Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

How to Run a Bootcamp

With so many people setting up and running Software Carpentry workshops, I thought it was time to put together a more complete how-to. If I've forgotten anything, please let me know. (Later: please also see this PLoS paper"Ten Simple Rules for Developing a Short Bioinformatics Training Course".)

Assumptions

  • bootcamp is 2-3 days long
  • For 20-50 learners...
  • ...who are typically grad students in science and engineering
  • There is 10:1 ratio of helpers to learners (or better)

Goals

  • Learners leave with a basic set of skills...
  • ...and a big-picture view of how to apply them
  • A handful of learners/helpers are ready to run workshops on their own
  • We have feedback on how to improve content/format

Venue

  • Prefer flat seating to banked seating (makes it easier for helpers to reach people)
  • Power, network, and air conditioning
    • 40 people plus laptops generate a lot of heat
  • Prefer places where people can drink coffee/eat snacks while they're working
  • Note: make sure venue is accessible to people with disabilities

Dates

  • Weekends, weekdays, and splits have all worked (adjust to local needs)
  • Start of term works better at universities than end of term
  • Start of second/subsequent term works better for grad students than start of first term
    • Too many other things going on at the start of a new academic year
    • By second term, people know whether they need this or not
  • Mid-term breaks (reading weeks) have not worked well: very high no-show rate
  • Can also schedule bootcamps right before/right after major conferences
    • Usually means extra accommodation expenses for participants...
    • ...but can be easier to teach when all learners are from the same community

Times

  • We typically run 9:00-4:30, but this will vary to meet local needs
  • Note: remember to take childcare needs into account

Instructors and Helpers

  • Recruit instructors beforeannouncing event
    • We're happy to help
  • Recruit helpers locally
    • Typically grad students who already know this stuff...
    • ...who might be thinking about becoming instructors themselves
  • Remember:one person can't talk eight hours straight for two or three days
    • Not coherently, anyway

Registration

  • Your institution/venue may insist you use their system
  • Otherwise, we use EventBrite
  • We're happy to host registration (just ask us for access)
  • Make sure to allow a waiting list
  • Note: usually best notto charge even a nominal amount for registration
    • As soon as any money is changing hands, academic institutions will often charge for space

Advertising

  • Create a page with bootcamp details
    • Usually separate from the registration page (to give more control over content and style)
    • We're happy to host this...
    • ...or to link to your page if you'd rather host it yourself
  • Tweet and blog about the event
  • Send mail to departmental mailing lists, disciplinary mailing lists, and specific specific people (e.g., lab directors)
  • Note: remember to include links to the advertising page and the registration page!
  • Note:notify participants if the event is being broadcast or recorded
    • A signed photo release will be required from each participant if pictures are being taken

Catering

  • Decide whether to provide coffee/snacks at breaks and/or lunch
    • Typically budget $5 per person per snack, $12-15 per person for lunch...
    • ...which adds up quickly
  • Note:remember to take dietary restrictions into account
    • Vegetarian/kosher/halal
    • Nut/dairy allergies

The Week Before

  • Request confirmation from participants
  • Notify people on the wait list if they're going to be able to attend
    • May invite 10 or so people from wait list to show up
    • If there are still empty seats at mid-morning on the first day, they're welcome to stay
    • If not, they're welcome to come back for the next one
    • Note: make this clear to wait listed people you invite before they come
  • Send software/network setup instructions
    • Include instructions on how to check that things have installed properly
    • Include a contact address for people who are having trouble
  • Send pre-workshop questionnaire (if any)

The Day Before

  • Are the building and room going to be unlocked on the day of the event?
  • Do you know where the washrooms are?
  • Is there any noisy construction/cleaning going on?
  • Is the projector working? Do you have a spare bulb?
  • Is the network working?
  • Do you have enough power cords?
  • Do you have a contact number for maintenance/tech support?
  • Have you double-checked with catering (if you're having snacks/lunch brought in)?
  • Have you emailed a reminder to participants?
  • Have you set up any accounts/web sites/repositories you will need?
  • Do you have sticky notes in two different colors to hand out?
    • Use these instead of clickers to answer yes/no questions, signal need for help/completion of exercises, etc.

On The Day

  • Give people a few minutes to plug in, get on the network, etc.
    • Put network connection instructions on handouts, on the projected screen, etc.
  • Tell people what Twitter hash tag you're using (if any)
  • Circulate the attendance sheet/photo release form
  • Hand out multi-colored sticky notes

Follow-up

  • Collect attendance sheet/photo release forms
  • Create mailing list for contacting participants after the event
  • Send post-workshop questionnaire (if any)
  • Wrote blog post summarizing event

Dialogue & Discussion

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