Use this list to be sure you’ve given time and thought to each item. Not all items on this checklist are required, but all should be considered during planning. Details on specific recommendations are below.
Please be sure to register your self-organised workshop, as you begin planning your Carpentries online event. It is important that you use a unique workshop id so that we can add your workshop to our database and provide the proper communications with you.
When creating your workshop website, please use the following naming convention: YYYY-MM-DD-sitename-online
The Carpentries recommends, in order:
Participatory live coding can work online, but the challenge of following and typing for a learner with one small screen is extremely problematic. The task of juggling windows adds to cognitive load. If a learner hides the screen share window to enlarge a work window, they may begin to fall behind.
Possible options for workarounds include:
Breakout rooms are features of a platform where participants can be grouped together and put into private ‘rooms’. For example, a class of 20 learners could be split into 10 breakout rooms with 2 students each. Participants cannot enter or view/listen to other rooms that they are not within.
Creating breakout rooms is fairly straightforward, but nonetheless it’s good to practice with this feature in advance of the workshop. Only a meeting “host” can create breakout rooms in Zoom. If you don’t have time to practice or feel overwhelmed by the added technical management, it’s ok to wait!
This can be a great option. It may be helpful to designate a helper or co-Instructor to take the “host” role and manage breakouts. The host can also visit rooms to check on progress, message all rooms, and can re-assign other participants (e.g. other helpers) to specific rooms.
This may be a bit trickier. Participants in breakout rooms are removed from the main room, so will miss ongoing instruction. Alternative support options, such as a separate chat channel (e.g. Slack) may be preferable to breakouts for handling learner-helper side conversations and debugging sessions.
For more Zoom tips, see The Carpentries Handbook.
Live and synchronous chat can be used in many ways. When choosing a platform separate from that used for video conferencing, pick one that’s normally used by people in your area. Consider when and how it will be used, and how it will work for participants with limited screen space.
The chat program within your conferencing platform is a good first choice for simple learner communications. This saves on screen space and minimizes cognitive load. It is also easiest to monitor. However, it can quickly become cluttered. Social chatter and extended conversations should be directed to an alternate platform. In these cases, The Carpentries recommends:
In an in-person workshop, you might classify learner questions in two ways:
Attending to hands in the chat while instructing can be a challenge. Helpers may need a plan to intervene to get the Instructor’s attention or respond themselves. Alternatively, learners may be instructed to type questions into the chat rather than raise hands; helpers can then respond directly or flag the Instructor as need be. Having a Helper step in to handle questions can give the Instructor a moment to review notes or catch up on back-channel messages.
The best means of requesting technical assistance will depend on your choice for delivering that help. For example, if you plan to rely on breakout rooms, a simple request in the chat may suffice; if you plan to resolve problems through chat, this will demand a separate platform, e.g. Slack, and help requests may also begin there. Wherever you direct these requests, be sure to have a plan in place for continuous monitoring.
The instructional team should have a chat channel separate from the main classroom chat to discuss logistical needs or private concerns. This should be something with manageable notifications that is private to just the team. A platform like Slack (using a private channel or group direct messaging) or a WhatsApp group can be effective with this.
In addition to requesting help, learners often use sticky notes at in-person workshops to indicate their status on completing a task. This mechanism can be mimicked in a few ways.
These are just some options for the instructional team to use, and these styles can be replicated in other platforms.
Regardless of your choice, be sure to practice these options and discuss choices before the workshop. Try to keep things simple and consistent to build expertise and comfort within the instructional team.
Formative assessment is important in any format to evaluate where the learners are in relation to your objectives. This is particularly important online, where ‘reading the room’ is not an option and the only way to know what’s going on out there is to ask.
One quick approach is to offer prediction prompts while live coding, giving learners a chance to practice as they go. Examples might include:
“How many lines will this print out when I execute this code?” “Remind me what the name of this function is?” “Which syntax is correct? (provide several options)”
These prompts can be answered via the conferencing chat. Be sure to allow ample response time, factoring in both technical delays and time to think.
As with in-person workshops, other platforms can also be set up for formative assessment to create polls, multiple-choice questions, or wordles.
At in-person workshops, we use sticky notes for getting feedback after each module. The Carpentries offers a Google Form template for this purpose. If choosing an alternative, the key elements of this are:
Having clear, visible, and documented roles for the instructors and helpers within the room will help the learners know where to go for help and feel empowered to do so. A few suggested roles are:
Role responsibilities should be clearly defined at the beginning of the workshop, written down for reference, and roles introduced at the start of each session. Examples:
People in these roles should:
Any collaborative note-taking platform your group has been using should transition nicely for online use (i.e. Etherpad, Google Documents, etc). Zoom Whiteboards can be used for limited collaboration, e.g. during breakouts, and can be saved. If a document platform offers chat or other communication features, be clear to the learners how these should or should not be used.
The top of the document is a great place for important notes, including space for participants to add their names and contact information at the top, as well as a static place for important links. Just be sure that the document link is shared in an email or something less ephemeral than a chat window or slide. Any identifying information added to persistent documents should be opt-in only.
The challenge presented by a single small screen is particularly important to remember when adding a collaborative document to your toolkit. Be sure to allow time for switching between windows if Zoom, a programming environment, and a collaborative document are all simultaneously in use. As with all communications platforms, be sure a helper is assigned to monitor and support note-taking at all times.
The Carpentries community needs to learn and grow from your experience with these pilot-phase workshops! There will be many ways to contribute your feedback towards the iterative improvement of these recommendations.
The Carpentries is a community full of energy and ideas, and we know you’re going to have your own thoughts about the best way to do this!
During the pilot phase, we ask that you reserve Carpentries branding for workshops that mostly follow these guidelines. Workshops that digress substantially, e.g. using a “flipped classroom” model with pre-recorded instruction and synchronous support, are best labeled “Carpentries-based” workshops for now. Also keep in mind our general guidelines on what is and is not a Carpentries workshop. However, we are interested in receiving feedback on all workshop formats, even those that don’t strictly qualify as Carpentries workshops under the pilot guidelines.
If you decide to experiment within the general parameters of these guidelines (e.g. splitting your workshop across 4 half days and adding an asynchronous support tool for the intervening times), you may still consider your workshop to be a Carpentries-branded pilot workshop. Be sure to let us know via our feedback channels what variation you’ve tried and how it worked out!
As time passes, don’t forget to check back here each time you teach! We won’t be updating minor points continuously, but where adjustments really seem to have an impact we will update our recommendations ASAP. We will also consider expanding the constraints of the pilot if other experimental formats report solid outcomes with reproducible methods.