Workshop Introductions


Teaching: 10 min
Exercises: 30 min
  • How do you actually start a workshop?

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

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

  • Receive one piece of feedback on your own introduction

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, and includes time to practice giving part of a workshop introduction.

Setting the Workshop Environment

Your Academic Past

Think back to courses or workshops you really liked or did not 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?
  • Did you leave that first day thinking the instructor was uninterested, that you were not 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 are 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 is up to you as an instructor to empower your learners, so it is 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 are comfortable and ready for.

What is in an Introduction?

Get into small groups (3-4 people) and discuss these questions for 10 minutes. Take notes on your answers – we will combine them later.

  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?

Optional question: what did you (the leader) do or not do in your introduction to the session?

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 (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

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 are 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 the workshop more relevant.

Why are you teaching a Carpentries workshop? Why are you an instructor? What is 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 have 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.

Introductions for Everyone

If you are teaching a typical Carpentries workshop, then you are probably not teaching alone! After introducing yourself, make sure that you give everyone involved in the workshop - instructors, helpers, organizers - a chance to introduce themselves as well.

If you are the workshop organizer, this can also be a good time to thank volunteers who are instructing or helping.

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 and Library 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 been made in designing the workshop. Make sure to highlight the learning objectives and the hands-on instructional strategies we use and the workshop policies.

Clarify workshop roles. Explain who is doing what at the workshop and what learners can expect from the workshop leaders. If you have not already introduced helpers or other workshop leaders, make sure to do so.

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.

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

Head here for more examples of Icebreakers.

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 do not spend a lot of the time at the beginning lecturing. Get to introductions and interactions right away. You do not 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 are 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. Write out some notes, covering some of the topics described above:
    1. Introduce yourself effectively
    2. Clarify learning objectives and expectations
    3. Set the tone for the workshop
  2. Return to your groups of 2 or 3 and each give 2 minutes of your introduction. (5-6 min)
  3. After each introduction, provide 2-3 minutes of feedback.

This exercise will take 15-25 minutes depending on whether time is included for feedback or not.

These materials are adapted from Carnegie Mellon 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.