Carpentries Train the Trainer

I have spent the two last days at a “Train the Trainers” workshop organized by the Carpentries project. Here I will summarize some thoughts on the workshop, and things that I will take with me for my own teaching practice.

The Carpentries

The Carpentries project comprises the Software Carpentry, Data Carpentry, and Library Carpentry communities, with a shared mission to teach foundational computational and data science skills to researchers. I have taken several Carpentries lessons over the last years, organized by volunteers here at the University of Oslo.

One of the best things about the Carpentry workshops, is that they are very practical. The idea is that you learn some concrete skills, in a hands-on manner. I also like that the workshops are very inclusive. Everyone can participate and in my experience you always find a mix of students, support staff, postdocs and faculty members. It is very rewarding to get acquainted to people outside your regular “bubble”, and it definitely creates a different learning environment than the normal student-oriented semester-long courses. I also think it is healthy for everyone to see professors struggle with the same things as everyone else.

Another great thing about the Carpentries is the focus on short, intensive workshops with a clear focus. This is an example of what I like to call micro-education, as opposed to our regular focus on semester-long courses and year-long degrees. In an ever-changing world, everyone needs to learn new things all the time. I don’t think universities (in general) do enough to meet this need.

Own practice

Inspired by some of the Carpentries courses I had participated in, I decided to develop a carpentry-inspired course myself: Quantitative Video analysis for Qualitative Research. This short workshop is intended as a tutorial for the Musical Gestures Toolbox for Matlab, and was developed with the Carpentries template.

The course material template is but one thing of the Carpentries. There is also a teaching philosophy that I wanted to learn more about. So when I was challenged (and inspired) to become a certified instructor myself, I decided to sign up for the instructor training.

Online instructor training

I am more than averagely interested in new learning methods, so I was curious to see how the Carpentries instructor training was carried out. For the training we were around 20 learners from around the world and two instructors. One of the instructors, Lex Nederbragt, is working at UiO, and he had secured that the six of us that were taken the training from Oslo where gathered in one room on campus. Such a mix of on-campus and off-campus learners is an interesting challenge in itself. Having a sizeable minority of learners being physically co-located creates a different group dynamic than if everyone had been sitting separately.

The video communication was run on Zoom, a platform I have become very acquainted with through the MCT master’s programme. As opposed to Skype, Hangouts, and similar, Zoom consistently works reliably on all platforms (including Ubuntu), and it has great support for handling changing hardware. I have been adding/removing sound cards, headsets, cameras, etc. during Zoom sessions without any issues. Most other solutions would crash or require restarts to make this work.

Another nice thing about Zoom is that allows for creating breakout rooms, which means that a larger group can be split into sub-groups for local discussion. The instructors used this very effectively during the training, splitting us up in smaller groups for exercises throughout the days. The only challenge here was for the six of us sitting physically together. We had to also split up and move into different rooms for these exercises. It worked fine, but it is interesting to reflect on the different experience the Oslo group had from the online participants. Personally I connected primarily with the local Oslo people, and did not interact at all with any of the online participants. I think it might have worked better for the whole group if everyone had been sitting separately. That way we could all have collaborated more easily.

Take-aways

Some of the most interesting things I picked up during the training:

Mental models: It is important to identify the different mental models that learners may use for any given task. These can be used as the starting point for developing better formative assessment, such as creating good wrong answers to multiple choice tests. Rather than just making randomly wrong answers, they should be based on different mental models that one may assume that the learners may have.

Developing skill: Carpentries embrace the Dreyfus model of skill acquisition and the need to move upwards through Bloom’s taxonomy. While I generally agree with this, I often like to start on top of the Bloom pyramid. In my experience, having people feel that they “master” a tool quickly often help in making them interested in learning more about the underlying concepts. Not everyone wants to become software engineers, most people just want to learn enough to solve their problem.

Concept maps: This is a tool to help develop a complete lesson through drawing a picture of someone‚Äôs mental model of a domain: facts are bubbles, and connections are labelled arcs. It is particularly important to explain what the relationship is. Planning how different parts of a course is interconnected is very important, but is something that many of us don’t spend enough time on, I think.

