Hiding cows in the genome (a.k.a. an introduction to bash programming)

Preparing the materials for a workshop on bash programming is very difficult, because you never know which level of skill to expect from the people attending it.

Click on the image to access the slideshow.

Most of the times the class will be a mix of absolute beginners and expert Unix users, and it is not easy to prepare a presentation that will interest both. If the materials are too advanced, the beginners will get frustrated and stop paying attention. If the materials are too simple, expert users will get bored soon and get distracted, and start working on their own things and checking facebook.

In an attempt to avoid these issues, I’ve decided to go for a trick that hopefully would get the attention of even the most advanced bash guru, which is: hiding cows in the genome.

More precisely, for a workshop at the Programming for Evolutionary Biology conference held this year in Belgrade, I designed the exercises in a way that the instructions for the next step can be retrieved using the correct bash commands. Students start with a file of randomly generated text, and they have to use grep and other unix tools to proceed to the next exercise. If the exercise is done correctly, they also see a cow.

I think it worked decently, because the students liked the idea and finding cows in the fasta and bed files was fun.

The workshop’s materials are below. (if the iframe doesn’t work, click here). If you are a teacher and organize workshops on bash programming, here I am officially challenging you to include something similar in your next presentation 🙂

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