Tag Archives: command line

Introduction to the Command Line Workshop

At the end of last week’s class I mentioned that I wanted to do a text analysis project analyzing a large collection of syllabi. Zack asked if I knew how to use the command line, since it could be a good approach. 

I didn’t have any experience, but as luck would have it I was able to attended the ITP Skills Lab, ‘Introduction to the Command Line” on Monday, 10/28/2019. The course was attended by a diverse mix of students from doctoral programs and Masters programs; those getting the ITP certificate, and those who are not; and humanities, education, and science students. It was interesting to hear how very different researchers intended to use the command line. 

These are my key takeaways from the workshop, that I think will be helpful to those who did not attend.

1. The command line is a text interface for our computers, as opposed to a Graphical User Interface, or GUI, which is what we usually interact with — icons rather than text. It is a program that takes in commands, which the computer’s operating system then runs. I like to think of the command line as the “back end” of the computer, while the GUI is the “front end.”

2. We worked through four exercises using a set of files that we downloaded to our desktops (attached here for others to practice with), to understand how to move around the directories, or folders; create new directories;  edit existing files; rename files; create new files using Nano, a text editor; move files to different directories, check the directory to view updates.

3. We also learned how to do some text analysis, including how to find counts ( word, line, and character) and to use wildcard characters. I have some experience with SQL, and this was the easiest section for me to understand, because I had that background. In addition, some of the special characters like pipes (|) are used in cataloging systems, so I had experience with those as well.

Rather than list each of the commands and arguments that we learned in this post, I am attaching the resources that we were provided:

1. The workshop with exercises and steps taken to learn introductory command line.

2. Additional resources and cheatsheets that the instructor provided, including command line and wildcard guidelines among others.

 The workshop was led by Ph.D. student, Kathryn Mercier. This was her first workshop, and teaching the command line for the first time to novices is very hard! I know that I will eventually teach in some capacity, and it always helpful to see what works and what doesn’t. For example, using colored post-its to understand if students are “getting it” is really helpful, but she didn’t always remind us to use the tool. Additionally, while her workshop material was really good and easy to follow, she often missed steps when trying to move away from her computer, and I ended up confused. I know this will change with experience, and once I realized that I could follow the website rather than relying entirely on her instruction I was able to find a rhythm between reading, listening, and performing the tasks. 

I really hope that there are more workshops and opportunities to spend more time working with the command line. I think it’s fun!