Launches and Landings

Last updated on 2023-10-26 | Edit this page

Overview

Questions

  • How do you actually start a workshop?

Objectives

  • Connect goals of an introduction with options for content and delivery.
  • Practice a short introduction.
  • Identify worthwhile elements of a workshop conclusion.

When preparing to teach a workshop, it is normal to focus on the content. We hope that our discussions so far have also encouraged you to prepare your delivery, creating plans to listen and respond to learners during a workshop. But within that, there are two time points that make a big difference to a workshop experience: the introduction and the conclusion.

Because these take time away from content instruction, it can be tempting to avoid investing precious preparation and class time to these sections. However, a strong introduction sets the tone for your workshop, teaches learners how to engage, and inspires confidence that learners will get what they need. A solid conclusion helps learners to solidify what they have learned and plan their next steps, and sends everyone – including Instructors and Helpers – home with a sense of accomplishment. In this section, we will work together to identify ingredients that can make these moments stand out and dedicate some practice time as well.

Launching your Workshop: The Introduction


Take a moment to think back to a course or workshop you really liked, think about how it began. Your impression on the first day of a course probably matched that of the rest of the course. It also probably stands out in your memory far more than the rest of the course! This is due to a feature of memory known as the primacy effect. Opening experiences make a difference in the short and long term – introductions set the tone for the workshop and the path for learning.

Introducing a workshop is an exciting and empowering moment! It can also be intimidating. Having a plan helps relieve stress and 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 are comfortable and ready for.

What is in an Introduction?

Get into small groups (3-4 people) and discuss the questions below. Take notes on your answers in the Etherpad.

  1. What do you hope to accomplish in a workshop introduction?
  2. What information do you need to include in an introduction to accomplish these goals?

After 5 minutes, come together, and combine ideas as a large group.

Finally, compare your ideas with the list of topics below. Did you miss anything? Did you come up with something that is not listed below?

  1. Set positive first impressions
  2. Introduce yourself effectively (and have other workshop leaders do the same)
  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 Logistics

Learning Objectives For your Introduction

It can feel like the Introduction is “just” something you have to get through in order to get started on the “real” workshop content. But, chances are that many of the goals you identified in the activity above involved teaching information or procedures that you want learners to know, or learning things about your audience. This means that everything you have learned about teaching and learning applies here, too. Short term memory? Check! Cognitive overload? Check!

Learning objectives usually omit introductory content – after all, these do not typically relate to our long term goals. The content of the introduction may not even be relevant once the workshop has finished! But if we did include the Introduction, what would those learning objectives look like?

After the introduction learners should:

  • be able to predict the type of instruction
  • know what will be taught
  • understand what will be required of them
  • believe that they can learn from the workshop
  • be aware of the schedule

The instructional team should:

  • know who is participating in the workshop and what their expectations are
  • have an initial impression of how learners respond to participation prompts and what will be needed to encourage them to engage

Setting the Stage

These objectives can be met in many ways; many of them can be addressed at the same time. As you consider the approach you will take, take a step back to consider the big picture. How will learners perceive your classroom environment? A few things to pay attention to as you include:

Your attire. This is one of those things that “should not matter” but, in reality, clothing has a powerful influence on perceptions of everything from credibility to kindness. Be comfortable, be intentional, and convey what you want to communicate. (Also, check the weather, and make no assumptions about thermostats in an unfamiliar classroom!)

The physical environment. Are you in a small classroom or a large, impersonal lecture hall? How are the seats arranged? Physical features may be beyond your control, but they still contribute to your learner’s impressions. How can you help? (Note: if you are in an online environment, structural features can also impact your workshop experience! What are those features, and how can you modify or moderate their impact?)

Your use of the few minutes before class. Is the instructional team present and welcoming, or rushing in frantically to a waiting crowd?

Your introduction of yourself. Planning this out can help you be intentional about what to include – and what not to! A few things you may want to convey include

  • your experience or related areas of work
  • how formal/informal you want to be
  • how available you will be to the learners
  • your enthusiasm for the subject
  • your motivations for teaching

Introductions for Everyone

If you’re teaching a typical Carpentries workshop, then you are probably not teaching alone! Make sure that everyone involved in the workshop - instructors, helpers, organizers - has a chance to introduce themselves at some point. If you spread out introductions across sections or have people coming and going, it helps to build in a reminder to create time later on.

Your doubts. Sometimes if you have doubts about how the workshop will go, either because you are new to teaching or because you are aware of potential problems, this may come across (intentionally or unintentionally) during your introduction. Sharing such vulnerabilities judiciously can help keep learners on your side when problems do arise. However, there is also a risk of undermining learner confidence. Thinking this through in advance can keep you from oversharing in a moment of anxiety!

