This is an abstract which we will submit to the Ubuntunet Connect conference in Kampala, November 2016. comments from @scigaia are invited.
Title : "The Sci-GaIA Online Winter School - lessons and perspectives"
As more and more investment is made in developing e-Infrastructures in the Sub-Saharan African region, these offer ever more exciting possibilities to research communities which use them. However, their evolution also makes them more complex and can present new barriers to entry for researchers who wish to adopt them. In general, technology-enabled research, and specifically ICT-enabled research in this case, requires that researchers become life-long learners, developing new skills and adopting new methodologies as tools and services mature and advance. To fill this need, we have witnessed the rise of MOOCs (Massively-Open Online Courses), delivered through web-based learning platforms. While MOOCs indeed provide the ability to learn widely-used skills to almost anyone with an internet connection, they by and large still favour the mass appeal market, due to their reliance on economies of scale. Niche skills, like those which are developed in small technical communities, and which are indeed needed to exploit e-Infrastructures, are often neglected. Furthermore, MOOCs are not typically well-integrated into existing e-Infrastructure, and credits earned and skills gained on them may not translate into actual better usage of the available e-Infrastructure by participants.
We therefore report on the experience of creating and running a niche course targeted at front-end developers of Science Gateways, the Sci-GaIA Winterschool, which was run over April and May 2016. We provide some insight and justification for the choice of learning platform (Open EdX), as well as the various customisations that were made to e.g. enable federated access. Since the school was highly technical in nature and run in a distributed fashion with students and instructors only interacting online, we show how the use of a continuous integration environment was added to provide feedback to participants and instructors alike. Despite the success of the school, we also discuss a few of the lessons learnt during the course of the school which may help to improve future versions.
Finally, we had the goal of integrating the winter school into institutional curricula. In order to do this, both the content and the means to execute the course should be Open and therefore reproducible. We show how we considered the creation of Open Educational Resources, and took steps to ensure that the integration and testing services necessary to support instructors and students were made easily re-usable and reproducible for future use.