE or some other code editor, and also have an environment that they are more likely to use for the work environment (since the ipynb is slow/difficult when running on a virtual machine).




4 thoughts on “Software Carpentry: University of Chicago

  1. To be fair, most of the instructors on the first day were teaching for the first time. Though they had notes that indicated how they should motivate the discussion, I think largely point 1 was due to teaching nerves. I think much of this was resolved in the Day2 version-control/debugging/testing/documentation tutorials when the instructors were a little less nervous, for whatever reason.

    Thanks for the post! Next time, maybe you could consider warning folks whose photos are about to end up on the ‘nets?

  2. I looked up HipChat and it looks like it’s only free for 30 days. EtherPad looks like it needs an app to install.

    Is there a good, free, web-based group chat service out there that we could use for workshops?

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