This post describes my path to that certification, and I hope it will serve to encourage you to take your journey.
Whoever wants to be certified must pass two exams: a practical test of technical proficiency in the selected subject, in my case Tidyverse (there is also one for Shiny), and another on teaching. In other certifications (I did a couple of Microsoft in the 2000s and people my team did one from CISCO) they usually have a curriculum of compulsory courses to be certified, in addition to the exams. In this case, the only compulsory course is on pedagogical tools to teach programming related topics (although many tools are very useful beyond that). For technical knowledge, one should have a firm grasp of the concepts in the book R for Data Science and it is recommended to go over the exercises and their solutions.
During 2019, the RStudio certification program sought to have a cohort of approximately a dozen Latin American women to take the necessary exams to certify before December 31, 2019. Initially, all the students had to live in Buenos Aires, but later some were accepted from other parts of Argentina, like me, and from other countries (Chile and Bolivia).
Most of the members of the group are R-Ladies: organizers, founders, or members of some chapter of the region, so we know each other (some in person, some virtually). Learning is always better If you study with others, so we immediately organized ourselves to embark on this journey.
The first thing we did was to create a private channel called certification in the R-Ladies Buenos Aires Slack (which also acts as a Slack of R-Ladies in Argentina), with all the participants to have a channel of clear and accessible communication.
One day in the week was voted and agreed to meet to study each chapter of the book R for Data Science; it turned out to be Sundays at nap (I must clarify that I was not there when the vote happened...who wants to interrupt Sunday nap time to study R? hihihi)
We create a google drive where we share all the available material and the material we generate during the study process.
We distributed all the chapters and at each meeting, someone prepared the material, presented it, shared the slides or the RMarkdown along with their advice on solving the exercises that corresponded with each chapter. After the presentation, we discussed the topic. We also resolved issues about the chapters that were already presented. We recorded all the meetings for people who were unable to attend. Those of us who were geographically distant or could not attend the meeting joined by video conference (using Jitsi).
We did the translation of the RStudio cheat sheets as part of our study process. Achieving a good translation implies understanding the topic well enough, especially to respect the original meaning of the writing. We had to agree on what terms to translate and sometimes how to translate them. As some of us had participated in the translation of R for data science into Spanish we based on the agreements reached there. We tasked participants with translating R cheatsheets and we reviewed at least one cheat sheet. All the discussion about the translation was done by Slack and during the meetings.
Learning to teach
The only mandatory training is a one-day training course on modern evidence-based teaching methods on technology-oriented teaching practices. In our case, the course was taught by Greg Wilson during two consecutive mornings with a duration of approximately four and a half hours per day. Prior to the video conference meeting (using Zoom), they sent us a reminder, video conference details, a couple of short readings (teaching strategies, how to create an effective lesson, helping to collaborate on open projects and how to teach programming), the full course material and an invitation to a Google document that we use to take shared notes. The course is taught in English and we have the material in Spanish thanks to Laura Acion.
If you teach programming or any kind of digital tools, this course gives you useful tools to generate, plan, give and evaluate your classes in a better way for your students, yourself, and your colleagues. It has elements of an immediate and relatively simple application in what you are teaching. All of the tools that are covered in the course are actually applied in the implementation of the course itself, and the experience as a student is simply spectacular (it deserves a separate post) and only for this is it worth it perform the certification. For those who want to study these topics in-depth, the book Teaching Tech Together is required reading. After the course, we received instructions on continuing the certification process.
The first step is to reserve on two different days a space of 90 minutes for each exam in the instructor's Calendly. You can request to give the teaching exam in Spanish. In my case, I chose to give the teaching exam first, and after two days, the tidyverse exam.
Showing that you can teach
For this exam, we must generate a lesson on a subject of choice within the theme that we are going to take, using the tools that we learned during the training. In my case, I prepared a lesson on the RMarkdown chunks; that weekend I dictated that lesson at an R-Ladies Santa Rosa meetup in PampaSeg 2019 as part of a workshop on Introduction to RMarkdown ; because as they taught us in the course: no lesson survives the first contact with your students. This lesson and related material must be shared at least two days before taking the exam.
As part of the preparation, we shared the material we generated for the lessons and practiced delivering the lesson to each other, using the same tools and requirements that the exam asked us to do...using Zoom for the videoconference, verifying that the slides and RStudio looked and worked correctly, that the lesson lasted 15 minutes, that it fulfilled the requirements of containing a series of pedagogical elements and that they were well used.
When it is your turn to take the exam, you connect to the Zoom that was previously shared with you, and you receive a google document with the instructions and questions for the exam. The first thing is to give the lesson you prepared. It is a very good idea to do it at the beginning of the exam because at that moment the time does not run yet and, in my case, the activity of giving a class helped me relax for the rest of the exam. Then you have to answer 4-5 questions that are in that document and in which the instructor is documenting your answers. I gave the entire exam and lesson in Spanish although the document with the material I prepared was in English (with the idea that the instructor could understand it). Everything lasts 90 minutes, and you can use the digital resources you need during this exam. You cannot communicate with anyone other than your evaluator.
Showing that you can use tidyverse
The tidyverse exam was in English, again before the meeting an email arrives with the necessary files to take the exam and connect via Zoom. You immediately share your screen with the evaluator who observes you throughout the exam on how you solve the instructions. Any questions you have about the test are answered immediately by the evaluator. As in the other exam, you can use the digital resources you need (I used some cheatsheets and RStudio help). You also cannot communicate with anyone other than your evaluator and you must use the RStudio IDE (desktop edition or rstudio.cloud). The work can be done in an R script or RMarkdown file; you can use a single script/RMarkdown for the entire exam or one for each question (I did one script for each question). Upon completion, all files generated during the exam should be sent to the evaluator by email. The exam also lasts 90 minutes and you immediately receive the result. Here you can see sample exams.
When you get certified, you are added to a list of certified instructors, to a Slack channel where all certified instructors have access to, and a bi-monthly video conference meeting with this same group. In these spaces, we exchange materials, discuss any issues we have on teaching, and receive news and updates. You also have access to all the RStudio Pro products without cost.
Receiving the certification was a very important personal achievement, it is a confirmation by an external source that is very important in the R universe that you have a firm foundation on the chosen technology on how to teach it. After certification I have more demand to do training courses.
Equally, the most important part of this whole process was the company with which I carried out the process: the incredible community of R-Ladies in the region, led by Laura Acion, doing their magic again. The accompaniment, support, motivation, and encouragement that we gave each other was key to complete the process and to be able to do it successfully.
The African proverb (which I discovered in the movie The Good Lie) that says: if you want to go fast, travel alone, if you want to go far, travel accompanied... is a good summary of how this journey was for me. I would never have come this far without the company of these great women; with which I hope to undertake many more trips.