Incorporating The Carpentries into my Curriculum
As a Library and Information Science (LIS) professor at University of Missouri, one of my concerns is that students get a mix of theoretical knowledge and practical learning to help them through the rest of their graduate program and in the workplace. As a veteran of Library Carpentries Instructor Training, I knew I wanted to do some sort of Carpentries-related instructional component in my class, but I also knew that the classroom has constraints that a dedicated Carpentries session does not have. This blog post describes my experience with adding a Carpentries lesson to one of my classes in Fall 2018 semester.
About the Class
My class was ISLT 7301 Introduction to Information Technology. The instructional goal for the course is to orient students to library technology, so they can assess the value of those technologies in the workplace. This is a required class for our MLIS students, typically taken in their first semester or two. Strategies and skills students get from this class could, if transferred, make the rest of their academic careers simpler.
The class itself was online and hybrid, meaning that out of the fifteen weeks the class met, only five of those weeks were synchronous sessions where I interacted with students, and those sessions were 75 minutes long. The “class” was also composed of three class sections, one in which I was lead instructor and two which had an adjunct lead instructor, Gail Eubanks (Gail is an active high school librarian in Springfield, Missouri, and she has created her own school library Makerspace!).
Out of the 63 students enrolled across all three sections, there was a mix of Columbia-based and distance students, so I set up two sections for each synchronous session: one in Columbia and one online using Zoom. For synchronous sessions, students earned participation points, but they were not graded on their performance. I used my last Columbia-based synchronous session in December to do a Carpentries-inspired session.
About The Carpentries-Inspired Session
Once I had committed to offering a Carpentries-inspired session, I then had to figure out what to teach. I created a poll to ask my students which of the four basic lessons they were intersted in: Introduction to Data, the UNIX Shell, OpenRefine, or Introduction to Git. I polled the Columbia-based students and got 14 responses, with the top choice being Introdution to Data. Introduction to Git came in second.
Developing the Materials
Fortunately, the University of Kansas Library (KU) has a strong Carpentries team that has put together some excellent materials. I borrowed from their materials quite heavily in developing materials for my own class.
The Face-to-Face Session
Based on past attendance patterns, I expected five students for the face-to-face Columbia section. Due to a bitter cold snap, only three showed up. Gail, my co-teacher, was also very interested in learning more about The Carpentries, so she asked if I could set up a Zoom window for her to participate.
I began that class with an explanation of The Carpentries, including its history and why librarians were involved in this type of effort. I also mentioned this as a potential avenue for their continued professional development after graduation. Then we discussed the Code of Conduct and what was required to create a supportive learning community. I explained the purpose of the coloured sticky notes, but since we didn’t do a live coding session in class, we used them only for anonymous feedback.
With three people in class, we used the Etherpad for introductory survey questions, but we made more use of just talking. We went through automation, keyboard shortcuts, plain text formats, and file structures before our first short break. We went through jargon busting pretty quickly – between the five of us, we didn’t have much jargon to bust! We spent the most time on regular expressions, which I was able to put into the context of searching with wildcards based on a previous session delivered by our subject liaison librarian, Kimberly Moeller. A summary of sticky note feedback indicated that students wanted to learn more about how to create their own keyboard shortcuts, and they would have liked to have more practical examples of why they might want to use regular expressions. After everyone left, Gail said it went well, and recommended I try it with the online section the next night.
The Online Session
Thursday’s online section had 51 participants, including some students who didn’t make it to the Wednesday face-to-face session. Because this was a virtual session, we did not use sticky notes, but I asked students to include their feedback on the Etherpad if they felt comfortable doing so.
We repeated the structure above - explanation of the Carpentries, code of conduct, automation, keyboard shortcuts, plain text formats, and file structures. Class time ended as we were dealing with jargon busting. Since this session came at the end of class, some students were able to bust other students’ jargon. For instance, one student had done her major term paper on blockchain, and she was able to answer other students’ questions about it.
The course took place both in Zoom (for screen sharing and conversation) and the Etherpad. The students had four previous sessions where they grew accustomed to communications using the Zoom features. Some students reported that they could not access the Etherpad, but they were able to see the Etherpad on my Zoom screen. Some students reported that the Etherpad felt redundant when combined with Zoom, and it would have been possible to run polls through Zoom. From an instructor perspective, though, using the Etherpad to get a quick feel of the room and their prior experiences was much easier than creating a Zoom poll. Having two windows to manage was the most significant item in “virtual sticky note” feedback.
So what have I learned from this experience?
I need more time!
When I had three students in the same room, we got through a lot pretty quickly. However, I would have loved to have more time to give them exercises or help them share practical examples. When I had 51 students online, having only 75 minutes meant I was only able to hit some highlights, and I wasn’t able to get into anything as deeply as I would like. Unfortunately, class length is pretty standardized, so I probably won’t get much more time to offer content in a standard classroom setting. However, this might make a great exercise for Orientation Day or a presession for our student conference in April.
This stuff is really useful!
Almost everything in the Introduction to Data curriculum was well-received, and several students said they wished they had known about topics like file structure earlier, to help them maintain their online space. For the next class, I’ve scheduled this for the second synchronous session (Searching databases with our library liaison is still the first session, and it provides some foundation for regular expressions). Because this information is so helpful and they can use it during their entire student career, it really is most approprite for an orientation session.
I really need some helpers!
With three face-to-face students, I didn’t need helpers. But with 51 students online, I did, very much! Next time I do this, I might try asking some of my faculty colleagues or more advanced students to join us as helpers.
Now that I have tried this once, I’m excited to share Carpentries resources with my colleagues and to hold more Carpentries-inspired workshops with my students. Having curricular materials already prepared and available through the Carpentries’ web sites means that I know there’s a structured plan for successful mastery of the basics. I also appreciate the reflections on a supportive learning community, and how we (students and I) can help create an atmosphere of support. Fellow Carpentries Instructor Training veteran Nina Exner and I plan to present more about Carpentries instruction nationally, to our peers at other LIS education programs.