Category: Noteable

ProgTeach Play by Play

The first ProgTeach Symposium took place on the 24th of August, this has been something that colleagues and I have been working towards for some time so it was great to finally see this come together. The premise is fairly simple, across the University of Edinburgh lots of people teach computation in some form so let’s make time for getting as many of these people in the same room together and discuss what they do (and how they do it).

As my first main event that I’ve run at the University of Edinburgh, my main concern was that I had put something together that no one would want to attend…..we filled 80% in 24 hours. As you can see below the event was pretty well attended, what you can’t see is how diverse the audience was, colleagues from 13 different schools turned up with a smattering of units within those schools.

So to kick us off we had an introduction from Anne-Marie Scott, Deputy Director of Learning, Teaching and Web Services. Anne-Marie has been very keen on the idea of running these types of events to get people talking together about their teaching practice and is also my boss’s boss so no pressure.

Up next our first speaker was Dr Areti Mantaki from the Centre for Medical Informatics to talk about her experience of delivering large (huge) scale distance learning introduction to programming courses.

Areti shared some great incites about teaching coding generally and also some of the challenges (and surprises) of teaching entirely online. Something that a lot of attendees agreed with was how important it was to include mistakes in your examples but also spend time walking through the solution.

Next up we had Professor Chris Sangwin and Dr Stuart King, both from the School of Mathematics who talked about their introductory programming course. This including speaking about introducing Jupyter notebooks into their teaching as well as using CodeRunner as an assessment tool. Important to note that the students really enjoyed the ‘game’ of pursuing getting full marks in practice question sets.

Then it was my turn (James Slack) to talk about the University’s Noteable service currently in a pilot phase. For those not familiar with Noteable this is the University’s own JupyterHub environment, giving access to Jupyter notebooks for teaching purposes. Although this is still in a pilot phase the demand has been high and we will be delivering the service to over 500 students this coming semester.

The next speaker was Andrew Kirk from the Digital Skills and Training Team who are using the Noteable service as part of their Digital Skills Programme to deliver beginner Python courses to students from across the University. The courses were overwhelmingly popular, the first session had 90 bookings for only 20 places and will run again in the coming semester.

After the lunch break, we had a quick talk from Sean McGeever about the carpentries workshops in Edinburgh and the creation of a supportive RSE community. The theme of this talk about building a community to support colleagues from across the University was very closely aligned with the whole theme of the day. Sean also got the funding for cake so bonus points for Sean.

For the penultimate session, we wanted to focus on the on the discussion between colleagues about how they approach certain challenges of teaching computational content. Ironically no-one had the confidence the attempts to answer “How do you build confidence in learners”.

Heres a full breakdown of the discussion points – Discussion (Word Document)

And then to wrap up the day we had a quick talk about creating Jupyter based OERs to support new users, there is obviously a lot of material out there for ‘Intro to Python’ already but what can be really useful is a collection of these in notebook form that we know will work straight away in Noteable and also some ancillary materials about how to use notebooks to make it easier for people to introduce them into their teaching.

And that was that! A very interesting line up of talks and very useful discussion between disciplines which is something I’m always interested in promoting. I’ll leave it to Anne-Marie to wrap up the day:

And yes, there will be another one!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Service Comparisons

A large part of my current project involves looking at other companies or services that offer Jupyter notebooks. The University has decided that it wants to provide notebooks but we also have to justify creating our own service. If there is something else that does what we need is it worth making our own version of it?

With this in mind, I have been creating a shortlist of services that are comparable and also drawing up a list of criteria to compare.

Here is the list of services:

Microsoft Azure Notebooks

Google Colaboratory

CoCalc

Anaconda Enterprise

And here’s a list of the criteria against which they will be compared:

Pricing  (how much do they charge and how do they charge it, what do you get access to when you pay, is there a free tier etc.)

Technical Specifications (e.g. RAM, CPU cores, Storage)

Extensions Available (e.g. nbgrader, RISE)

Supported Languages (There are many varied use cases throughout the university so how do we make sure all are supported, how quickly does the service add requested kernals.)

Focus/Audience (e.g. Azure is focused on Machine Learning, Goolge Colab is focused on collaborative programming)

Business Model (e.g. Azure is currently in a preview stage and may not be continued)

Community (This includes using the community as a measure of sector involvement and also how quickly the service administrators respond to feature requests or issues)

This comparison will take place over the summer and then I will publish our results. This is all about making sure that we are providing the best service that suits the needs of our users.

If you have anything you would like to add or think we have left any service or criteria out then let me know.