Enhancing training materials for Research Software Engineers

13 June 2024

The UNIVERSE-HPC project aims to identify and promote best practices in the training of Research Software Engineers (RSEs) to enable them to work in high performance computing.

April 2024 saw the first hackathon of the UNIVERSE-HPC project, in which we focused on enhancing the open source training materials that were collated and developed in the earlier stages of the project. 

We are thrilled to have had such a productive first hackathon, with attendees submitting ten GitHub pull requests (suggested changes) with new or enhanced content. Five of these contributions were merged into the core material during the event, making significant improvements to the accessibility and documentation of our interactive training platform, known as Gutenberg, which can host training material on any topic. Groups can take a version of the platform and populate it with their own material, learners can then navigate through the material clearly, seeing the order in which courses should be completed.

The hackathon

The hackathon was a hybrid event, with seven people joining in-person in Oxford and eight people joining online. The day started with introductions to the UNIVERSE-HPC project and the Gutenberg platform. This included highlighting the motivation for developing a new training platform for RSEs and explaining how to start using it. (The slides for this part of the Hackathon can be found in our Zenodo community.)

And then it was time to get hacking! There were three work streams on offer and participants split into groups accordingly:

  • Course content - adding content on topics ranging from beginner to advanced
  • Infrastructure - enhancing and extending the Gutenberg platform
  • Pedagogy - creating learning objectives for existing lessons.

Most people were interested in infrastructure and pedagogy topics, so that’s where progress was made. The infrastructure group was able to improve the accessibility of the Gutenberg platform by adding semantic HTML for page headings and paragraphs and by adding labels to ease its navigation

They also updated and expanded the documentation for using Gutenberg, including creating a workflow from zero to a live deployment and how to use custom callouts for exercises, solutions, and so on. It is now also easier to fetch training materials from a GitHub repository and populate the training platform deployment with them.

The pedagogy group focused on collating learning objectives for our materials. A lot of these materials are pre-existing and their learning objectives have been lost in the porting process. We have tracked them down and written new learning objectives for lessons that didn’t have them. These can all be found as open issues in our course materials GitHub repository; a temporary solution while implementing a way to display them within the lessons themselves. This work was completed by the end of the hackathon, with a pull request submitted and merged.

We’ll be adding the learning objectives using the new syntax (and much more!) at the next hackathon. If you’d like to take part, make sure you join our mailing list[1] and keep an eye on our website!

[1] Clicking this link will create a new email to send a subscription request to join the mailing list. Leave the email subject blank and replace FIRSTNAME and SURNAME with your firstname and surname and then send the email to join the list.)


Eirini Zormpa, Imperial College London