Why the Co-Lab Roots Courses are Underrated

By Viraaj Punia, '22
OIT Communications Intern

Innovation Co-Lab logo

I spent two hours of my Wednesday on Zoom. Voluntarily. Now why would I do that, you might ask? Well, I wanted to do something besides just lying around in my room and instead take advantage of Duke’s Co-Lab Roots courses.

Every month, new courses are posted on the Roots website, ranging from “Make Your Own Soap” to introductions to various technologies to tutorials on Photoshop. All absolutely free! And don’t worry, not all courses are on Zoom, most are in-person or have hybrid options. Courses are available for all types of interests and fields, so something’s bound to pique your curiosity, be it “Build a Computer” or “Make Simple 3D Models” or anything else. Personally, I’ve been interested in some of the Adobe Suite tutorials, like getting started in Illustrator or InDesign, but this course I took on a Wednesday was Introduction to Python.

Now let me say this: yes, I’m a computer science major. Yes, I’ve used Python in projects and coding assignments before. But, these have been few and far in between, and I never really had a formal class or training on the basics of Python – I just had to pick it up haphazardly. That’s why I thought a quick 2-hour introduction would help me learn more of the foundational concepts and structures of the language.

And it went surprisingly well! I’m not going to lie, I first expected it to be a bit of a snooze fest, but the instructor, Danai Adkisson, did an awesome job of gauging everyone’s past experience and keeping us all engaged.  Danai was also great at structuring his lesson. First, we were introduced to how Python can be used, and then we learned how to install it on our own computers. After that, we dove into actually coding with Python – getting started with strings, various data types, for and while loops, dictionaries, sorting, and then navigating to various folders using the terminal.

Did I already know a few topics? Yes, but that’s only because I’d used Python before – I still learned a number of things! And if I was completely new to programming, as many in the session were, it wasn’t too overwhelming that I would be too lost or lose interest because Danai didn’t go too fast.

And speaking of people in the session, it was kind of wholesome to see such a variety of attendees in the Zoom session, ranging from first-year students, to older students, to faculty and staff who are likely not in computer science fields. It felt genuinely nice to see so many people willing to take time out of their day to learn something novel and try a course out. And then there was me, scrolling through Zoom to see what types of people were on the call.

All in all, the Co-Lab Roots courses are a great way to inject something different into your day. To pick up that new skill you’ve been wanting to develop or to learn that one program that seems too hard to just dive into. Honestly, when the courses are posted online near the end of the month, I usually do a quick scan of the titles just to see if anything catches my eye. For instance, “Make Your Own Resin Coasters” is a class I’m looking forward to attend. So give it a try and take advantage of these free courses Duke provides! You never know what you’ll learn on a random weekday afternoon.

To view and register for the month’s courses, visit https://colab.duke.edu/roots. At the bottom of the page, you can also sign up for their listserv for the latest updates. Their listserv is pretty funny, to be honest.