This lesson is being piloted (Beta version)

Online Workshops Module 2: Making the Dream Work


Teaching: 20 min
Exercises: 55 min
  • What goes into planning an online workshop?

  • What does an optimal learner experience look like? What can get in the way?

  • How can I make my workshop maximally inclusive?

  • “What do I do if my learners are unable to install the software?”

  • Write and rehearse an introduction to the nuts and bolts of your online workshop.

  • Propose communications strategies for your instructional team.

Setting the Stage for a Positive Learner Experience (30 min)

In Part 1 of this lesson, we talked about the importance of the right tool at the right time in setting the stage for a motivating, focused workshop experience. But, there is more to communication than choosing a platform!

The Learner Experience: Challenges and Opportunities (5 min)

Online learners are most often joining your workshop from home and will very likely be teaching or helping from home!

‘Home’ can look very different to different people. Sometimes, features of a home environment can impact participation in an online workshop. Some effects can be positive, but some can create barriers as well! Consider the home enviroment and equipment along with other potential accessibility issues, and plan accommodations wherever possible.

Breaking Down the Learner Experience

Optimal elements:

  • understands the instructor
  • can keep up with live coding
  • feels comfortable asking for help
  • feels like they ‘belong’ at the workshop
  • leaves feeling like they can continue to learn skills


  • internet
  • home technology setup (small screen, poor audio/video, installation failures)
  • household distractions (e.g. kids!)
  • ‘Zoom fatigue’
  • other accessibility (e.g. need for audio or visual accommodations)


  • Direct learners to curriculum in case they lose connection or need to step away. Follow curriculum.
  • Minimize window-switching and pause to allow learners to juggle screens e.g. when switching to a collaborative document
  • Prepare to use cloud instances if needed, and also provide next steps for after the workshop to learners who use them.
  • Utilize ice-breakers and group activities to help learners feel more comfortable and connect your community
  • Plan for breaks, post the times, and stick to them
  • Consider whether and when to ask learners to turn on their video
  • Where captioning is not an option, assigning a note-taker to directly transcribe

Getting Off to a Good Start (5 min)

Creating a welcoming environment for your learners starts with teaching them how they can participate in your workshop.

At the beginning of this workshop, your Trainer took several steps to teach you how to participate in this workshop. What kinds of things did they do? What else could they have included?

Introduction ingredients

In addition to introducing the exciting content of your workshop, your learners need to know what to expect and how to behave. This should include:

  • The workshop schedule (including break times)
  • The Code of Conduct
  • The Emergency Plan
  • How to use the technology (e.g., conferencing platform features, chat, collaborative notetaking document)
  • Communication norms (e.g., How to ask questions, how to indicate when you are ok or stuck)
  • How to arrange windows on a single, small laptop screen

Activity Session 2 (20 min)

  • Rotate group roles: moderator, time keeper, note-taker & sharer.
  • Prepare a short (3 minute) segment of your introduction that will set your learners on a course for success.
  • Rehearse! Give everyone a chance to present first, then exchange feedback, starting with feedback on yourself. Feedback should focus primarily on content, but delivery may be relevant too. Remember to include both targeted praise and constructive feedback.
  • As time allows, share some similarities and differences in introductions within your group in the etherpad.
  • Group 2 completes Activity 0

Debrief (time permiting)

Take a few moments to report back on your experience. What did you learn? What were the challenges?

Planning Planning Planning (30 minutes)

At this point, you have done quite a bit of work towards planning your workshop. We hope that alone makes your time spent here worthwhile! However, a functioning workshop demands teamwork, and this is especially true in an online setting. For in-person workshops, a workshop can squeak by on a rough distribution of teaching duties with a quick helper orientation. Online, everyone needs to be on the same page or the workshop is really at risk. This means that, before your workshop, you will need to bring everyone together.

What makes a good meeting?

Elements of a good meeting

  • A well-structured agenda
  • Meeting roles
  • Notes to record decisions & commitments for future reference
  • Clearly assigned action items
  • Central aims accomplished in allotted time

In the next activity session, you will work with your group to tease apart the preparation process, separating planning into before- during- and after-the-meeting phases.