Teach as a learner: This is related to using the mindset of a learner when teaching. Acknowledging your faults as a teacher may be a good strategy for helping students learn more themselves.

Never teach alone: I fully agree with this one. Teaching together helps identify learners that struggle with something, and it is a good way to develop better teaching practice with a colleague. The challenge, of course, is that we usually don’t have the resources available for two teachers for most university courses.

Teach slowly: the live coding strategy employed at Carpentries is an effective way of slowing down the teacher, and makes it easier to follow along.

Make and solve errors: live coding also means that errors will have to be handled on the fly by the instructor. There is a lot of learning involved in seeing someone else troubleshoot code, so this should be embraced. I have been live coding as a teacher for more than a decade now, so I am very used to it. But I still remember how challenging it was to get started with all the realtime, public error-handling in the beginning.

Code of conduct: The Carpentries are very conserned about being an inclusive community. Thus the code of conduct is easily available on the web pages, and it is also explicitly mentioned at the beginning of lectures. I think this is something that should be embraced more generally in teaching.

Feedback strategies: There is a very structured approach to feedback in Carpentries:

  • Feedback is delivered in the form of pre-workshop and post-workshop questionnaires. This is useful to learn about the learners’ skills before the course, but also to follow their progression from beginning to end.
  • Minute cards are used before lunch with the focus on writing down one positive thing and something that could be improved.
  • 1up-1down evaluations are used to receive oral feedback from each of the learners.

Stick-it notes: We didn’t use it during the instructor training, but the use of stick-it notes is another “feature” of Carpentries. When carrying out tasks, learners put a yellow stick-it on their laptop when they are done, and put a read if they have questions. This is an efficient way of ensuring that people are on track or have problems.

Summing up

All in all it was very interesting to take part in the instructor training. I have been doing many different types of teacher training over the years, but this one was by far the most practical and hands-on. As such, it fits nicely into the Carpentry philosophy: provide hands-on tools for real-world problems.

I am looking forwards to developing and running my own Carpentry-courses in the coming years, and I am also quite sure that I will use several of these methods in other teaching as well.

Testing reveal.js for teaching

I was at NTNU in Trondheim today, teaching a workshop on motion capture methodologies for the students in the Choreomundus master’s programme. This is an Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degree (EMJMD) investigating dance and other movement systems (ritual practices, martial arts, games and physical theatre) as intangible cultural heritage. I am really impressed by this programme! It was a very nice and friendly group of students from all over the world, and they are experiencing a truly unique education run by the 4 partner universities. This is an even more complex organisational structure than the MCT programme that I am involved in myself.

In addition to running a workshop with the Qualisys motion capture system that they have (similar to the one in our fourMs Lab at RITMO), I was asked to also present an introduction to motion capture in general, and also some video-based methods. I have made the more technically oriented tutorial Quantitative Video analysis for Qualitative Research, which is describing how to use the Musical Gestures Toolbox for Matlab. Since Matlab was outside the scope of this session, I decided to create a non-technical presentation focusing more on the concepts.

Most of my recent presentations have been made in Google Presentation, a tool that really shows the potential of web-based applications (yes, I think it has matured to a point where we can actually talk about an application in the browser). The big benefit of using a web-based presentation solution, is that I can share links to the presentation both before and after it was held, and I avoid all the hassle of issues with moving large video files around, etc.

Even though Google Presentation has been working fine, I would prefer moving to an open source solution. I have for a long time also wanted to try out markdown-based presentation solutions, since I use markdown for most of my other writing. I have tried out a few different solutions, but haven’t really found anything that worked smoothly enough. Many of the solutions add too much complexity to the way you need to write your markdown code, which then removes some of the weightlessness of this approach. The easiest and most nice-looking solution so far seems to be reveal.js, but I haven’t really found a way to integrate it into my workflow.

Parallel to my presentation experimentation, I have also been exploring Jupyter Notebook for analysis. The nice thing about this approach, is that you can write cells of code that can be evaluated on the fly, and be shown seamlessly in the browser. This is great for developing code, sharing code, teaching code, and also for moving towards more Open Research practices.

