Edinburgh Carpentries' computing and data training goes virtual

Author: Mario Antonioletti
Posted: 1 Jun 2020 | 14:40

The Edinburgh Carpentries provide researchers with training in basic computing and data skills, even while the country is in lockdown.   

Carpentries workshops aim to improve research methods by demonstrating tooling and processes that will make researchers more productive. They also enable researchers to produce more sustainable and reproducible research outputs in alignment with the Software Sustainability Institute (SSI) motto: “Better software, better research”. 

Since 2018 the Edinburgh Carpentries, supported by SSI and instructors from EPCC, has organised 25 free workshops across Edinburgh’s academic institutions, training over 300 staff and students in tools such as R, Python, Unix shell, git, and OpenRefine. Courses are very popular and quickly oversubscribed.

Planning for the 2020 workshops was well underway before the Covid-19 lockdown in March, with support from the Scottish Funding Council’s Upskilling Fund allowing us to expand the scope of the Data Carpentry workshops, opening them up to researchers working outside academia. The Covid-19 restrictions were implemented less than two weeks before the first workshop of the year, forcing us to quickly adapt our delivery plans.

Several delivery platforms were investigated. The University of Edinburgh prefers Blackboard’s Collaborate but we found it created a number of problems for the agile delivery needed for the Carpentries’ style of workshop, especially the timelag when presenting. We opted to use Zoom, despite the reported privacy problems, partly because the Software Sustainability Institute had successfully run its Collaborations Workshop 2020 on this platform (see opposite). So, taking on board a number of precautions, in April we delivered our first virtual Data Carpentry course to 15 participants. 

On the whole, the course went very well. We are still receiving comments from the first set of attendees and will use it to improve future runs of the course, but are happy we can continue to deliver training while everybody is working from home. Regardless of the world we will emerge into after the COVID-19 pandemic, Carpentries workshops will never be the same again. 

Further information

More Carpentries workshops are planned, see:

The Carpentries: https://carpentries.org

The Carpentries at Edinburgh: https://edcarp.github.io

Software Sustainability Workshop: https://software.ac.uk

OpenRefine: https://openrefine.org


Mario Antonioletti, EPCC


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