Building Bridges for Digital & Computational Literacy

CarpentryConnect JHB 2018

From 3 - 7 September 2018, lecturers, IT professionals, librarians, and others came together to grow their own digital and computational skills and to learn how to teach others.

Carpentry workshops for teaching/learning digital and computational skills have become increasingly popular in South Africa. The word “Carpentry” refers to the fact that we do not try to make software developers out of our learners, but rather teach them just enough to make them believe they can learn these skills and we aim to show them the way forward. We also embed them in a global community where they can get mentorship and support on their digital and computational journeys.

Although Software Carpentry has been around since 1998 and Data Carpentry since 2013, the community organised its first international meeting this year. CarpentryCon 2018 was held in Dublin and more than 110 people from around the globe participated.

From 3 - 7 September 2018, we hosted the first CarpentryConnect event in Africa. CarpentryConnect is a regional meetup, where region can be a town, province, country, or continent. In our case CarpentryConnect Johannesburg was aimed at staff and students from South African public universities.

CarpentryConnectJHB Group Photo

The good news was that the [Rural Campuses Connection Project II[( (RCCPII) and the South African Centre for Digital Language Resources (SADiLaR) had been supporting Carpentries workshops in South Africa for a few years already. These two projects gave the go-ahead to fund CarpentryConnect Johannesburg 2018 as long as the respective project aims were reached through the event.

We invited Deputy Vice Chancellors (DVCs) and in some cases Library Directors from the 26 public universities in South Africa to nominate a limited number of staff and/or students to participate in the event with the aim of bringing the training and resources back to the home institutions. Institutions were also asked to fund travel costs (fuel/car rental/flight ticket only) for nominees to travel to Johannesburg. Some universities wanted to send more people than what could be covered by the funding and in those cases they were willing to fund travel and accommodation costs.

The aim was to create awareness of The Carpentries training model, resources and community amongst more senior academics, librarians, and IT staff with the hope that they would take advantage of the open resources that are available through the initiative. The Carpentries develop lessons to teach computational and digital skills as well as teaching skills. These lessons as well as the lesson infrastructure are all published under open licenses and are available for reuse, remix, and more - for free!

The five-day event kicked off with three Carpentry workshops running in parallel: Software Carpentry with Shell, R, and git/Github; Data Carpentry for Social Sciences with Spreadsheets, OpenRefine, and Python; and Library Carpentry. The workshops ran over two and a half days. After lunch on day three we offered three parallel sessions:

  • Digital Humanities - Pedagogy and Practices in the Library Environment (Presented by Juan Steyn and Dr Miriam Peña-Pimentel)
  • Bringing the Carpentries to Your Institution (Presented by Anelda van der Walt)
  • Next steps and best practices for reproducible research projects with Python (Presented by Drs Sarah Brown and Katrin Tirok)

The event concluded with a two-day Carpentry Instructor training workshop taught by Drs Allegra Via (Italy), Caroline F Ajiloga (South Africa/Nigeria) and Anelda van der Walt (South Africa) with Dr Sarah Brown as helper.

In general, feedback throughout CarpentryConnect JHB, and afterwards, was very positive. The five-day event had a total of 108 (47% female) participants including 85 learners and 23 instructors and helpers. 24 out of the 26 public universities in South Africa were represented as well as a representative from the South African National Libraries and two private companies. 39 trainees also participated in the in-person instructor training. The audience was a wonderful mix of academics, librarians, IT staff, and research office personnel.

Software Carpentry Data Carpentry Instructor Training Train-the-Trainer