Carpentries instructor experiences of teaching online

Recently, I was privileged to be invited to the panel Carpentries Instructor Experiences of Teaching Online at CarpentryCon at Home. Here you can find the video and here are the notes including Q&A at the end of the panel. What follows is the script of most of what I said during my participation.

My introduction

Hi everyone, I am Laura Acion, an academic health data science researcher. Also, trainer and instructor for The Carpentries based in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

I would like to thank Angelique for seeking that Latin America is represented in this session. Thank you for the invitation, Angelique, and big thank you to everyone else making CarpentryCon happen. Before Covid-19, CarpentryCon 2020 was going to be the conference of my first international keynote presentation. I was ultra excited. Then, Covid happenned and there was no way to commit to prepare such a big contribution with two kids at home. Thus, I am very happy to be able to contribute here today.

What worked for teaching online?

Being from a region that has no member institution contributing to fund The Carpentries makes everything quite different for us and how instructors and trainers living in Latin America relate to The Carpentries. Most of what happens in Latin America related to The Carpentries is completely on volunteer time. That is, no member institution pays for instructors or trainers time. Those who participate have time flexibility at our jobs but no income associated with the time we give to The Carpentries. Given the Covid crisis, active work on finding sponsors is currently on hold.

However, given that many of us and our colleagues were forced to move to online teaching, inspired by The Carpentries and also by Greg Wilson and RStudio Education, we started MetaDocencia, a 100% volunteer-led organization. In MetaDocencia we keep good practices from The Carpentries (e.g., having a code of conduct, striving for inclusion and diversity, teaching together, having materials published online under a CC-BY 4.0 licence). MetaDocencia lowers barriers substantially because it teaches high quality materials for free asking nothing in return from those who take part of the workshops.

With that context, what worked since education had to go online in mid March due to Covid was:

  • teaching in Spanish
  • teaching short self-contained and easily combined modules (workshops that are more than 3 hours are too long)
  • taking in-workshop breaks every about 50 minutes
  • teaching practical and basic skills to have an active online classroom (people in our region need to learn skills not usually taught by The Carpentries such as how to create a shared document).

What did not work/What will you do differently?

Since MetaDocencia workshops are free and we are a new organization, after the initial enthusiasm, the show-up rate started to be low. Changing our registration procedure using Calendly is making our lives a lot easier and workshops are now full with up to 20 participants. In the last 4 months we had almost 500 attendants from all over Latin America and beyond in our workshops with an over 90% rate of post-workshop survey completion. We realize that none of this is sustainable over time, thus we are actively looking for additional international funding. Currently, we afford Zoom and Calendly thanks to the generous repurposing of an Open Bioinformatics Foundation award.

How did you make use of breakout rooms?

Breakout rooms are the favorite feature of MetaDocencia´s audience. It is widely unknown and it surprises our attendants every time. Our end-of-workshop survey always includes requests that we teach how to use them from a host point of view. We just piloted a new workshop where this will be done.

Which resources (e.g. blog posts, Carpentries recommendations) did you use prior to the workshop?

MetaDocencia has three Carpentries trainers in their Core Team and several Carpentries Instructors or RStudio Certified Instructors among the Core Team and Collaborators. All of us got our certifications online even before Covid, so we are using all that we learned in previous years from interacting with The Carpentries and other communities of practice such as R-Ladies and LatinR.

Were there asynchronous portions or was it all live?

We offer several asynchronous portions:

  • Blog posts including topics of interest such as other tools that can be used for teaching online.

  • An active Slack workspace where MetaDocencia’s Community keeps in touch after the workshops and where tips and tricks are exchanged. Also we share both the good and frustrating experiences and help each other through bad experiences.

  • Our workshops have one instance recorded and published in our YouTube channel because synchronous connectivity is an issue in our region and this is a way people can catch up asynchronously if they lose connectivity during the synchronous workshops.

Laura Acion
Adjunct Researcher