Instructor Training in Puerto Rico

Authors: Rayna HarrisSue McClatchyTracy Teal BLOG

“Building community through training and coding”

On March 24-25, Rayna Harris, Sue McClatchy, and Tracy Teal co-taught an instructor training workshop at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR). This was a very special workshop in many ways, and we are excited to share some of the highlights with you.

Also, be sure to check out an accompanying blog post by Humberto Ortiz Zuazaga about the combined Replicathon and Instructor Training events.

Unique aspects of the workshop

Our instructor training event was co-located with a “Replicathon”, which was a 2 day-hackathon built around reproducing the analysis published in some recent high-profile journal articles. Having two simultaneous events really gave the feeling of a “critical mass” for building a community of researchers who are passionate about using and teaching reproducible research practices.

Rayna and Sue have been working together on the the mentoring committee for 2 years, but didn’t meet face-to-face until March 24. One of the really amazing features of the Carpentries is that sometimes your closest colleagues live thousands of miles away.

About the trainees

Eleven of the twelve trainees were faculty members from various UPR campuses, and one trainees was from a private company. The trainees were born and raised in Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Colombia, and the Ukraine, so English was everyone’s second language.

All the trainees were very excited to meet other faculty members with similar challenges and opportunities. They were all very motivated to enhance their teaching skills and implement new tools and techniques in their classrooms. Together, they have great ideas for building a data-literate community, and they really care about the success and progress of their students.

Modifications to the curriculum

We planned on starting the workshop with an introduction to the Carpentries and Carpentry teaching practices because we knew that none of the attendees had participated in a Carpentry workshop. We had to modify this plan slightly when we were asked if our trainees could attend Tracy’s keynote lecture for the Replicathon during that time slot we had devoted for the introduction to the Carpentries. In the end, Tracy’s keynote did an excellent job highlighting the history, vision, mission, and accomplishments of the Carpentries. It sparked a lot of enthusiasm and provided a great foundation for the rest of the training.

You can view our workshop schedule here:

At the end of the workshop, we took a few minutes to go around the room and have everyone say what they are excited about for the future. (This exercise is pretty standard for the weekly instructor discussion sessions, but it is not part of the instructor training curriculum.) Since most of the discourse during a workshop happens in the Etherpad, it was great to hear something positive from everyone. They also showed real enthusiasm for building communities and teaching, and you could tell that all the trainees has a positive experience.

Trainees response to the curriculum

The trainees really enjoyed getting feedback from their peers, which served to increase their network and improve their teaching skills. They also said that the material on motivation and demotivation resonated particularly well.

We received a lot of suggestions from the group on how to improve the typical workshop lesson to make them more approachable (such as having an overview that is separate from the agenda, having a rationale for each lesson in addition to the questions and learning objectives).

The trainees pointed out a few places where we used idioms that did not translate well and had to be explained. This is an ongoing topic of discussion, and we are working to evaluate the lessons to minimize use of idioms.

Advice for new instructors

I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger. Here are a few pieces of advice we have for new instructor trainers:

  1. Have trainees pick their lesson for live coding before going home on day 1. The live coding exercise can be particularly challenging when the trainees don’t fully prepare. By asking them to choose the lesson on the end of day 1, everyone can go into the exercise a little more prepared.
  2. When soliciting responses in the Etherpad, type everyone’s name on a new line so that the trainees know where to put their response and so that the instructor’s can gauge how students are processing with the challenge exercise.
  3. Introductions are crucial. As the instructor, be sure to articulate your qualifications for teaching the curriculum (which are different from the qualifications you would articulate when teaching R or Python). Also, the trainees really want to meet the other trainees, so be sure that they all introduce themselves to each other.


Thanks to Erin Becker, Jonah Duckles, Kari Jordan, Maneesha Sane, and Greg Wilson from Software Carpentry and Data Carpentry for helping make instructor training an awesome thing. Thanks to the group of instructor trainers for collaboratively building the train-the-trainer curriculum. Thanks to the Carpentry community members for your enthusiastic support of events like these. Thanks to Humberto Ortiz Zuazaga, Yamir Torres, Jose Garcia-Arraras, and Patti Ordóñez for welcoming us into their community in Puerto Rico.

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