27 Aug 2018

Three years in the making for Instructor training in Latin America

Building global communities of Spanish-speaking Carpentry instructors and lesson developers

This post was originally posted on The Carpentries blog.

This month I co-taught a remote The Carpentries Instructor Training Workshop for 25 Spanish-speaking trainees in six countries in Latin America. It was awesome! One thing that made this workshop so special for me is that it has been three-plus years in the making. So, I thought I would tell the story, from my perspective, about all the things that came into play to make this workshop a reality.

The early days of The Carpentries workshops in Spanish

In 2016, Greg Wilson introduced me to Selene Fernandez-Valverde to discuss a Software Carpentry meets Spanish-speaking bioinformatics endeavour. Back then my Spanish was eight years out of practice and I was still learning to program. I didn’t think I had the expertise to teach programming in Spanish. Sue McClatchy had more expertise and practice, but it is still difficult for a native English speaker to live-translate a lesson from English to Spanish while live coding in front of a classroom.

This observation led to two simultaneous efforts: support a community-wide effort for collaborative lesson translation and provide instructor training for Spanish speaking instructors. That is exactly what many staff and volunteers have done over the past three years.

Spanish translations hacakathon and lesson maintenance

In November 2017, I went to Germany to attend OpenCon and worked on translating Software Carpentry lessons into Spanish with Paula Andrea Martinez. Our hackathon session has been immortalized in the promotional materials for OpenCon2018.

In December 2017, I finished my PhD, and I decided to go visit all the awesome open-science advocates that I met at OpenCon in Buenos Aires. I met Juli Aranco from Buenos Aires and we organized a lesson translation hackathon where we made huge progress on the Git and R lessons. We also ran a one-day Software Carpentry Workshop using those translated lessons. It was a huge success. The translated UNIX lesson was flawless. The translated Git lesson ran long but was good. Everyone brought snacks to share. All attendees and four of the five instructors were female. It was a great day.

The release of three stable Spanish translations meant that we needed lesson maintainers. So, while living in Buenos Aires, I also co-taught Carpentry Maintainer training in Spanish! I couldn’t have done this without Erin Becker, Ivan Gonzalez, and François Michonneau. Living in Argentina gave them the confidence to speak in Spanish about programming. I also immersed myself in the maintainer role, and my Git and GitHub skill levels skyrocketed. I can pretty much do all things Git now.

Instructor Training workshops for Puerto Rico and Argentina

Back in March 2017, Sue and I travelled to Puerto Rico to run instructor training in English that coincided with a Data Carpentry Replicathon (hackathon for replicating scientific results) taught by Tracy Teal, Phillip Brooks and a few others. We conducted the course in English, but we chatted in Spanish over coffee breaks and at parties. It was very cool. We hosted a few virtual bilingual demos and discussions after the workshop and that was fun but we lost momentum.

The real momentum for me for instructor training came from being introduced to the R Ladies Buenos Aires community in February 2018. Paola Prieto (one my co-instructors for the pilot The Carpentries workshop in Spanish) invited me to give a talk at their group meeting, so I decided to talk The Carpentries and reproducible research with R in Spanish! Everyone was really enthusiastic, so I started working to incorporate them into the instructor training program.

In June 2018, Sue taught a workshop at Jackson lab with about 20 people, but I Zoomed in with two RLadies from Argentina, Laura Acion and Maria Florencia. They did their practice teaching using R Gapminder Spanish lesson. I’m proud to say that Laura and Maria have already completed their instructor training, and the three of us are continuing to work together via RLadies Buenos Aires and the LatinR conference!

The first bilingual Instructor Training workshop for Latin America

Finally, in August 2018 we make it to the thing that people have been waiting for, a fully distributed online instructor training with participants in Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica, Educador, Mexico and Peru. This was really a global event with four co-trainers and helpers (me, Sue McClatchy, Greg Wilson, Alejandra Gonzalez-Beltran, Paula Andrea Martinez). We were located in Canada, the USA, the UK, and Belgium. Everyone but Greg spoke Spanish to some degree. The students were encouraged to ask questions or make comments in either English or Spanish, so the Etherpad supported a really bilingual mix of stories and notes.

On Day One, Sue and I taught the lessons completely in English. While all the attendees acknowledged that the workshop would be taught in English, I knew some didn’t understand as well as the others. So, while Sue talked, I live translated what she was saying into Spanish in the Etherpad. Paula and some of the attendees were kind enough to help out to improve the notes. For me, the best part of day one was the episode on mindset and grit. I asked the attendees to share a recent time when they persevered despite wanting to quit. Two people said that they almost didn’t show up to this workshop but that they were thankful they did. I responded by saying that I had also considered not teaching this workshop but I’m glad I did. I started crying because I was so grateful for the community support that helped everyone persevere.

On Day Two after lunch, Alejandra taught an episode on introductions speaking only in Spanish! (You can view the original episode in English or the translation.) Since I could read and listen to this episode in Spanish, note taking in Spanish was a lot easier. This really solidified in my mind how hard it is to translate and learn at the same time and why it is so important to have a library of lessons in Spanish. I decided to continue speaking in Spanish when I taught the last two episodes regarding The Carpentries teaching practices and operations. While I didn’t have a translated lesson to use, I have already one slideshow and given one talk about The Carpentries in Spanish, so I felt comfortable speaking about The Carpentries in Spanish.

During the final 20 minutes of the workshop, we had a roundtable discussion about what everyone was excited about moving forward. After two days of reading people’s thoughts in the Etherpad, it was great to have a face-to-face discussion and hear everyone’s voices. While everyone said something slightly different, the main theme is everyone wants to improve their local training programs by organizing and teaching Software Carpentry and Data Carpentry workshops.


I think we’ve come a long way growing communities of people who are passionate about improving research and teaching all over the world. You can read more about the translation and lesson release in the Carpentries blog in English and Spanish. As with the lesson translations, everyone is enthusiastic about organizing more workshops and expanding the curricula. These will be a long-term community project. To get involved, check out our GitHub repository for Spanish translations or join the Carpentries Latin America mailing list.

I’ve also come along way since this started. In three years, my fluency in verbal and computing languages has grown. In 2015 I didn’t think I was talented enough to teach programming in Spanish, but by early 2018 I had gained the experience and expertise necessary. It required some perseverance, but I didn’t do it alone; many colleagues around the globe contributed support to help turn some of these ideas into a reality. I think it is a beautiful example of how having a growth mindset, grit, and community support is really important when we think about expanding the Carpentries into new communities.


I want to thank Paula Andrea Martinez, Maria Florencia and Raniere Silva for comments on earlier versions of this post. Thanks to everyone who helped make all these events happen!

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