Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

Lead Instructor Checklist

Along with the usual duties of an instructor, lead instructors are responsible for leading discussions among the instructors and host about what to teach and who's teaching what. They are also responsible for making sure that the workshop's web page and repository are set up in good time, and for handling evaluation.

All of these duties can be delegated, but it's the lead instructor's responsibility to make sure they are done. If you've been assigned the lead instructor role but aren't comfortable with it, or find that you don't have time, please let Software Carpentry admin know as soon as possible.

Initial Preparation

  • Create the GitHub repository that will host the workshop's web pages, following these instructions.

    Note: if your institution will not allow you to do this, please send the information that would have been in the GitHub Pages site to the administrators so that they can add it to our database manually.

  • Email the workshop's URL to the administrators so that they can add it to our database. The workshop will then show up on the main website the next time it is rebuilt (which typically happens hourly).

  • Talk to the workshop host about the workshop audience and their desired curriculum and level. Talk to the workshop host about the audience; what field(s) are they from, and what is their expertise level, and what curriculum would interest them?

  • With the other instructors, decide what content to cover, what the schedule will be, and who will teach what. This usually takes a few iterations, so don't leave it until the last minute.

  • Create a schedule for your workshop with instructors' names against each topic being taught. Be sure to allow enough time to set up on the first day, and for learners to fill in the post-workshop assessment on the last day.

  • Create the home page for the workshop in that repository, and either write or recycle a description of the curriculum and setup instructions.

  • Create an Etherpad for the workshop. Remind students that they do not need an account to edit the Etherpad.

  • If you're local to the workshop site, suggest some helpers if you can.

  • Consult with the host on whether any learners, instructors, or helpers have identified accessibility needs that need advance preparation (see the accessibility checklist).

  • Make sure that the installation testing scripts included in the workshop website have been updated to check only the software that the workshop is actually using. (More specifically, edit the list in setup/swc-installation-test-2.py so that it doesn't warn people about things they don't need.)

  • Consult the instructors' checklist: all of those tasks apply to the lead instructor too.

Several Weeks Before

  • Send email to potential learners saying that registration is now open.

  • Create an Etherpad for the workshop by going to http://pad.software-carpentry.org/YYYY-MM-DD-site (where "YYYY-MM-DD-site" is the ID of your workshop). You should add this link to the etherpad field in the header of your workshop's home page so that it shows up on your workshop's website. Note: please don't use our Etherpad for activities other than workshops—our server struggles to keep up with the load sometimes as it is.

  • It is encouraged to participate in an Instructor Discussion session before the workshop to discuss pre-workshop planning. You can also email other instructors who have been involved with the planning process encouraging them to participate in a session as well. Participating in the sessions provides valuable insight to new instructors and can allow you an opportunity to ask questions before your workshop.

A Week Before

  • Send a reminder email to attendees. This should remind them to go through the software installation instructions on the workshop's home page, offer to help people who are having problems, and ask them to run the installation checking script. It should also remind them of the workshop's location (and if it is running in two or more rooms, tell them which one to go to). A template email message is included in this checklist.

  • Send a reminder email to helpers. A template email message for helpers is included in this checklist.

  • Make sure the pre-workshop assessment questionnaire has been created and sent to your learners, and share the responses with your fellow instructors.

  • Make sure all the instructors have posted their materials on the workshop web site.

  • Make sure the workshop helpers are listed on the workshop's web page.

  • If possible, introduce yourself to the helpers; give them the link to the workshop webpage and ask them to follow the setup instructions; and ask them to arrive at least 15 minutes earlier than learners.

  • Check the link to the Windows installer in your setup instructions.

First-Day Welcome

  • Remind everyone of the Code of Conduct.

  • Make sure all learners are set up correctly and have sticky notes.

  • Remind learners of the workshop's goals and schedule.

  • Remind helpers to mingle and encourage conversation as well as answer questions and debug setup problems.

  • As learners arrive, ask them to connect to the network and check that they have software installed.

  • Circulate the sign-in sheet and photo release form.

  • Distribute colored sticky notes to learners.

During the Workshop

At the End

  • Ask for feedback (one good thing and one bad thing) and send it to Software Carpentry. You can collect it on sticky notes, on the Etherpad, or in a plain text file.

  • Distribute the post-workshop assessment. It's best if learners complete it before they leave.

  • Discuss why assessment is important for Software Carpentry and for participants (quantitatively show and measure impact, better funding, ways workshops can improve for the future).

  • Let participants know they will be asked to volunteer for impact study interview in 3 months. Very few people have been volunteering so their participation is very important.


  • Participate in an Instructor Discussion session for a workshop debrief. You can also email other instructors and helpers encouraging them to participate in a session for debriefing. Participating in the sessions provides valuable insight for new instructors and allows you to contribute useful feedback for future workshops.

  • Fill in the post-workshop questionnaire to let the Software Carpentry admin know what was actually taught and how it went.

Template for Pre-Workshop Email to Learners


Thank you again for registering for the upcoming workshop at [LOCATION] - we're looking forward to working with you. Over the course of the workshop, you'll learn some tools and skills to help accelerate your research. Our hope is that this will save you time and help you better organize and document your research.

Before the Workshop

Before the workshop, please follow the setup instructions at [URL] to make sure your computer has what you'll need for day one, and run the checking scripts at [URL] to make sure everything is in place. If you hit any snags, or don't understand what the instructions are asking for, we're happy to help - please send questions to your instructors at [EMAIL], or drop by the workshop a bit earlier so that we can troubleshoot then.

At the Workshop


  • [Name]: [role] at [university/affiliation], working in [discipline]

  • [Name]: [role] at [university/affiliation], working in [discipline]

  • [Name]: [role] at [university/affiliation], working in [discipline]

They are volunteers who want to help you get more done in less time and with less pain; you can find out more about them here.

Get Involved

Software Carpentry is a volunteer project. If you'd like to help us, please have a look at ways you can get involved.

We look forward to seeing you soon.

Template for Pre-Workshop Email to Helpers

Hello Helpers,

Thank you for signing up to help with the upcoming [FIXME: type] workshop taking place at [FIXME: location] on [FIXME: date/time]. As a helper, if you're unfamiliar with any of the topics that we're going to teach, take some time to look at the lessons [FIXME: links] to see some of the examples and exercises that we're going to go through.

Before the workshop, try and install any of the required software and go through the lesson yourself. Feel free to create an issue in Github if you have any comments or catch any mistakes.

On the day of your shift as a helper, please arrive 10-15 minutes early to help learners set up and run through some possible issues with installation and other questions that the attendees might have with the topic. Once the lesson starts, you will float around and help students that have any questions, help them work through exercises they might be stuck on, and/or check if they completed the exercises correctly. Some issues that commonly come up include:

  • installation problems: installing required dependencies, path conflicts
  • permission issues
  • formatting and syntax errors when writing out commands or scripts
  • not having files or directories set up the same way
  • not being in the right directory
  • lesson going too fast: did not have enough time to copy the examples or links

These workshops are designed to be flexible and casually paced, so if you come across a question or point that you think would be relevant to the entire class, please share it out loud or on the etherpad. Remember, this is not an instructor-knows-best environment: we are all here to help each other!

For more information about your role as a helper, please see the helper checklist at /checklists/helper/. Thanks again for signing up - we'll see you soon.

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