Overview of the Fall 2017 Python Open Labs
Python Open Labs reconvened in September with three new DSSC interns. Unlike my colleagues studying Computer Science and Computer Engineering, I am a Human Rights Masters Student at SIPA/ISHR. While we come from different backgrounds and levels of expertise in Python, this semester has been both productive and challenging as we worked to leverage our abilities and share our experiences in Python in an accessible and comprehensible format.
Our approach to the workshops was simple: teaching in a lecture-style format week after week– a slow progression to build on concepts introduced the previous session. We collectively agreed that Python is a coding language that is relatively easy to grasp given that the correct tools are available. Moreover, given its relevance to a variety of academic disciplines and careers, we strove elicit a positive reception from students attending these sessions. The latter point was quickly reciprocated by learners, who responded really well to the linear format of the labs. We welcomed students from a wide variety of schools, including Teacher’s College, SIPA, Urban Planning, and Journalism.
There was always too much material (or too much ambition — call it what you may), and we tried our best to manage time, but often found that sessions ran over their allotted time and continued on to the following week. Our pseudo lectures always included practicing concepts (eg. classes, dictionaries, loops etc.) a few times over the course of the 2 hours to see how students interpreted and applied them. We felt inspired by the variety of solutions that students shared! It has been incredibly rewarding to watch students become more confident in their abilities to write code and utilize their fluency of Python applications to solve a given exercise or problem as we delved deeper into the language.
As a student disengaged from Python in my day to day studies, I found myself trying to push my fellow interns to simplify material and slow down! This has definitely been one of our most obvious challenges as moving through material too quickly has caused confusion and an influx of questions via email post-lab. It has been difficult at times to gauge exactly how students are responding to a specific concept such as list methods (a particularly complex lesson), as we receive little to no participatory feedback from students in the lab. I hope to challenge this next semester by pausing more often for feedback and for creating a space where active dialogue between interns and students allows us to work in sync.
Between the three interns, we have had great fun amalgamating our skills, strengths, and weaknesses in and around the lab to optimize students’ experiences. In doing so, we have learned more than we imagined about our own approaches to the language as well as teaching habits. Next semester, though my teammates will be graduating and moving on from Columbia, I am very much looking forward to continuing the labs in the aforementioned format.
One of the ways I hope to further enhance the workshop format is to focus on team, or group learning by way of small projects or discussions to accompany the lessons. Collaborative learning not only promotes learning by bringing people of different skill levels together, it also replicates the type of environment (think career) in which one would participate as a professional with coding expertise.
I also hope replace the weekly handouts I would create for lessons with an electronic format. I hope to share lesson structures and practice problems in a blog post or a Jupyter notebook to alleviate the environmental impact of printing paper.
Already looking forward to the Spring semester! All questions, comments, and feedback are strongly encouraged.
Please visit the DSSC blog for Fall 2017 Python Open Lab weekly summaries and materials.