Teaching a virtual, hands-on workshop

On 3 May 2021 the CODATA-RDA School of Research Data Science – South Africa online edition kicked off. The curriculum is presented as ten different themes which run for 10 weeks. The summer school is providing early career African researchers (M-level to postdoc) and professionals with foundational data science skills. It includes technical skills and responsible research practices. This enables them to work with their data in an effective and efficient manner.

In January 2020, the first South African version of the school was presented. It was organised by the University of Pretoria's Department of Information Science together with the Data-Intensive Research Initiative of South Africa (DIRISA), SADiLaR and Network of Data and Information Curation Communities (NeDICC). The school brought together researchers from 13 African countries and this promoted cohesion and possible future collaborations between early career researchers on the African continent.

The CODATA-RDA school is normally a face-to-face programme that runs for 2 weeks. It is a practical and hands-on programme that requires the participants to follow through what the facilitator is teaching. Through this, the participants get to sharpen their technical skills as well as interpersonal skills.

The 2021 edition of the CODATA-RDA School of Research Data Science – South Africa is a little different from the norm. The participants are allowed seven days (a week) to complete each theme. Generally the participant would need to make provision for at least seven to eight hours to work through the content of the theme. The content also makes provision for practical exercises and at least one live question and answer session where facilitators will address concerns participants may have.

I was facilitating the Data Organization with Spreadsheets lesson which took place during the first week. The lesson forms part of the Social Sciences workshop from Data Carpentry, an international community dedicated to teaching fundamental data skills needed to conduct research. The specific lesson helps learners to consider data formatting and structure when they're working with tabular data. The lesson leads into subsequent episodes about data cleaning in OpenRefine and data analysis and visualisation in R.

I have minimal experience with online based teaching of this kind. I really appreciated the efforts of the organizers for the Slack channels and the live question and answer sessions where the participants were able to ask questions regarding the content provided to them. However this was challenging, especially the preparation that goes into it where the content has to be pre-recorded. This lesson is practical and so when you do not know whether the participants are engaging or understanding the material really makes you anxious. I am just wondering if there is anyone else who can relate or even share tips on how to navigate the online teaching platform for these types of events.

Here are some resources we found that could be useful for going online with teaching:

You can view the recorded videos on the YouTube playlist shown below. The lessons are available on the Data Carpentry Social Sciences Workshop page.

Rooweither Mabuya
Rooweither Mabuya
Researcher: isiZulu