A step towards educating with Spyder

As a community manager in the Spyder team, I have been looking for ways of involving more users in the community and making Spyder useful for a larger number of people. With this, a new idea came: Education.

For the past months, we have been wondering with the team whether Spyder could also serve as a teaching-learning platform, especially in this era where remote instruction has become necessary. We submitted a proposal to the Essential Open Source Software for Science (EOSS) program of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, during its third cycle, with the idea of providing a simple way inside Spyder to create and share interactive tutorials on topics relevant to scientific research. Unfortunately, we didn’t get this funding, but we didn’t let this great idea die.

We submitted a second proposal to the Python Software Foundation from which we were awarded $4000. For me, this is the perfect opportunity for us to take the first step towards using Spyder for education.

What the project is about

The goal of this project is to create specialized Python online training content that uses Spyder as the main platform to deliver it. The grant will cover the development of three practical workshops:

  1. Python for Financial Data Analysis with Spyder
  2. Python for Scientific Computing and Visualization with Spyder
  3. Spyder 5 Plugin Development

They will be included as part of Spyder’s documentation for remote learning, but they will also be used as hands-on materials for talks and workshops.

These materials are meant for users to learn how Spyder can accelerate their workflow when working with Python in scientific research and data analysis. The idea is for us to provide a way in which we can help people get the most out of Spyder by applying it in their day-to-day jobs.

The first two workshops will cover aspects such as data exploration and visualization with Spyder’s variable explorer and plots panes, getting documentation through Spyder’s help pane, writing good quality and efficient code using Spyder’s code analysis and profiler, etc.

Our last workshop will demonstrate how to create a plugin for Spyder, which, thanks to our new API in Spyder 5, released in April 2021, will allow users to easily customize and extend Spyder’s interface with new menus, toolbars, widgets or panes in order to adapt it to their own needs...

Why it is important

This project will benefit the international community of Spyder users (around 500,000, we estimate) to discover new capabilities of Spyder in order to take advantage of all its resources. It will also provide testing materials for potential users who will be able to adopt Spyder as a tool for their work in Financial Data Analysis, Scientific research and Spyder plugin development.

For the past months, our documentation tutorials have had a great impact in our community, with more than 20,000 views in our YouTube channel. We expect these workshops to be a great input to our documentation and help us continue building a community around Spyder.

What is next?

This project is just the first step towards making Spyder an educational tool. In the future, we hope that we can develop the infrastructure necessary to support in-IDE tutorials, by improving the tools like Jupyter Book, sphinx-thebe, MyST-Parser which will provide better integration to write educational tutorials.

The final goal is to enable researchers, educators and experts that don’t necessarily have a software engineering background to build scientific programming tutorials easily and provide them as online learning materials in Spyder. Once the infrastructure is built, we can develop several examples to demonstrate Spyder capabilities and teach basic scientific programming concepts applicable to a variety of fields.