The teaching/learning experience

Or my path to instructor certification

January 2017, I flew to Orlando to attend Rstudio::conf as my first R conference. I was lucky to have been granted a spot in the “Intermediate Shiny” workshop with Joe Cheng. Not only had I learned more about Shiny, but also about the structure of such intensive workshops and the way of teaching. I was observing these details closely, and I had a clear thought then; I would teach one of these workshops one day, whether in this conference or in other contexts.

Fast forward to January 2020, I flew to San Francisco to attend the same conference, but this time as part of the teaching staff and also as a Certified Rstudio Instructor.

*Teaching Staff - Rstudio::conf 2020*

The journey between the two scenes

Between the two events, I have gone through different experiences but the R community has always been in the heart of all of them in a way or another. When I say the R community, I refer to different diverse groups that played a role in getting me more involved, motivated and connected to other R users. I attended dojos, meetups, conferences, and an unconference. Each one had a different theme, audience or something special. I was open to learn from all and contribute whenever possible. And I believe being involved in the community with a genuine interest in learning and supporting others gave me a great network as a side effect, a positive consequence that I haven’t intentionally planned for.

To name a few, R-Ladies is one of these significant groups in the community. I met many members in several countries, got invited to speak at some events and also got recommended by the Tbilisi group (yes there’s a Tbilisi chapter!) to give my first R workshop at a conference in 2018. I also had a chance to contribute to a SatRdays event when I was invited to give a workshop at SatRday Johannesburg in 2019. RopenSci is another group that I was lucky to interact with and learn from, when I attended the Seattle unconf in 2018. And for sure I have a thing for Rstudio and its people whom I met in 2017 at my first conference.

But why do I teach?

I believe I have several reasons but last year I was asked to reflect and write why I teach. My first thought that I shared was:

“I attended tons of horrific, boring workshops and lectures. I could always see a way to make them better and more engaging. So I teach to provide people with a better learning experience. Also I learn through teaching; I benefit from interacting with beginners and seeing from their perspective. In addition, It is very rewarding to help someone go over the barrier of entry and the anxiety associated with coding.”

This was during a Carpentries instructor training which preceded my Rstudio instructor certification process.

So what led me to the Rstudio instructor certification?

I previously gave workshops in several contexts, but after giving a couple of R workshops, I thought it would be useful to learn more about teaching and to join a community of instructors with whom I could exchange experience and co-teach whenever possible. I joined the Carpentries instructor training program and got certified mid 2019. I had in mind the Rstudio new certification process then but I was busy in the second half of 2019 so I told myself I would check it in 2020. Before the end of 2019, I was informed there was a spot in an upcoming training led by Greg Wilson. I felt it was time I took it and I did register for it. I had the pleasure to go through the process, especially with Greg Wilson who would trigger the participants to think about different concepts and question assumptions about the learning and teaching processes.

Have I planned for all this?

I think looking backwards I would say I haven’t planned every step in this path. I just knew that I wanted to help others learn and contribute to the community. I was confident I was capable of it, and I was aware that I had some gaps to fill. So I took every chance that could get me closer to this. For instance:

  • I observed good teachers and kept notes of bad practices.
  • I taught workshops and got feedback from others.
  • I created an online course and experienced the difference between teaching online and interacting with the learners at hands-on workshops.
  • I wrote blog posts explaining a concept or a package usage step by step.
  • I read books about learning/teaching.
  • And for sure I registered for trainings to learn from the experienced instructors.

I know it will be a continuous learning process for me. There will always be room for improvement and getting a certification is not the end, it is just part of this process. And I believe many people in the community are capable of supporting others by teaching or providing a good learning experience and welcoming environment. They might think they are not ready yet, but I believe everyone has something to give as long as one has a deep interest in the topic and a desire to help others. And I hope more people will experience the gratification of helping others learn something new in their own way!

See also