Hybrid training delivers online participatory training to far-reaching venues

EMBL-ABR has been working on a method of training delivery that helps to overcome the problem of having widely dispersed researchers with urgent needs for bioinformatics skills. The method of workshop delivery, which combines an expert trainer delivering a presentation online with a hands-on interactive practical session at multiple venues supported by trained local Facilitators, has already resulted in several simultaneous training events around Australia.

The ‘hybrid’ method was originally devised to deliver on promised training sessions after a national tour to EMBL-ABR Nodes by an international expert was thwarted by visa problems. To salvage plans and meet expectations of an audience eager to learn from the best, the workshop went ahead after an intensive preliminary training session for our Facilitators. The ability for large numbers of participants to have direct access to experts regardless of their location was compelling.

So when the ARDC-funded Biosciences Data Enhanced Virtual Lab (DeVL) Galaxy Australia project needed to roll out training, EMBL-ABR, with its hybrid training model and access to a network of Nodes around Australia, was ideally placed to assist. Having worked together for years on many projects, including the current Biosciences DeVL Galaxy Australia project, QCIF and Melbourne Bioinformatics staff have worked seamlessly together to refine a national training program that introduces Galaxy Australia to a new audience of researchers. As Nodes of EMBL-ABR, both of these organisations are keen to share their training resources with as many others as possible.

The series of four workshops introduces Galaxy Australia capabilities to researchers, with demonstrations based around different themes. The training is led by a Galaxy expert who is available online throughout the hands on sessions that are facilitated by trained locals at participating EMBL-ABR Nodes. The participatory exercises are specifically designed to allow the audience to follow along as the lead trainer steps through each stage, with help on the ground when required. Ahead of the public events, Galaxy Service Manager, Gareth Price, organised the broadly located Facilitators to fly to the EMBL-ABR Hub for training by the Galaxy Australia Training Manager, Anna Syme (Melbourne Bioinformatics) and Igor Makunin (QCIF).

The first training event on 22 Aug 2018, was ‘Introduction to Galaxy Australia – Genome Assembly’ and was hosted at 10 EMBL-ABR Nodes: James Cook University (Cairns and Townsville Campuses), Melbourne Bioinformatics (University of Melbourne), Monash University (Clayton Campus and Hudson Institute), QCIF (University of Queensland and University of Southern Queensland), Sydney Informatics Hub (University of Sydney), University of Tasmania, and University of Adelaide.

There were 94 people around Australia taking part. Live camera feeds from each venue made participants feel like they were part of a bigger community. The delivery method allow regional universities with only a few participants to have direct access to training expertise that was equal to the larger universities. The 3 hour event was run to a tight schedule to ensure nobody was left behind, even when particular venues asked for a little extra time to complete tasks. An online shared ‘Discussion Board’ was very active during the session, with participants asking questions about their own specific difficulties or interests. Answers were provided almost immediately by other participants, Facilitators, the lead trainer and Galaxy experts that were standing by to assist.

In response to the online evaluation survey completed after the workshop, 100% of participants thought ‘This was a useful workshop that enhanced my knowledge and skills.’ According to 98% of respondents, the format of the exercises and activities enhanced participants’ learning and increased their level of skills. Comments such as “a nice workshop that blended both hands on activities and some lecture based materials for follow up. Great job. Thanks! I hope to come to more.”

EMBL-ABR also encouraged feedback from the Facilitators to inform improvements to how we service various Nodes. Experienced and active trainers and researchers themselves, the Facilitators were a valuable source of advice and suggestions, as well as being integral local event organisers and workshop helpers. Enthusiastic in their support of the hybrid training model and its ability to supplement their own local training programs, comments such as this from the local Facilitator and EMBL-ABR: SIH Node Head are particularly encouraging:

“Well done to everyone to have all the nodes well prepared. Nationally coordinated activities are rare and it’s great for it be such a success.” Dr Rosemarie Sadsad, Informatics Services Lead, Sydney Informatics Hub University of Sydney.

The recording of the training events, presentations, tutorials and Discussion Boards are all freely available for use after the event has concluded: https://tinyurl.com/galaxyworkshop1https://www.embl-abr.org.au/presentations.

The second workshop, ‘Introduction to Galaxy Australia: Finding genetic variants in bacterial sequence data’ has just been delivered – this time including an international audience! The EMBL-ABR: Monash Node requested the inclusion of Monash Malaysia, who joined the workshop with their own fully booked venue.

Workshops covering ‘Introduction to Galaxy Australia: Differential Gene Expression from Bacterial RNA-seq Data’ and ‘Introduction to Galaxy Australia – Metagenomics’ will take place in October and November 2018. Further details: http://www.embl-abr.org.au/about/events/.