Minimum Viable Workshop

Lillie Chilen edited this page Aug 25, 2014 · 18 revisions

What makes a workshop a Railsbridge Workshop?

  • A commitment by the organizers, teachers, and students to increasing diversity in tech.
  • It's free!
  • An Installfest in which participants end up with a functional development environment on their machines.
  • A Workshop day in which participants do hands-on work on some kind of curriculum.

The Bare Necessities

Here’s what you need for a minimum viable workshop:

  • A space with wifi
  • Teachers
  • Participants
  • Installfest (usually Friday night)
  • Workshop (usually Saturday day)

Big plusses if you can:

  • Food: Friday dinner (pizza?), Saturday breakfast (bagels?), Saturday lunch (sandwiches?)
  • A playgroup - a space for people to bring their children for a supervised playgroup if needed.

Any number of factors can decide the size of the workshop: the size of the space, the number of teachers available, or the number students interested. If you're striking out on your own, start small and get bigger.

How to run an Installfest

  • Give people pizza or something else to eat, and something to drink.
  • If you don't have the funding, tell people to bring their lunches.
  • Put a link to the Installfest instructions on a white board, projector, or visible sign somewhere.
  • Also, telling people the wifi name & password is helpful.
  • Give people name tags, if you have them.
  • It can be helpful to have students write "S" real big and volunteers write "V" real big on the name tags.
  • Tell the students to raise their hands or find a volunteer when they are stuck on something.
  • Tell the volunteers to walk around and ask people "How's it going?" or something else neutral like that, and to avoid clumping in groups of volunteers for too long at a time.

How to run a Workshop

  • Order breakfast & lunch ahead of time, or that day. And coffee & tea.
  • Again, providing food is really nice, but not mandatory as long as it's communicated that they need to bring their own food.
  • Start with an opening presentation welcoming everyone and getting people excited about the day. Then, get to work. There are a lot of different ways to run the day:


If you're in one big space, or don't have enough volunteers to have a teacher per class, you can have people go through the curriculum in the same way they went through the Installfest.


  • Divide students into approximate levels (maybe "Beginner" and "Advanced") and have them sit together.
  • Explain which curricula would be a good place to start, depending on their goals for the day.
  • The Intro to Rails curriculum starts with a few pages of Ruby before getting into Rails, so total beginners would be fine starting with that if they are excited about getting something online, or starting with our separate Ruby curriculum.
  • Again, remind volunteers to ask students how it's going, or what they're working on, since not all of them will raise their hands when they're stuck.

Small Groups

If you have conference rooms or break-out spaces, and enough volunteers, breaking into small groups based on experience level and having a teacher walk the class through the curriculum can be really fun. If you're doing this, we recommend using Bridge Troll to check people in so you can use the software we built to separate them into groups and projecting the group divisions if possible.


  • If you have more than one volunteer per small group, give the teachers/TAs a few minutes to chat amongst themselves before sending the students their way.
  • Remind the individual classes to take a break at least once in the afternoon.


  • Give a short final presentation where you encourage people to keep learning and help out with RailsBridge if they want.
  • Ending with a retro is a great way to find out what the students and volunteers found exciting and challenging about the day, and suggestions they have for making the next workshop better.
  • If you have the space, doing separate retros for students and volunteers can make it easier for each group to provide honest feedback about their experience, but together works, too.

Finding or Starting an Ecosystem

Really successful workshops are part of an ecosystem, so that after the workshop is over, there is a community for students to join. It seems to work best when there is a community, events, and resources available locally.

If there isn't already a monthly meetup, plan to start one after the workshop. If you have a large enough community and a founding team with stamina, plan a series of workshops, so that workshop graduates can come back and TA the next workshop. Learn, understand, practice, teach is a powerful sequence.

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