Activity Session 3 (20 min)

  • Rotate group roles: moderator, time keeper, note-taker & sharer.
  • Take a deep breath, then spend a few minutes scanning the planning checklist in the Recommendations for Teaching Carpentries Workshops Online. This checklist is long! BUT, never fear – you are working as part of a team. Your team can handle it… if you communicate well!
  • Take a few moments to brainstorm the components of a solid team communication strategy. Consider the following questions:
    • How will you communicate before the workshop?
    • Identify one task that can be done asynchronously, and one task that likely requires a meeting
    • How will you communicate during the workshop?
    • What could go wrong with team communications, and how will you troubleshoot?
  • Group 3 completes Activity 0

Debrief (5 min)

Take a few moments to share some ideas or observations from each group’s discussion.

Resources: “Meetings, Meetings, Meetings” in Teaching Tech Together by Greg Wilson

Group Catch-up

Activity Session 4 (15 min)

  • Groups 1-3 should discuss or complete the activity they missed while doing Activity 0. When you finish, take a moment to think through what you have learned in this session. What questions or concerns do you still have about online training? We may not have time to address them all, but take a moment to add notes to the etherpad.

  • Group 4 completes Activity 0

A Few Notes on Cloud Instances (time permitting)

At Carpentries workshops, we want learners to use their own machines as much as possible. This leaves them more prepared to continue learning after the workshops. However, troubleshooting software installation problems can be a tremendous challenge even at an in-person event.

In online workshops, the inability to fully view or interact directly with a learner’s machine can make difficult problems functionally unsolvable. Therefore, The Carpentries now provides cloud instances for each curriculum, pre-loaded with all required software and data. These are intended to function as backups for learners who are experiencing significant installation difficulties.

There are two main types of cloud instances to be used for Carpentries workshops, each appropriate for different lessons:

  • RStudio Cloud
    • R-based lessons
    • Git lessons
  • MyBinder
    • Python-based lessons
    • Shell lessons (in the absence of R or Git)

RStudio Cloud

  • Requires sign-in
  • Starts up quickly
  • Identical interface to RStudio
  • Saves changes to the learner’s own account
  • Does not include nano text editor (must use RStudio text editor)


  • Does not require sign-in
  • Can be slow to load if not used in previous 12 hours
  • Identical interface to Jupyter Hub & Jupyter Lab
  • Does not save to the cloud (must save notebooks and modified data to desktop and re-upload)
  • Session stops after 10 minutes inactivity
  • Non-private session means that login information should not be used. Do not connect to GitHub from MyBinder.
  • Has nano text editor installed

If you register your Carpentries workshop with us, you will receive links to backup solutions for your event in a pre-workshop email sent by our workshop coordinators. This email will also include information about the caveats discussed above and a link to detailed instructions for learners, including screenshots. We recommend that you only share this information with those learners who have not successfully completed installation on their own computer once the workshop has begun.


The Carpentries community is here to support your work! You may still have questions, and you will almost certainly develop more as you set about your preparations. What can you do with those questions?

Consider attending a Community Discussion! This is a great opportunity to discuss your thoughts and questions with experienced Carpentries Instructors as well as new trainees eager to learn from your conversation. This is also a great way to share your experiences and engage in retrospective analysis after your workshop is complete.

If you have questions about organizing your online workshop, you can also contact for assistance.

After your workshop, please also consider whether our Recommendations and the content of this Bonus module have served you well. If you would like to suggest changes to either, please file an Issue in the GitHub repository for this lesson, or email your suggestions to

We would also really like to have your feedback now! If this module has helped you to feel more prepared, or if you think there are things we could improve, we would really appreciate hearing about this in our post-workshop survey. Please take a moment to share your feedback with us so that we can continue to improve our program!

Key Points

  • Learners experience many barriers to participation in online workshops. Planning ahead and communicating well will support them in finding a path to success.

  • Effective team work depends on communication.

  • “Cloud instances can resolve software installation problems, but also have their own unique limitations.”