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    Archive for the 'Tyson’s Tyrades' Category

    Digital evening classes?

    By Jim R Tyson, on 1 October 2018

    This term, for the first time that I know about, the Digital Skills Development team are offering sessions in the evening. I had intended to write a blog post ready for this morning promoting these sessions and encouraging people to sign up. Alas, I fell behind. However, when I logged on this morning to check our schedule of training and bookings, I was delighted to see that the two evening training sessions for R and RStudio have already attracted more bookings than any other session – and this just a few hours after booking opened!

    It will be interesting to find out how popular and successful this experiment is. If the demand is there for out of hours sessions in Digital Skills Development then we may be able to increase the offer. Do you find the idea of an evening class in digital skills attractive? Let us know in the comments.

    Introducing StepShot Manuals

    By Jim R Tyson, on 8 February 2018

    For a while now, I have been quietly promoting StepShot Manuals (StepShot for short) to my colleagues in ISD. StepShot is a rapid documentation development tool. Which is not nearly as bad as it sounds. StepShot allows you to record an on-screen process – for example, formatting a table in Word or filling out an expenses form – taking screenshots, adding callouts and annotations and writing explanations as you go.

    Some key uses for StepShot include

    • rapid development of training materials and technical documentation
    • developing test scripts for UAT
    • recording test results or bugs
    • creating knowledgebase articles
    • recording process for business analysis and process review

    If you have ever done these jobs, then you might have combined several tools, for example

    a screenshot tool (Windows has one built in), Word, an image editor (Paint or Photoshop), with a workflow like this: take all your screenshots, insert them into word editing, cropping etc as you go, adding explanatory text.

    Stepshot brings all this together in one tool. You set it up to record the activity and select to create a screenshot for mouse clicks or keyboard actions or to use a specific hot key combination for screenshots. As you go through the activity recording images you can also give each a descriptive title and a comment. When you stop recording StepShot opens its editing tool. This latter looks a bit like PowerPoint: your images are listed vertically down the left while the main window allows you to edit an image and add text.

    Click to see the animation!

    This is already a vast improvement on hacking documents together with separate applications, none of them specifically designed for the job, but wait there’s more! StepShot can export your document when you have finished, as Word, PDF, HTML, XML or DITA and can publish directly to Confluence, SharePoint or WordPress. (If they add a PowerPoint option I’ll throw a party). There are simple built in templates for output and with a little effort you can create a customised or branded template.

    So, currently about a dozen people at UCL have taken up a license (UCL staff members can contact ISD Training Administration for licensing information. To use StepShot you do need admin rights on your Windows or Mac PC.). It has been used to create training materials for lecturecast (published on Confluence), it has been used in UAT creating test scripts, it has been used by software testers to record bugs and communicate them to developers. No one currently using it has had more than a two minute informal introduction to the product but people seem to pick up its basic use very quickly. Users report that they enjoy using it as well. The most commone response using it for the first time has been about the immense time savings you can achieve and next about the simplicity of use. One or two people have commented that they don’t really like the look of the output, but this is largely because they haven’t learned how to customise output. I have offered a short workshop on customisation and hope to run it again.

    I have created a Microsoft Team site and I will be keeping in touch with people using it since I have been asked to feedback our experience to the developers.

    Review: Automate the Boring Stuff with Python

    By Jim R Tyson, on 4 April 2017

    Author: Al Sweigart
    Materials:
    Book  $29.95 print, $23.95 e-book or from Amazon £15.54 print, £11.39 Kindle.
    Website
    Youtube fifteen free videos from the Udemy course
    Udemy: £50 (Discounted to £10 as at 4/4/2017 ) fifty one lectures following the book

    Python is often said to be a fun language to learn. Programming is sometimes said to be fun to learn. The combination ought to be fun too.  My lasting impression of these materials is that they are fun.

    Learners often find that resources for beginners self-tuition in programming are either daunting, or badly designed, or too simple minded to be of real help. This set of resources scores highly on all of these.

    Automate the Boring Stuff with Python is a book that is accompanied by a website, some youtube videos, and (for pay) a Udemy online course. There are eighteen reasonable length chapters and three appendices. The first ten chapters cover the absolute basics of procedural programming starting with simple interaction with the interpreter (do some sums!) through variables and assignment, flow control, writing functions, complex data structures, strings, input and output and debugging. There are one or two other topics that it was interesting to see dealt with relatively early such as searching with regular expressions and file manipulation – including compression, bulk filename routines – but they are simply explained and they make sense given the intention of the material (automating stuff). The book is well designed and clearly written. The website has the same material but includes an in-line interpreter so that you can type code as you go, make mistakes and correct them, and see the results when, finally, you get it right. I watched the free youtube videos and they were well made with clear explanations as were the other free tasters of the Udemy course.  The youtube videos get a big thumbs up in their comments sections.

    Overall, I think these materials are a good start for a beginning programmer who isn’t intending to become a software engineer. It would suit a learner whose aim is to write programs intended mainly for their own use. It doesn’t cover some topics that are increasingly included in early training for programmers, for example version control or test driven development, but for many learners overcoming the initial barrier to writing some effective code is more important than these aspects of best practice. The use of object methods, defensive programming and more can be tackled later.

    The second part of the book and course introduces the use of python libraries for some common and useful tasks. This section includes a variety of projects including web scraping, working with spreadsheets and word processor documents, integrating email in programs. In a higher education context you might want to include numpy, scipy, matplotlib but there are good tutorials for these – good at least for someone who already has basic coding skills and is familiar with the use of libraries – exactly where someone would be after finishing this course.  They are good choices if you want to learn scripting to automate the boring stuff, maybe periodically grabbing data from a website or a spreadsheet and transforming it before writing to a new file for example.

    It’s particularly nice that the website has an embedded interpreter, but I think you would want learners to move onto an IDE eventually and perhaps in some contexts you might want to replace the use of the in-line interpreter with iPython notebooks.

    Overall this is one of the best resources for beginning programmers I have seen and as a suite of resources it could be easily supplemented and adapted to meet an expanded or amended set of objectives.