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Carpentries Update

The audience at the start of CarpentryConnect 2019 in Manchester.
The audience at the start of CarpentryConnect 2019 in Manchester.
Photo courtesy of the Software Sustainability Institute.

 
First things first – welcome to our new blog! Previous posts on the Library blog will continue to be available there.

We’ve been involved in various Carpentries-related things over the past few months, and I’m taking this opportunity to briefly look back over them.

Carpentries?

The Carpentries teach coding and data science skills, primarily to researchers. A global community of volunteers develop, maintain and deliver workshops all over the world.

Software Carpentry at St Andrews

At St Andrews, we’ve been teaching regular Software Carpentry lessons for the last two and a half years. Most of these have been delivered with CAPOD, and the most recent ones took place at the start and end of May. Both went well, and I’d like to thank everyone involved – the Instructors, the Helpers, CAPOD and the AV team.

Carpentries Instructors and Helpers volunteer their time, and if you’ve ever attended a workshop you’ll know how vital they all are to making things run smoothly. Our next workshop is scheduled for 23rd/24th September and we’ll need helpers for that. Watch out for requests for help via the mailing list and on Teams.

Data Carpentry for Digital Humanities

The Software Carpentry workshops we run are open and applicable to researchers from any discipline. However, the overwhelming majority of learners who attend our workshops are from the physical and biological sciences. We’d like to engage with more humanities researchers, so I took the opportunity at the start of June to help out at a Digital Humanities Data Carpentry workshop at Edinburgh University.

Data Carpentry workshops are discipline- or data type-specific workshops, with curricula covering Genomics, Ecology, Social Sciences and Geospatial data. The Digital Humanities curriculum is currently in development, and this was the second time it had been delivered.

There were a few teething issues, but the workshop was well-attended and the learners found plenty useful tools and techniques they could take away. Something that always seems to go down well when I’ve seen it presented is Open Refine, a tool for working with messy data. If you haven’t come across it before, I recommend checking it out. Still, the curriculum still needs development, and there was an opportunity to work on that at CarpentryConnect.

CarpentryConnect Manchester 2019

The Software Sustainability Institute, who coordinate Carpentries activity in the UK, organised the first European CarpentryConnect event in Manchester on 25th-27th June, and I was fortunate enough to be able to attend.

There were roughly three things I wanted to get out of the event, besides meeting lots of interesting people involved in the Carpentries from all over the world. I wanted to learn how to improve my teaching, to look for tips on how to build our Carpentries community at St Andrews (we have four Instructors here now: Alex Konovalov, who is also an Instructor trainer, Isla Barnard, Michael Torpey and me), and to try and improve our ability to reach humanities researchers.

The keynotes were all interesting and inspiring, but I would single out Marta Teperek’s as having some concrete examples of ways in which we could possibly improve the Research Computing (and possibly Research Data Management, though I can’t speak for them) services at St Andrews.

Some of what I picked up seems obvious – a session on diversity, accessibility and inclusivity led by Sara El-Gebali impressed upon me the importance of sticking to the published workshop schedule (I’m terrible for cutting break times short to try and cram more stuff in). As the community at St Andrews grows and more people train as Instructors, it’s important that those Instructors reflect the diversity of the research and researchers at St Andrews.

Another panel, led by Katerina Michalickova & Aleks Nenadic, looked at regional training hubs, and how the SSI could facilitate them. While we want to grow the community at St Andrews, there’s also a need to expand the community across Scotland – there are many Instructors in Edinburgh, but only a handful dotted around elsewhere.

Most of my final day at the conference was taken up with discussions on how to develop the Digital Humanities Data Carpentry curriculum. The variety of activities which come under the “Digital Humanities” umbrella presents a challenge, but by developing user personas and working through what they might expect to learn from a workshop we were able to agree a way forward. I think the biggest change was an agreement that an XML lesson should be developed, possibly including TEI, which could prove very useful here at St Andrews.

To get more of a flavour of what went on at CarpentryConnect, I suggest checking out #ccmcr19 on Twitter.

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