In order to see how much of Software Carpentry's Joel Test was biased toward Software Carpentry, I decided to evaluate myself and my experience teaching at a small liberal arts college. I mostly teach Genetics and Biochemistry. Greg gives Software Carpentry an 11/15 and calls it a B. Maybe at a grade inflated university it is, but in my classes a 73% is a C. Then again, I don't fare so well either:

1) Are all of your lessons searchable?

No, I don't upload my lecture notes until after the class, and even then they are in an incompatible format. Score: 0

2) Does each lesson solve a problem your learners believe they have?

Doubtful. But here is where SWC will differ from traditional teaching. Part of college teaching is convincing them that, say, the Gibbs free energy equation applies to their future studies. Most of SWC students are self selected. Score: NA

3) Are you teaching principles that will still be relevant in five years?

Chemical equilibrium is here to stay, so I'll yes. 🙂 Score: 1

4) Do your instructors regularly update your lessons in a publicly-accessible version control repository?

Nope. Score: 0

5) Do your instructors record and share their pedagogical content knowledge?

Oof. This is a mouthful. We have a Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching that holds regular seminars, though they are sparsely attended. Score: 0.5

6) Is there a coherent narrative running through all your lessons?

I wish. Though doing so for 40 lessons a semester (times 2-3 preps per semester) would take years. Some of my lessons have great narrative structure, most do not. Score: 0.1

7) Are lessons presented in short, digestible pieces with clear objectives at the start and practice exercises at the end?

This is intermingled with #6. My Genetics classes are quite interactive, and have regular activity time. I'm working on it for Biochemistry. Score: 0.5

8) Do you code live when teaching?

I do problems on the board without knowing the answer. Nothing like screwing up simple math to inspire confidence in your instructor. Score: 1

9) Do your setup instructions work for most learners, and do instructors know how to fix things when they don't?

More applicable to labs. Strength of the protocol highly dependent on who wrote it, and their commitment to updating it. It is the one true collaberative courses, and it is hampered by communication & sharing issues. Score: 0.25

10) Do you check learners' current knowledge and skills before teaching?

For intro classes, yes. They need to turn in evidence of preparation before class starts. For upper level, no, though I'm beginning to suspect that is a mistake. We make assumptions that once they've crossed the Sophomore Rubicon they've figured out how to study. I doubt that's true for all learners. Score: 0.75

11) Do you have real-time feedback in your classroom?

Classes are small, less than 20 most times. Class should be all about discussion and interaction. Students' willingness to participate in discussion varies highly by personality type. Score: 1

12) Do you check what learners got out of the workshop weeks or months later?

I of course have the benefit of quizzes and exams. Analysis of my students' performance indicates grades in my class correlate well with graduate exams like the GRE or MCAT. Score: 1

13) Do you have a standard for conduct that everyone is familiar with and that is actually enforced?

RTFS (Read The Fine syllabus). I do enforce it, though rarely need to explicitly remind students of it. Score: 1

14) Do you recruit potential new instructors from your workshops?


15) Do you teach your instructors how to teach?

The Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching holds a year long seminar series for new faculty, and leads all faculty forums. This is a new development, though, and I've had as many or more useful discussions about teaching methods going through SWC training. Score: 0.5

16) Do you provide explicit next steps for learners?

As a college we have counselors, advisors, etc. Not really comparable.

Total: 6.6/13 = 50%, failing. Whether the college experience itself or the instructor receives that grade is left to the reader.

My score on SWC’s ‘Joel Test’

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.