Technical Skills Outreach Project (2021-2022)

Project Overview

This project promotes foundational computational literacy and technical skill development across the three campuses of the University of Toronto (U of T) by providing instructors, undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, librarians, staff and researchers access to practical pedagogical skills and by supporting initiatives that proactively welcome participation of novice technical skill learners.
We will achieve this by:
  • Providing targeted Carpentries Instructor Training (a program that teaches people how to teach foundational technical skills) based on identified needs;
  • Supporting targeted technical skill acquisition initiatives anticipated to emerge from project activities;
  • Developing a tri-campus instructor support group through a series of outreach activities.
This project builds upon the success and outcomes of a 2019 Chief Librarian Innovation Grant project, “The Carpentries at the University of Toronto,” and aims to showcase the Library as encouraging teaching and learning foundational technical skills across the tri-campus. By having access to Instructor Training and a supported and sizeable instructor network at U of T, engaged units are empowered to embed computational literacy and technical skills development in their programs in flexible, local-context-specific, and inclusive ways.

The Carpentries - University of Toronto

The University of Toronto has a local community for The Carpentries. The Carpentries’ mission is to foster inclusive learning environment for novice learners by providing them with foundational technical skills. The Carpentries workshops (Data, Library, and Software) are taught by trained instructors. The Technical Skills Outreach Project Team’s goal is to train individuals, who can serve as instructors in the future, by providing Carpentries Instructors Training workshops to them. To learn more about The Carpentries at the University of Toronto, please visit the University of Toronto Carpentries community page

The Need

Computational and data literacies have become essential skills at U of T, whether for scholarly research involving analysis of large data sets in a reproducible manner or at the workplace to assess processes based on data. The ability to discern when and how automation should be applied is also an essential skill. These skills require a foundational understanding of how machines work. However, there are resourcing and systemic barriers that affect how people learn or access learning technical skills (e.g. stereotype threat, imposter syndrome, accessibility considerations). Social inequalities in the acquisition of technical skills and access to technical tools continue to exist. By providing targeted Carpentries Instructor Training and access to its inclusive community of practice, this project encourages participants from underserved groups to approach their own teaching and learning, as prosumers, with an awareness of these problems and how to foster healthy learning environments. The foundation of this ethos draws on the well-formed Carpentries community of practice.
This project recognizes that U of T units and libraries already offer a range of targeted, technical literacy workshops, often for specific tools (e.g. Map and Data Library’s Data & Digital Tools workshops, SciNet's Training and Education courses, University of Toronto Missisauga’s Finance Learning Centre’s offerings on financial data analysis, or University of Toronto Scarborough’s Makerspace, Digital Scholarship Unit, and the Bridge). This project is not intended to replace these offerings. Instead, by training peer trainers across U of T and developing a cross-unit instructor network, this project will increase access to training and trainers in a way that can be flexible, context-specific, and inclusive. Ideally, this network can then serve as a feeder for more targeted, intermediate or advanced offerings. There is large demand for these skills across many areas at U of T, and this project, focused on training-the-trainers, will enhance offerings in a wide-range of disciplines.

Benefits to the Targeted Community:

This project benefits three target communities:
  1. U of T members new to teaching technical skills are introduced to an innovative pedagogy and inclusive community of practice with a local and international reach, enhancing their employability;
  2. Units who have not yet invested in technical skill development in their programs will be more equipped to do so; and
  3. Novice learners facing barriers to increasing their competency in technical skills and computational literacy who will now have access to more inclusive learning spaces. Novice instructors and learners can include undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, research associates, faculty, librarians, and staff. Promoting foundational technical skill development will enable more novice learners, especially from the humanities, to participate more fully in emerging research data programs, such as the proposed U of T Data Science Initiative.

Project Team:

Rohan Alexander (Assistant Professor, Faculty of Information and Statistical Sciences) 
Meaghan Carthy (Graduate Student Library Assistant, Central Libraries)
May Chan (Team Lead and Head, Metadata Services, Central Libraries)
Arun Jacob (Graduate Student Library Assistant, Central Libraries)
Alex Jung (Open Knowledge Specialist, Communications, Central Libraries)
Sarah Park (Graduate Student Library Assistant, Central Libraries)
Elizabeth Parke (Senior Research Associate, Collaborative Digital Research, University of Toronto Mississauga)
Jordan Pedersen (Metadata Librarian, Metadata Technologies, Central Libraries)
Paulina Rousseau (Head of Liaison Librarian Program & Liaison Librarian, University of Toronto Scarborough Library)
Kathleen Scheaffer (Learning and Research Coordinator, Institute of Communication, Culture, Information and Technology (ICCIT), University of Toronto Mississauga)
Jess Whyte (Digital Assets Librarian, Digital Preserveration Unit, Central Libraries)
Mikayla Redden (Information Services and Instruction Librarian, D. G. Ivey Library, New College)
Mike Serafin (Library Technologies and Liaison Librarian, University of Toronto Mississauga Library)
Leanne Trimble (Data Librarian, Map and Data Library, Central Libraries)

Project Plan

Actions Timeline
  • Renew Carpentries institutional membership (COMPLETED)
  • Secure commitments from known stakeholder units (COMPLETED)
  • Determine schedule for Instructor Training (COMPLETED)
May-July 2021 
  • Plan and promote Instructor Training  (COMPLETED)
August-December 2021 
  • Identify and consult additional stakeholders
  • Review existing landscape and identify gaps
  • Identify emerging technical skill acquisition initiatives
  • Decide on allocation of Carpentries Instructor Training seats based on findings
  • Hold Instructor Training 
    • Summer 2021 (COMPLETED)
    • Winter 2022 (COMPLETED)
August 2021-February 2022 
  • Assess outcomes and make recommendations 
March-April 2022 












Ways to Get Involved

Our goal is to create diverse learning environment at the University of Toronto and we welcome innovative ideas of various individuals and groups. For questions about possible collaborations with the Technical Skills Outreach Project Team, please contact May Chan


For questions about this project and The Carpentries community at the University of Toronto, please contact May Chan