Our readers are aware that we introduced web-based bioinformatics training modules. So far, we completed one one-month long class, and another one with ~15 students from China and India is currently ongoing. Here are our current assessment of those two modules.
The classes work in the following manner. All students join a common classroom, where we discuss topics related to the subject being taught. During class, the students are asked to solve problems in the computer account provided by us, and we monitor their work by accessing their accounts. That way, we can periodically give feedback to each of them through private communication, while they are working. If we notice that many of them were stuck on the same step or are making similar errors, we discuss that aspect in the classroom.
We had both success and failure with the first class. On the plus side, the technology worked way better than we expected. The software and chat-based communication method, which were our biggest worries, had been working faultlessly after a few initial hiccups.
On the minus side, we realized that our plans were too ambitious for a one month-long module. We tried to incorporate programming examples from genomics, but given that the students were learning the programming languages for the first time, it was difficult for them to even get to genomics and solve interesting problems. In fact, they did amazingly well despite beginning with such handicap. The second challenge was that different students proceeded at different pace, and the class soon went out of sync.
We fixed many of those negatives in the Asian class and it is going a lot more smoothly. First, we reduced the number of classes to only one/week, but increased the amount of time per class to two hours. In fact, the classes always continue longer than what we originally plan. Second, we split the course material into eight levels (eight classrooms), and students progress from one level to another after successfully learning the topic. That way, students in a classroom are always in sync with others. Third, we built a python sandbox, so that the students do not need to log into linux server on the first day. Learning a new programming language and a new operating system together can get a bit overwhelming. Finally, we are putting all course materials online in book format so that it becomes easy for the students to read and learn outside classroom.
We will post another update after completion of the Asian module !