Presentation Open Access

Reproducible Education: What teaching can learn from open science practices

Wickes, Elizabeth

Recording of talk:

Slide decks are often considered a universal currency in higher education. They are passed down over time to new instructors, given to students who missed class, and generally treated as the sole piece of writing necessary to deliver a lesson or class. Their universality does not mean they can fully replicate the educational experience, particularly in a technical context. The semester/quarter educational cycle creates a constant demand for reuse of not only one’s own lesson materials but also lessons crafted by others.

As practitioners of open science begin to migrate their educational material into platforms like GitHub and release them under permissive reuse licenses, the possibilities of reuse begin to align neatly with reproducible science practices. (And the challenges that instructors reusing materials face happen to be very similar to those of researchers attempting to reuse data or complete replication studies.) Tools like the Jupyter Notebook provide an excellent platform to combine narrative instruction and code in a single document. This narrative can be written for readers and presenters, making it valuable for students as an independent educational document and a basis for rerunning a lecture. Harnessing their rendering features, Jupyter notebooks stored in a public repository like GitHub can now be stored with additional documents, metadata, and provenance information. The benefits of this approach include:

Project management features support normative practices like submitting a pull request and filing an issue, and they can be handled with direct links to the lesson material in question.

  • Common items, such as syllabuses, project directions, or lesson documents, can live behind a static notebook link, so instructors can make small changes without having to go through the full republication process within their course management software.
  • Commit tracking gives instructors, administrators, and students a transparent view of when changes were made.
  • Spinning up for a new semester can be as simple as importing notebooks into a new repository.
  • Changes made to a lesson notebook can be reviewed as diffs, making it easier to tell where a colleague or other instructor changed your materials over the course of the semester.

Elizabeth Wickes explains how open science practices can be used in an educational context and why they are best facilitated by tools like the Jupyter Notebook. Along the way, Elizabeth shares pointers and suggestions that are relevant to both formal (e.g., academic) and informal (e.g., internal training, documentation, tutorials, etc.) educators from any domain. While Elizabeth offers a short overview of common open science practices and perspectives, the focus will be on Jupyter notebooks as the primary medium for lesson development and publication.

Talk presented at the JupyterCon 2018 conference in NYC
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