ELIXIR-EXCELERATE Train-the-Trainer programme helps close skills gap in bioinformatics training

To benefit from the big data revolution in life sciences, researchers need to learn how to access the data and turn them into insights. Researchers also need to know how to teach new users in bioinformatics tools and resources so that they can get the most from their data.  

Recent studies show a global lack of data analysis training in the life sciences, a challenge also noted in ELIXIR’s Scientific Programme. Fewer than 50% of respondents to a 2016 EMBL-Australia Bioinformatics Resource survey considered their training needs met by institutional or national services. University programmes for bioinformatics also typically do not include data analysis training, according to most respondents of a 2014 survey conducted by GOBLET, a global bioinformatics training organisation.

"Scientists at all career stages need ‘point of need’ training to help them make the best use of bioinformatics tools and resources in their research. ELIXIR is contributing to expand the provision of courses and also of new instructors able to deliver high-quality courses, and cope with the high demand for training," said Patricia Palagi, ELIXIR Training Platform Co-Lead.

In order to design and develop a training programme tailored to instructors within the ELIXIR infrastructure, the ELIXIR Training Platform carried out seven pilot ELIXIR-EXCELERATE “Train-the-Trainer” (EE-TtT) courses between January 2016 and 2017, training more than 60 new instructors.

"Basically, we used the pilots to teach basic concepts about how people learn and how best to teach them and — at the same time — to design a 'model course' and develop training materials," said Allegra Via, ELIXIR Italy Training Coordinator and EE-TtT programme co-lead.

The Training Platform published a paper on the delivery and outcomes of these pilots in ELIXIR’s F1000 channel last month. Suggestions from this paper have already contributed to the development of an ELIXIR TtT programme that can be hosted by each ELIXIR Member (Node).

Screenshot of the Training Platform paper on ELIXIR's F1000 channel

The idea was to equip bioinformatics experts with teaching strategies recommended by evidence-based studies in educational psychology. In an ELIXIR context, TtT courses are designed to address FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable) principles and create consistency in course materials across multiple countries and disciplines. TtT course materials have been made publicly available through a Github repository and the Training Platform is working with GOBLET to restructure them according to FAIR guidelines.

As the ELIXIR TtT programme progresses, the Training Platform aims to build a highly skilled community of instructors to help new trainers become more comfortable with delivering courses independently and to support the exchange of knowledge from Nodes with more experience. This can be done by creating opportunities for new trainers to shadow teaching demonstrations, requiring them to teach at least two events per year and facilitating the interchange of trainers between Nodes. The Platform also plans to recruit new instructors to teach TtT courses.

Via another ELIXIR Pilot action, several trainers within the ELIXIR network have also become Software and Data Carpentry (SWC/DC) instructors, which certifies them to teach basic software development skills and how to use data management and analysis tools the most effectively for research. The SWC/DC initiative incorporates TtT activities through its Instructor Training programme.

The ELIXIR TtT programme has so far been hosted by UK, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia and Switzerland Nodes. Other Nodes plan to host TtT workshops in the coming months. Those interested in participating can follow TtT courses on ELIXIR’s events page and access course materials via ELIXIR TeSS.

Further information

  • Brazas MD, Brooksbank C, Jimenez RC et al. A global perspective on bioinformatics training needs. bioRxiv 2017 (doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/098996)
  • Morgan SL, Palagi PM, Fernandes PL et al. The ELIXIR-EXCELERATE Train-the-Trainer pilot programme: Empower researchers to deliver high-quality training [version 1; referees: 2 approved]. F1000Research 2017, 6:1557 (doi: 10.12688/f1000research.12332.1)
  • Pawlik A, van Gelder CWG, Nenadic A et al. Developing a strategy for computational lab skills training through Software and Data Carpentry: Experiences from the ELIXIR Pilot action [version 1; referees: 3 approved]. F1000Research 2017, 6:1040 (doi: 10.12688/f1000research.11718.1)
  • Via A, Attwood TK, Fernandes PL et al.  A new pan-European Train-the-Trainer Programme for bioinformatics: Pilot results on feasibility, utility and sustainability of learning. Briefings in Bioinformatics 2017, 1:11. (https://doi.org/10.1093/bib/bbx112)

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Thu 26 October 2017