Oh How I Have Failed Thee, Jupyter Notebooks…

Although I first came across Jupyter – then IPython – notebooks in October 2012 (I think…), it took me another six months or so before I started playing regularly with them and pitched them for the then nascent TM351 course (geeknotes/history). We decided to explore the notebooks when the course/module team first met around about October 2013. Four years ago. Notebooks were also adopted for the Learn to Code for Data Analysis FutureLearn course (H/T to Michel Wermelinger for driving that) and only get the briefest of look-ins in the new level 1 course TM112 (even after I showed we could probably get turtle running in them…).

But to my shame I haven’t lobbied more on campus, and haven’t done the rounds giving talks and workshops and putting together meaningful demos.

Which is possibly the sort of activity that this newly advertised, and hugely attractive, role at the University of Edinburgh (h/t @PhilBarker) is designed to support – eLearning Officer Computational Notebooks.

Do you have a sound knowledge of technology and an enthusiasm for evaluating new approaches in education? We are looking for a learning technologist with a passion for communication and relationship management to lead a pilot of Jupyter notebooks for learning and teaching at the University of Edinburgh.

Jupyter notebooks are open-source web applications that enable learners to create, share and reuse computational narratives. Based within the central Information Services you will work closely with academic colleagues in Science and Engineering. You will analyse user requirements, advise on and support the use of Jupyter and evaluate the success of the pilot.

After clicking on the Apply button, we get to some more detail. Part of the purpose of the job is to “scope, assess demand and support requirements for a computational notebook (Jupyter Notebook) service”, something we’re trying to push through in a very limited form in the OU in order to support the TM112 notebook activity.

Here’s how the responsibilities unpick:

  1. To help academic and support staff make best use of learning technology services (in this case Jupyter Computational Notebook Service) and where required supporting and managing service change. Documenting use cases and sharing good practice and innovative solutions to improve the user experience. (Approx % of time 40%)
  2. To work with the user community and project partners in academic departments in order to continually improve the services and range of tools on offer. To maintain an up-to-date knowledge of the broader e-learning landscape in order to influence strategic direction and to develop innovative and appropriate use of learning technologies. (Approx % of time 30%)
  3. To participate and lead user and partner engagement events, in order to promote collaboration, knowledge sharing and greater awareness of services. To organise testing, training and workshops to support users. To represent the University and its interests both internally and externally. (Approx % of time 20%)
  4. Contribute to process improvement within both ISG and the wider University. Liaise and negotiate within members of University committees, user forums and working groups to formulate policy in accordance with the university strategic aims for learning and teaching. (Approx % of time 10%)

(On process improvement, I think Jupyter notebooks can provide a useful authoring environment (along with things like “written diagrams“) for “reproducible”  (which is to say, maintainable) course materials in the OU context. An approach I have had a total lack of success in promoting.)

I couldn’t help but try out a quick search for other notebooks related job ads, and turned up a handful of research posts, including one for a Bioinformatics Training Developer at the University of Cambridge – Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute. The job duties and requirements provide an interesting complement to the skills required of a data journalist:

The training courses and summer schools already established are very popular and have gained a strong reputation. In this role, you will further develop the existing courses to reflect new advances. You will also create and deliver new training courses and materials in scientific data analysis and visualization, … . You will be responsible for assessing the training needs of research scientists and shaping a programme to meet those needs. This is an excellent opportunity to develop and apply new training approaches, making use of technologies such as R/Python Notebooks, Shiny web applications and Docker.

The successful candidate will have a degree in a scientific or computational discipline and preferably a postgraduate degree (MSc or PhD) and/or significant experience in Bioinformatics or Computational Biology, including the analysis of omics datasets using R. The role requires a high level of interpersonal and organizational skills and previous experience in preparation and delivery of training courses is essential. Strong practical skills in R and/or Python are highly desirable, including the use of version control systems, e.g. GitHub. …

[My emphasis.]

It’s maybe also worth mentioning here the current consultation around the draft Data Scientist Integrated Degree Apprenticeship (level 6) standard. Please comment if you can…

PS I popped together a feed for a search for “notebooks” on jobs.ac.uk using fetchrss.com to try to keep track of future upcoming academic job ads making mention of notebooks.

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

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