Using R as a Community Workbench for The Carpentries Lesson Infrastructure

By [Zhian N. Kamvar], François Michonneau in talks

July 8, 2021


A community-informed re-imagining of The Carpentries Lesson Infrastructure


July 8, 2021


2:05 AM




The Carpentries is a global community of volunteers that collaboratively develops and delivers lessons to build capacity in data and coding skills (in R and multiple other languages) to researchers worldwide. For the past five years, our collaboratively-developed lesson template ( has been the basis for our growing collection of peer-reviewed lesson content. This template was fully self-contained with all the tools and styles needed to create a full lesson website. While the lessons themselves were designed to be easy to author, there were two significant barriers in our toolchain for contributors: software installation and style updating. As our lesson repertoire and community has continued to grow, this template model has not scaled well, resulting in barriers to entry and wasted volunteer time. In 2020 we began the process to redesign our template from the ground up using a combination of R’s literate programming ecosystem and GitHub Workflows, resulting in three R packages called {sandpaper}, {pegboard}, and {varnish} for handling, validating, and styling lessons. The new approach separates the content from the tools and style, allowing for seamless updates so the maintainers can focus on authoring their lessons and not on the tools needed to build them. To accommodate the wide array of diverse skill sets in our community, we wanted to ensure the tools could be used by anyone without any prior knowledge of R. We will detail how we involved our community in iterated development of the new template with user stories, passive community feedback, community member interviews, and user experience testing. In the end, we will show how the wide array of tools available in the R ecosystem makes it easy for us to rebuild our lesson infrastructure in a way that significantly reduces the barrier for entry for our community volunteers.

Posted on:
July 8, 2021
2 minute read, 296 words
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