Exploring Remote Learning Methods for User Training in Research Computing

Dhruva K. Chakravorty, Lisa M. Perez, Honggao Liu, Braden Yosko, Keith Jackson, Dylan Rodriguez, Stuti H. Trivedi, Levi Jordan, and Shaina Le

Volume 12, Issue 2 (February 2021), pp. 11–17


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  author={Dhruva K. Chakravorty and Lisa M. Perez and Honggao Liu and Braden Yosko and Keith Jackson and Dylan Rodriguez and Stuti H. Trivedi and Levi Jordan and Shaina Le},
  title={Exploring Remote Learning Methods for User Training in Research Computing},
  journal={The Journal of Computational Science Education},
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The COVID-19 national health crisis forced a sudden and drastic move to online delivery of instruction across the nation. This almost instantaneous transition from a predominantly traditional "in-person" instruction model to a predominantly online model has forced programs to rethink instructional approaches. Before COVID-19 and mandatory social distancing, online training in research computing (RC) was typically limited to "live-streaming" informal in-person training sessions. These sessions were augmented with hands-on exercises on live notebooks for remote participants, with almost no assessment of student learning. Unlike select instances that focused on an international audience, local training curricula were designed with the in-person attendee in mind. Sustained training for RC became more important since when several other avenues of research were diminished. Here we report on two educational approaches that were implemented in the informal program hosted by Texas A&M High Performance Research Computing (HPRC) in the Spring, Summer, and Fall semesters of 2020. These sessions were offered over Zoom, with the instructor assisted by moderators using the chat features. The first approach duplicated our traditional in-person sessions in an online setting. These sessions were taught by staff, and the focus was on offering a lot of information. A second approach focused on engaging learners via shorter pop-up courses in which participants chose the topic matter. This approach implemented a peer-learning environment, in which students taught and moderated the training sessions. These sessions were supplemented with YouTube videos and continued engagement over a community Slack workspace. An analysis of these approaches is presented.