Running a Better Workshop – Next Up – Rails!

As many are aware, our team ran a introduction to web development on PHP earlier in the trimester. The whole idea was to:

  1. provide a gentle introductory path into web development, and
  2. to empower our peers with a the ability to actually build with what they have learned.

Based on attendance at our self-hack sessions, conversations with participants and the feedback from, we may have accomplished some of (1) but very little of (2). In order to truly make a difference for our participants, the next workshop would need to see a major change in format.

Next Up: Ruby on Rails

Our next workshop is going to be for Ruby on Rails. It is probably the most popular web frameworks of the day, especially for rapid prototyping web applications. For this, we are thinking of several important changes to the format:

  • small group format
  • immediate hands on and application
  • a commitment deposit

Small Group Format

Our previous workshop was run as a class. We tried to improve from session to session. First we only talked. Next we provided a live transcript. We followed that up in sessions 3 and 4 with a written tutorial instead. What we found was that the workshop turned somewhat into a code demo. Participants could try out and follow the examples, and received assistance to do so, but they didn’t have much opportunity to tinker with the code itself. We believe the latter to be the most important thing.

As such for the rails workshop, we plan to split participants into small groups of 5, where they will work through material with a mentor during the session instead of a single instructor in a classroom/lecture setting. The mentor will also have the additional role of providing guidance to participants when they attempt to put what they have learned into practice, which leads us to…

Apply Immediately

The previous workshop suggested that the participants should attempt at home a more challenging suggested exercise presented at the end of the class. We offered a separate session where participants can meet their mentors for further guidance, but that is right before the next workshop. We get it – it’s a little intimidating to get started figuring code out by yourself, especially when you were just rushed through two hours of code.

Other than identifying a specific mentor they will be working with in a particular session, we plan to split the content to 1 hour chunks, with the following 1 hour focused on helping the workshop participant apply what they just learnt to their own project/idea.

Overall there would be 2 sessions a week for 3 weeks, each taking up 2 hours. With a mentor by their side and ready assistance when they hit road blocks, we believe this format will give a bigger impact to actually empowering our participants with the needed deep understanding of the content.

Commitment Deposit

The last idea is the most radical one – we’re students. We know ourselves well. It is easy to have a rosy dream at the start, but when things start getting a little tough, quitting is just … so easy. 🙂 So this is an opportunity for each participant to give themselves a little incentive to tough it out till the end.

The idea is for each participant to pay a commitment fee which will be returned to the participant by the end of the workshop, assuming that they have completed their self-declared goals/projects. Participants who fail to complete the goal forfeit this deposit (which we’ll probably put into a nice makan session for those who stuck with it till the end.)

This is not a fee. We don’t want your money, and we’re still doing this for free. It’s a self-motivation deposit.

Other Carrots

We’re working out what kind of collaboration we can set up with people from the industry, in the form of industry judges for the final project presentation, or internship opportunities as prizes for winning participants. We’re also working out if we can allow students to claim assignment credit using the project they built in our workshop for the Web Development subject to be offered next trimester.

Both of these are ideas which would require collaboration from other parties, so they may or may not be in the final workshop setup.

We Want Your Feedback!

So that’s the gist of what we have in mind for our next workshop. Do you have any feedback or suggestions? Let us know in the comments below!

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