One cool thing I discovered, is that Jupyter Notebook has built-in support for reveal.js! This means that you can just export your complete notebook as a nice presentation. This is definitely something I am going to explore more with my coding tutorials, but for today’s workshop I ended up using it with only markdown code.

I created three notebooks, one for each topic I was talking about, and exported them as presentations:

A really cool feature in reveal.js, is the ability to move in two dimensions. That means that you can keep track of the main sections of the presentation horizontally, while filling in with more content vertically. Hitting the escape button, it is possible to “zoom” out, and look at the entire presentation, as shown below:

The overview mode in reveal.js presentations.

The tricky part of using Jupyter Notebook for plain markdown presentations, is that you need to make individual cell blocks for each part of the presentation. This works, but it would make even more sense if I had some python code in between. That is for next time, though.

Music Moves #4 has started

We have just kicked off the fourth round of Music Moves, the free, online course we have developed at University of Oslo. The course introduces a lot of the core theories, concepts and methodologies that we work with at RITMO. This time around we also have participants from both the MCT master’s programme and the NordicSMC Winter School taking the course as an introduction to further on-campus studies.

To help with running the course, we have recruited Ruby Topping, who is currently an exchange student at University of Oslo. She was a learner in the first round of Music Moves, and it is great to have her onboard as a mentor for the other learners.

Why join the course?

Music is movement. A bold statement, but one that we will explore together in this free online course.

Together we will study music through different types of body movement. This includes everything from the sound-producing keyboard actions of a pianist to the energetic dance moves in a club.

You will learn about the theoretical foundations for what we call embodied music cognition and why body movement is crucial for how we experience the emotional moods in music. We will also explore different research methods used at universities and conservatories. These include advanced motion capture systems and sound analysis methods.

You will be guided by a group of music researchers from the University of Oslo, with musical examples from four professional musicians. The course is rich in high-quality text, images, video, audio and interactive elements.

Join us to learn more about terms such as entrainment and musical metaphors, and why it is difficult to sit still when you experience a good groove.

Reflecting on some flipped classroom strategies

I was invited to talk about my experiences with flipped classroom methodologies at a seminar at the Faculty of Humanities last week. Preparing for the talk got me to revisit my own journey of working towards flipped teaching methodologies. This has also involved explorations of various types of audio/video recording. I will go through them in chronological order.

Podcasting

Back in 2009-2011, I created “podcasts” of my lectures a couple of semesters, such as in the course MUS2006 Music and Body Movements (which was at the time taught in Norwegian). What I did was primarily to record the audio of the lectures and make them available for the students to listen/download. I experimented with different setups, microphones, etc., and eventually managed to find something that was quite time-efficient.

The problem, however, was that I did not find the cost-benefit ratio to be high enough. This is a course with fairly few students (20-40), and not many actually listened to the lectures. I don’t blame them, though, as listening to 2×45 minutes of lecturing is not the most efficient way of learning.

Lecture recording

I organized the huge NIME conference in 2011, and then decided to explore the new video production facilities available in the auditorium we were using. All of the lectures and performances of the conference were made available on Vimeo shortly after the conference. Some of the videos have actually been played quite a lot, and I have also used them as reference material in other courses.

Making these videos required a (at the time) quite expensive setup, one person that was in charge of the live mixing, and quite a lot of man-hours in uploading everything afterwards. So I quickly realized that this is not something that one can do for regular teaching.

Screencast tutorials

After my “long-lecture” recording trials, I found that what I was myself finding useful, was fairly short video tutorials on particular topics. So when I was developing the course MUS2830 Interaktiv musikk, I also started exploring making short screencast videos with introductory material to the graphical programming environment PD. These videos go through the most basic stuff, things that the students really need to get going, hence it is important that they can access it even if they missed the opening classes.

The production of these were easy, using Camtasia for screencasting (I was still using OSX at the time), a headset to get better audio, and very basic editing before uploading to our learning platform and also sharing openly on YouTube. The videos are short (5-10 minutes) and I still refer students to them.

Besides the video stuff, there are also several other interesting flipped classroom aspects of the course, which are described in the paper An Action-Sound Approach to Teaching Interactive Music.

