Software Carpentry

Helping scientists make better software since 1997

Presentation, Presentation, Presentation

Right now, the Software Carpentry material is basically printed pages on the web. Each lecture is a linear HTML page: bullet point follows bullet point, interrupted only by code snippets, tables, and diagrams. If I’m going to update the content, I’d also like to update the presentation; the question is, “To what?” An audio recording of me talking over the slides would add some value, though I think that typing in what I would say would probably be more useful, since most people can read faster than I can speak, and audio still isn’t googleable.

I’ve also thought about recording screecasts (audio on top of a video recording of my computer desktop). That would allow me to show live coding sessions, which I think many students would find valuable. Flipping that around, I could embed small snippets of video in the HTML pages. Then there are tools like Crunchy that allow you to create tutorials by embedding snippets of Python in web pages. That could help the programming parts of the course, but not with version control, Make (if we stick to Make, which I hope we don’t), or many other parts.

So: what’s the best online tutorial you’ve ever seen? What made it the best? Do you know how much effort it took to build the first time? How much effort it would take to build once the authors were experts in [name of tutorial-building technology goes here]?  Pointers would be very welcome…


Written by Greg Wilson

2009/09/24 at 13:17

Posted in Tooling, Version 4

5 Responses

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  1. […] on the Software Carpentry blog, I’ve posted a plea for pointers to good online tutorials: if I’m going to reorganize the SC material, I’d like to upgrade the format as well, […]

  2. Not sure this is what you’re referring to, but my favourite online tutorials are those by the Common Craft folks ( They’re not the best because of the tools they use (though those help; the sketchy animations are playful and engaging), but because of the polished clarity of their exposition. It must have taken a lot of effort to build them…


    2009/09/24 at 14:16

  3. Speaking only to the technique of recording screencasts and lectures and putting them online, and not to whether this is the best way pedagogically to do online tutorials:

    At CITA, we’ve used the ePresencesystem out of UofT with some success; see . It’s a huge PITA to set up, but generates very nice output (and does some OCR of the screen capture so you can search on the results!).

    At a recent week-long intensive course on MPI/OpenMP we had at CITA, we used a much simpler setup, a proprietary windows piece of software called Camtasia, which hooked up nicely into the cameras and mics we already had for a videoconferencing setup. I’d normally avoid the proprietary approach (to say nothing of windows software), but the PC that runs the videoconferencing setup is windows, and the package really just worked beautifully, and generates nice output in a number of different formats; a first draft of the results can be seen at .

    Note that all these approaches require some non-trivial amount of postprocessing work.

    Jonathan Dursi

    2009/09/24 at 14:16

  4. Oh, and: Camtasia also lets you put in macromedia flash quizes and interactive gadgets into the presention, although we haven’t tried that; so it is possible to make things more interactive. Don’t think such a thing is possible with epresence.

    Jonathan Dursi

    2009/09/24 at 14:18

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