18 November 2016

Preparing students to work with computers

As I gear up to teach bioinformatics again (lecture + lab, to undergraduates), I've been thinking about ways to ease the pain of introducing novice learners to coding and data management. I feel like I'm pretty good at helping students overcome challenges similar to those I personally faced as a newbie, but I'm also realizing that undergrads (at least at my institution) are increasingly ill-prepared with basic computer skills. In fact, some of my students access course reading materials (ebooks and PDFs) and submit homework (through Blackboard, our learning management system) exclusively through a mobile device (phone/tablet), and rarely (if ever) use a desktop computer or laptop. 

To make sure everyone is on the same page, I've decided to spend a bit of time in class the first week on basic computer skills. I've consulted the Wikiversity Computer Skills page and added a few ideas of my own, and here's what I've come up with:
  • Operating systems: Windows vs Mac vs Linux, since most students are familiar with the first two but we'll be working on Linux using a Virtual Machine
  • Computer organization: User folder, Desktop, Documents, Downloads, etc
  • Keyboards/typing: Location of special characters on keyboard (control, alt, etc), importance of capitalization/quotes/spaces
  • Internet: remote vs. local computing (since most students don't seem to know where data used on their phone is stored, or where data processing occurs), locating/unzipping downloaded files
  • Word processing: Microsoft Word vs. text editors
Granted, some of these ideas will need to be reinforced as we actually start coding (like "Don't write computer code in MS Word), but I'd like to introduce the concepts early. What am I missing? Are there other basic computer concepts we take for granted, that don't really fall into the "computer science" realm, but are necessary to be functional bioinformaticists? Please share in the comments!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Students will also need to know -
Memory: RAM vs storage
This is an important distinction for bioinformatics work