Building Blogs of Science

Digital skills and scholarship for researchers 1

Posted in Science, Science and Society by kubke on September 7, 2016

CC-BY Cea on Flickr

Let’s start with some history.

Hamilton. 2014. NZ eResearch Symposium.

Kaitlin Thaney from the Mozilla Science Lab had accepted the invitation to fly to the other side of the world to speak at the Symposium. It was great to have her here in NZ. We had plenty of opportunities to speak about open and reproducible science, and of course, the great work that Software Carpentry was doing.

I had taken a version of software carpentry in a previous NZ eResearch Symposium. I was impressed. I went back to the lab filled with enthusiasm about getting those skills to work, signed up to Roger Peng’s MOOC, and got going. After finishing the MOOC I decided to give my newly acquired skills a go on some of my data, but didn’t get too far – I kept coming into stumbling blocks, and there was no one around that I could really talk to. I then contacted my colleague Andy Moiseff at UCONN. I knew he had a set of data that would be ideal for what I was trying to learn. Andy also had offered a programming course at UCONN when I was a PhD student in the very early 90’s (yes, last century). He is also probably the best teacher I have ever had, and has been an incredible mentor to me. I suggested that I would try to write in R a solution to the analysis if he was happy to help me overcome my stumbling blocks. He agreed. And so I started trying to get onto that.

It all went well on the basics, but as soon as things got a bit more complex, I found it hard to keep going. And then the teaching semester started, and with that I also lost the ability to stick to the learning on a consistent basis. And so that attempt slowly disappeared from the workflow.

CC-BY JD Hancock on Flickr

In Hamilton, I related this to Kaitlin – I was frustrated. It was not for lack of wanting. But there was something that was missing in my ability to move forward. While the interactions with Andy were always encouraging and rewarding they were too asynchronous to keep a good momentum going. I was needing the social context of learning.

So, having biscuits over morning tea at the conference in 2014 with Kaitlin, Nick Jones and Cameron McLean, we asked: What would Software Carpentry look like if it was a semester course? If it let learners work, with peers, on their own research problems, with more time to practice the skills and reflect on the learning and how it applied to each learner’s context?

This is how this started.

Soon after this exchange, we proposed to explore this at MozFest. I am grateful to Mozilla Science Lab for supporting me to fly to  London and for pairing me up with Billy Meinke (then at Creative Commons HQ) to run a session there.

At MozFest we learned a lot. Working with Billy was more than awesome. There are those occasions that make me change the way I look at things – and this was one of those. But more on that later.

Forward to Auckland 2016. We are now running a pilot of this original concept as a credit earning course for students at the University of Auckland (MEDSCI 736).

This is the first of a series of posts that will describe how we got here, what helped us get here and the obstacles we encountered along the way. There is a long list of names to come of people that have made this possible. But before that, I want to start here thanking Kaitlin, Nick, Billy and Cameron who encouraged me to ‘do something’.

2 Responses

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  1. […] a year had past since that first conversation between Kaitlin Thaney, Nick Jones, Cameron McLean and myself where we […]

  2. […] I went back to talk about how to go about this with Cameron McLean, who had been part of the original biscuit eating exercise that got this […]

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