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’s 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.

NIME publication: “NIME Prototyping in Teams: A Participatory Approach to Teaching Physical Computing”

The MCT master’s programme has been running for a year now, and everyone involved has learned a lot. In parallel to the development of the programme, and teaching it, we are also running the research project SALTO. Here the idea is to systematically reflect on our educational practice, which again will feed back into better development of the MCT programme.

One outcome of the SALTO project, is a paper that we presented at the NIME conference in Porto Alegre this week:

Xambó, Anna, Sigurd Saue, Alexander Refsum Jensenius, Robin Støckert, and Øyvind Brandtsegg. “NIME Prototyping in Teams: A Participatory Approach to Teaching Physical Computing.” In Proceedings of the International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression. Porto Alegre, 2019.

MCT at NIME
Anna Xambó presents the paper “NIME Prototyping in Teams: A Participatory Approach to Teaching Physical Computing” at NIME 2019.

Abstract:

In this paper, we present a workshop of physical computing applied to NIME design based on science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) education. The workshop is designed for master students with multidisciplinary backgrounds. They are encouraged to work in teams from two university campuses remotely connected through a portal space. The components of the workshop are prototyping, music improvisation and reflective practice. We report the results of this course, which show a positive impact on the students on their intention to continue in STEM fields. We also present the challenges and lessons learned on how to improve the teaching and delivery of hybrid technologies in an interdisciplinary context across two locations, with the aim of satisfying both beginners and experts. We conclude with a broader discussion on how these new pedagogical perspectives can improve NIME-related courses.

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.

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.

Starting afresh

After four years as Head of Department (of Musicology at UiO), I am going back to my regular associate professor position in January. It has been a both challenging and rewarding period as HoD, during which I have learned a lot about managing people, managing budgets, understanding huge organizations, developing strategies, talking to all sorts of people at all levels in the system, and much more.

I am happy to hand over a Department in growth to the new HoD (Peter Edwards). We have implemented a new bachelor’s program, launched UiO’s first MOOC (Music Moves), and hired a number of new people, just to mention a few of the things I have worked on over the last years. I am also proud that we just got our new appointment plan approved before Christmas, aiming at hiring up to seven new professors within the next five years. Humanities departments are under a lot of pressure these days, so I am very grateful that we are in a position to expand in the coming years!

I have only been teaching sporadically while being HoD, so I am excited about getting back to running the course Interactive Music that I started up a while back. This is a so-called “practical-theoretical” course, aiming at giving students a holistic perspective on designing musical instruments and systems. I published a paper on the design of this course a few years ago (An action–sound approach to teaching interactive music), and have since gathered some more ideas that I want to test out when it comes to teaching students a combination of music cognition and technology focused around some concrete designs. I also hope that these ideas will turn into my next book project, if successful.

I am also excited about starting up ny new research project MICRO – Human Bodily Micromotion in Music Perception and Interaction, in which we will focus on how music influences us when at rest. Fortunately, the fourMs lab is really getting up to speed now, so we will really be able to study micromotion in great detail.

In getting ready for my new working life, I decided to wipe my main computer (a Lenovo Yoga Pro 2) yesterday. I have been running various versions of Ubuntu over the last years (Ubuntu Studio, Ubuntu GNOME, and Linux Mint), but decided to go for the regular Ubuntu 16.10 this time around. I think Unity has matured quite a bit now, and works very well on the Yoga’s multitouch HiDPI display. This was my first complete reinstall since I got the laptop almost three years, and was definitely needed. I always test a lot of different software and settings, so the system had gotten clogged up by lots of weird stuff on top of each other. The new clean system definitely feels smooth and well-functioning. It feels like a digital and mental “shower”, getting ready for the new year!