The Carpentries: Workshop Introductions

Overview

Teaching: 45 min
Exercises: 25 min
Questions
  • How do you actually start a workshop?

Objectives
  • Create an outline of important topics to cover in an introduction.

  • Describe three ways to start workshop participants talking to each other.

One of the most important things that you can do as an instructor is to set the workshop environment from the beginning. One way to do this is by having a well-planned introduction. This episode discusses the value of setting the environment from the beginning and some of the components that go into an effective introduction.

Setting the Workshop Environment

Your Academic Past

Think back to courses or workshops you really liked or didn’t like. How did those courses start? Were you confident in the instructors abilities? Did you feel like they were enthusiastic about the course and invested in you? Was it clear what you were going to be learning? Were you excited about the material? Or did you leave that first day thinking the instructor was uninterested, that you weren’t the learners they wanted to be teaching or you had no idea what the course was supposed to be about?

Your impression on the first day of a course probably matched that of the rest of the course. Introductions set the tone for the workshop and the path for learning.

Introductions are particularly important when we have just two days. Also, in Carpentry workshops we’re teaching not only a set of skills, but also trying to give learners the confidence to become self-directed learners. Learners should leave feeling excited and empowered. It’s up to you as an instructor to empower your learners, so it’s important to set a positive and welcoming environment for the workshop.

Having a planned introduction, also helps you be less nervous. Having a planned introduction helps get you started. Even in the face of early technical issues (which is common at the start of a workshop), you can have a chance to reset with something you’re comfortable and ready for.

Goals For the Introduction

After the introduction learners should:

The instructor should:

Components of the Introduction

To meet these objectives an introduction should:

  1. Set positive first impressions
  2. Introduce yourself effectively
  3. Clarify learning objectives and expectations
  4. Help learners learn about each other
  5. Set the tone for the workshop
  6. Collect baseline data on learners’ knowledge and motivation
  7. Whet learners’ appetite for workshop content
  8. Inform learners of workshop requirements

1. Set Positive First Impressions

First impressions can be long-lasting. Before you even start teaching, your learners will have already made some decisions about you, so it is important to understand what those impressions are based on and how to manage them.

Your attire. Research shows that clothing affects the judgments people make, including credibility, likability, dominance, kindness, and empathy (Raiscot, 1986; Morris et al., 1996). More formal attire communicates expertise and confidence. Less formal attire communicates approachability. Usually, it is easier to relax from a more formal impression into a more relaxed one than the other way around. These considerations are likely to be particularly relevant for young instructors who are concerned about establishing themselves as authoritative.

The physical environment. Learners can make decisions about what kind of course yours will be by the way the chairs are arranged. Rows signify a more formal environment, while circles or U-shapes imply a more informal atmosphere, with higher expectations of learner participation.

Your use of the few minutes before class. Greeting the learners as they enter the classroom communicates approachability. Frantically arriving right on time or late communicates disorganization.

2. Introduce Yourself Effectively

Your introduction should be succinct, but make sure to cover certain key areas. These questions should help you decide what to say:

What characteristics do you want to convey about yourself? You probably want the learners to get a sense of your qualifications, how formal/informal you want to be, and how available you will be to the learners. You want to demonstrate that you’re qualified, but that you share the same challenges as the learners, so you remain accessible.

What will you need to say to convey those characteristics? Consider talking about your research and computational interests as they relate to the workshop, in order to establish yourself as an authority, and to make to workshop more relevant.

Why are you teaching a Software or Data Carpentry workshop? Why are you an instructor? What’s motivating you to be there today? One reason might be that you took a workshop and saw how valuable these skills were in your own work and wanted to share this information with others. Convey your enthusiasm for being there.

What should you be careful not to say? Learners do not need to know everything about you. In particular, it is not helpful to say you’ve never taught the course before, or that it is your least favorite course to teach, or to disclose any irrelevant personal information that can undermine you in the eyes of your learners.

Write It Out

Write out your answers to the questions above. What do you want to say about yourself before you start a workshop?

This exercise should take 5 minutes.

3. Clarify Learning Objectives and Your Expectations

This is probably the most important step. Clearly laying out expectations orients learners towards what you expect from them, and helps them use their time productively.

Describe the prerequisites so learners will know what information you are assuming they already know. For Data Carpentry no prior computational experience is required. Expectations vary for Software Carpentry workshops. Convey what your expectations are.

Highlight main aspects of the schedule.

Communicate the workshop structure so the learners will understand the decisions that have made in designing the workshop. Make sure to highlight the learning objectives and the hands-on instructional strategies we use and the workshop policies.

Explain your expectations for learner behavior including expectations around:

Communicate your commitment to the learners’ learning experience.

Share some advice for success in your course. Let learners know you are confident in their success as long as they put in the required effort.

Write It Out II

Adding to your introduction, write out how you would communicate one of the concepts above.

This exercise should take 5 minutes

4. Help Learners Learn About Each Other

The classroom is a social environment, so it is helpful to start the social dynamics in a productive way.

Icebreakers raise the energy levels and get learners comfortable so that they will be ready to work in groups or dialogue with each other.

Example Icebreaker

Here is one example of an icebreaker you can use:
Have everyone turn to a partner and introduce themselves with their name, one word about their research ‘microbes’, ‘dogs’, ‘vectors’, ‘stars’ and a thing they’re proud of that they made.

Other examples of Icebreakers can be found on this page.

5. Set the Tone for the Workshop

The way you engage learners at the beginning sends powerful messages about the level of involvement and interaction you expect from them.

Since these workshops are hands-on don’t spend a lot of the time at the beginning lecturing. Get to introductions and interactions right away. You don’t want learners to think they just have to listen in the course.

Also establish a culture of feedback. Let learners know you are interested in how they experience the course and in any suggestions they have. Let them know they should feel free to give you constructive feedback, even anonymously. They can do this in particular with minute cards. You might not adopt every suggestion they have but you will listen and consider them. This starts to create a partnership in learning.

6. Collect Baseline Data on Learners’ Knowledge and Motivation

You will already have information on their skill level from the pre-assessment survey. Before starting your workshop, decide what to do about different/inadequate prior knowledge. If this is a workshop where a certain knowledge is required (such as an advertised advanced workshop), decide in advance how you will handle a range of skill sets. You might tell them they cannot take the workshop, or that they must work through certain sections on their own.

7. Whet Learners’ Appetites for Workshop Content

They’re already at the workshop, so it might seem unnecessary to motivate them to be there, but it is a great chance to stimulate interest about the workshop and to activate relevant prior knowledge learners have about the material.

8. Inform Learners of Logistics

Let them know about any logistics for the days - lunch times, breaks, accessibility, etc.

Practice Your Introduction

Imagine you have completed instructor training and you are about to teach a full lesson around the material you have been practicing teaching today.

  1. Rehearse your introduction in your mind. (3 minutes)
  2. Return to your groups of 2 or 3 and each give your 90 second introduction. (5 min)
  3. Discuss what you liked about each other’s introductions. (6 min: optional, if there is time.)

This exercise will take 8 minutes or 14 minutes depending on whether time is included for feedback or not.

These materials are adapted from Carnegie Melon Eberly Center Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Key Points

  • A planned introduction is a helpful tool in setting the workshop environment.

  • Introductions should both include practical information and start building relationships.