The classroom community. Becoming familiar with other participants helps learners relax and engage, breaking down fear and supporting a sense of belonging. Icebreakers can seem silly and they do take time, but even a lightweight activity makes a big difference. This also sets the tone for an active workshop, which can be especially important if your curriculum does not offer early opportunities for interaction.

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 (e.g.’microbes’, ‘dogs’, ‘vectors’, ‘stars’) and a thing they are proud of that they made.

Head here for more examples of Icebreakers.

Teaching Your Trajectory: Workshop 101

Clearly establishing expectations at the outset orients learners to participate actively and helps them use their time productively. Keep in mind that critical information will need to be communicated more than once! This information should also be present in your workshop documentation and/or collaborative notes.

Describe the prerequisites (if any).

Share the schedule and logistics. Post lunch and break times, and stick to them! Share bathroom & lactation room locations and any other instructions specific to your workshop. Demonstrating a commitment to accessibility at this point will help learners feel more comfortable making additional requests as needed.

Communicate the workshop structure, including learning objectives and hands-on approach. If your instructional team has distinct roles in the workshop (e.g. “notetaker” vs “roaming helper”, be sure to introduce them, too.

Communicate your expectations for learners, including:

  • how to follow the Code of Conduct
  • ways to ask for help
  • ways to give feedback to the instructional team

Collect and share baseline data on learners. If you are teaching an official Carpentries workshop, you should have received the results of your pre-assessment surveys -- these can be helpful in planning your workshop! Even so, you may have additional questions, and there will always be learners who did not fill out the survey. Sharing and discussing these data with learners can help to combat imposter syndrome and let them know that they are welcome ‘as they are’.

Share some advice for success – including your confidence that they can do it! If you have a range of skill backgrounds, this is a good opportunity to offer differentiated advice on how to make the most of the experience, e.g. suggesting that intermediate learners build their skills by helping a neighbour or considering more advanced questions to be discussed during the breaks.

Whet learners’ appetites for workshop content. In most cases, your learners chose to attend this workshop, but they may yet be unclear on whether it will be worthwhile. This is a great chance to get them excited about the prospect of learning what you have to teach!

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 during this training.

  1. Write out some notes, covering a few of the topics described above:
  2. Introduce yourself effectively
  3. Clarify learning objectives and expectations
  4. Set the tone for the workshop
  5. Return to your groups of 2 or 3 and each give 2 minutes of your introduction. (5-6 min)
  6. After each introduction, briefly share feedback, reserving extensive discussion for after all have had a turn to present.

This exercise will take about 15 minutes.

The Art of a Smooth Landing


Your workshop almost certainly had some highs and lows. If you followed our advice about going slowly, it is also likely that you will be pressed for time at the end! Out of respect for all involved, it is important that you end your workshop on time. Even if you have not met your content goals, there are far more valuable ways to spend the last 15-20 minutes of a course than squeezing in one last command or bit of advice.

Brainstorm: Making the Last Moments Count

You have made it to the end of your workshop! Everyone is exhausted and their brains are full. You could cover more content… or you could use the last few minutes in another way.

In the Etherpad, write down one thing you could do at the end of a workshop. What is the value of spending time on that thing? If you have time after writing down your idea, read through the others in the Etherpad. If you have another idea that has not been written down yet, add it to the list.

This exercise will take about 5 minutes.

  • Close and save files. Where can those files be found, and how can learners pick up independently where you left off?
  • Reflect on learning. This can help learners to solidify key concepts they have learned, making them easier to remember. It may also flush out a few last questions.
  • Plan next steps. Does the local community have resources to support continued learning? Do you have advice for how learners might continue on their own? Even if you have no advice, asking learners to take a moment to discuss their own plans can support them in taking a next step sooner rather than later.
  • Reiterate where the lesson materials can be found, and encourage them to apply at least one of the skills to their own work within the next few days. Potential examples include:
    • Use R to reproduce an analysis that was previously done with a spreadsheet application;
    • Write a lab notebook entry in R-markdown;
    • Backup a thesis or manuscript by storing it on a remote server with a version control system; and
    • Log in to a remote machine and run an analysis there.
  • Collect feedback. Minute cards, one-up-one-down, and making time for Carpentries post-assessment surveys will support your continuing development as an Instructor as well as our continuing development of Carpentries programs. This can also support or complement a reflection activity.
  • Check with the workshop host to see if they have any closing words or instructions they would like to share.
  • Celebrate everyone’s hard work. Thank your learners for helping each other, for staying motivated and persevering with you! Thank your helpers – keep a list of names handy if you might forget them. Enjoy the applause, and give everyone a moment to bask in praise for a job well done.

Introduction materials are adapted from Carnegie Mellon Eberly Center Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Key Points

  • A planned introduction is key to creating a functional workshop environment.
  • Conclusions support reflective practice and set the stage for continued learning.