Pancakes on a Stick, and Other Things I Learned at UCLA

By Juliane Schneider

It was not my best teaching effort. But it was one of my best learning experiences, and for an instructor, that’s a maybe selfish but definitely great outcome. For me.

I learned that the UCLA campus is truly gorgeous, and their campus catering serves delicious coffee and pastries. I learned that engaged learners can save you. I learned that these people were so into the workshop that most of them showed up for the entire Friday - a Friday before a three-day holiday weekend, possibly the best altmetric ever for interest in a workshop. I also learned about the mechanics of advanced whiteboard technology (wheels).

I also learned that if it’s been a while since you’ve done reconciliation in OpenRefine, you’d better go over it more than twice before getting up there to teach it. I bogged down a bit, but the students helped me through, thanks people in the front row!

Our crowd was not just UCLA - we had a whole squad from USC, some people from Getty, and someone who came all the way from Jet Propulsion Laboratory AND managed to figure out visitor parking on campus, something that may rate as the most difficult lesson learned the entire two days. We had helpers who were amazing: Shira Peltzman, Maggie Hughes, and Jamie Jamison were invaluable in keeping us moving forward and kept up.

We started off with Jargon Busting, which John Chodacki, the now-official Carpentry Ambassador of Fun and Microphone Shouting, emceed with his usual flair. We had a long discussion about R, scripting vs. coding, Git vs. Github and linked data, which inspired someone in the class to leave the best etherpad note ever:

linked data = database structure and methodology for description, also a religion, meant for a computer to consume not so much for the human brain to understand

and the one guy who is a long-time developer said that every workshop, even tech workshops, should go through this exercise. He found it that useful.

These learners were definitely engaged learners, and they even got up and shared their answers to the Regex exercises on a whiteboard. I regretted that I did not have participation and bravery medals to give out. The thing that came up in the feedback, which always comes up in the feedback, is that we need more real-life examples that use regex. It’s the issue that never dies, the Zombie Issue - I just added another exercise during the sprint, but that’s for extra practice. Time to really dig in and context this lesson into subjection.

My biggest challenge in the Regex lesson was the whiteboard, which I first of all forgot was double sided and stood there ngsting about erasing the jargon busting for at least 45 seconds (a long time in Carpentry World) and secondly, I struggled vainly with the turney things that would flip it, until my intrepid helpers helped me, you know, just roll it around because it was on wheels.

I must give a shout-out to our Ambassador of Fun, because his lightning-quick reflexes prevented me from using a Sharpie on the whiteboard, which would have added destruction of UCLA property to my long list of crimes (usually speed-related).

Then Tim Dennis fired up the bash/shell lesson, and as always, everyone was thrilled by the instance counts for the characters of Little Women, but unlike the last workshop I did, we didn’t let loose a spoiler (hint: GUESS WHICH ONE DIES EARLY).

The second day featured our new Library Carpentry Community and Development Director, Chris Erdmann, going Full Carpentry his very first time instructing by tackling Git/Github. He did a great job explaining the history and the reason for Git, and the learners seemed to really appreciate the context and the reasons behind the knitting-disaster workflow model.

Then we had lunch, and I was absolutely starving, and I appalled Chris Erdmann with the way I single-mindedly consumed 1/4 of a barbecued chicken.

And then….then I taught Open Refine, mostly decently, but with moments of collapse, like when your cat is doing all the cat things and then biffs a jump and lands in a bucket and you laugh and laugh. My takeaways, besides needing to practice the reconciliation stuff more, is that we need to add the wikidata reconciliation and we need to investigate the new Open Refine to see where we need to tweak the lesson. Other than that, it was great, and a couple of people came up to me and thanked me for my patience. Oh no, dear reader, they were the ones who had patience as I flailed. The software engineer came up to me afterwards and said he loved that I admitted I didn’t entirely grasp arrays; I just knew how to use them. This is still true.

During my Lyft to the airport, my driver and I (Ray, from Louisiana, you are awesome) both talked about how hungry we were, and he wanted pancakes and hot chocolate, and I wanted a sausage biscuit and coffee. We decided to form a company that would build stands on the medians of Los Angeles selling lemonade and pancakes on a stick.

Thank you, learners and helpers and fellow instructors and UCLA and Ray from Louisiana. It was a grand time!

The end.