MOOC

The experimentation with all of the above had wet my appetite for new teaching and learning strategies. So when the UiO called for projects to develop a MOOC – Massive Open Online Course – I easily jumped on. The result became Music Moves, a free online course on the FutureLearn platform.

There are a number of things to say about developing a MOOC, but the short story is that it is much more work than we had anticipated. It would have never worked without a great team, including several of my colleagues, a professional video producer, an external project manager, and many more.

The end result is great, though, and we have literally had thousands of people following the course during the different runs we have had. The main problem is the lack of a business model around MOOCs here in Norway. Since education is free, we cannot earn any money on running a MOOC. Teaching allocations are based on the number of study points generated from courses, but a MOOC does not count as a normal course, hence the department does not get any money, and the teachers involved don’t get any hours allocated to re-run the MOOC.

We have therefore been experimenting with running the MOOC as part of the course MUS2006 Music and Body Movements. That has been both interesting and challenging, since you need to guide your attention both to the on-campus students but also to focus on the online learners’ experience. We are soon to run Music Moves for the fourth time, and this time in connection with the NordicSMC Winter School. Our previous on/off-campus teaching has been happening in parallel. Now we are planning that all winter school attendees will have to complete the online course before the intensive week in Oslo. It will be interesting to see how this works out in practice.

Flipped, joint master’s

Our most extreme flipped classroom experiment to date, is the design of a completely flipped master’s programme: Music, Communication and Technology. This is not only flipped in terms of the way it is taught, but it is also shared between UiO and NTNU, which adds additional complexity to the setup. I will write a lot more about this programme in later blog posts, but to summarize: it has been a hectic first semester, but also great fun. And we are looking forwards to recruiting new students to start in 2019.

Testing Blackmagic Web Presenter

Blackmagic Web PresenterWe are rapidly moving towards the start of our new Master’s programme Music, Communication & Technology. This is a unique programme in that it is split between two universities (in Oslo and Trondheim), 500 kilometres apart. We are working on setting up a permanent high-quality, low-latency connection that will be used as the basis for our communication. But in addition to this permanent setup we need solutions for quick and easy communication. We have been (and will be) testing a lot of different software and hardware solutions, and in a series of blog posts I will describe some of the pros and cons of these.

Today I have been testing the Blackmagic Web Presenter. This is a small box with two video inputs (one HDMI and one SDI), and two audio inputs (one XLR and one stereo RCA). The box functions as a very basic video/audio mixer, but the most interesting thing is that it shows up as a normal web camera on the computer (even in Ubuntu, without drivers!). This means that it can be used in most communication platforms, including Skype, Teams, Hangouts, Appear.in, Zoom, etc., and be the centerpiece of slightly more advanced communication.

My main interest in testing it now was to see if I could connect a regular camera (Canon XF105) and a document camera (Lumens DC193) to the device. As you can see in the video below, this worked flawlessly, and I was able to do a quick recording using the built-in video recorder (Cheese) in Ubuntu.

So to the verdict:

Positive:

  • No-frills setup, even on Ubuntu!
  • Very positive that it scales the video correctly. My camera was running 1080i and the document camera 780p, and the scaling worked flawlessly (you need the same inputs for video transition effects to work, though, but not really a problem for my usage).
  • Hardware encoding makes it easy to connect also to fairly moderate PCs.
  • Nice price tag (~$500).

Negative:

  • Most people have HDMI devices, but SDI is rare. We have a lot of SDI stuff, so it works fine for our use.
  • No phantom power for the XLR. This is perhaps the biggest problem, I think. You can use a dynamic microphone, but I would have preferred a condenser. Now I ended up connecting a wireless lavalier microphone, with a line-level XLR connection in the receiver. It is also possible to use a mixer, but the whole point of this box is to have a small, portable and easy set up.
  • 720p output is ok for many things we will use it for, but is not particularly future-proof.
  • It has a fan. It makes a little more noise than when my laptop fan kicks in, but is not noticeable if it is moved one meter away.

Not perfect, but for its usage I think it works very nicely. For meetings and teaching where it is necessary to have a little more than just a plain web camera, I think it does it job nicely.