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What Makes a Workshop Work?

This past summer marked the addition of a full day of workshops to the CS&IT Symposium. More than 120 individuals attended morning and afternoon sessions on a variety of topics, such as BYOB Scratch, Google AppInventor, Videogame Programming, and AP Teaching. I'm happy to report that the day was very successful, with 97% of attendees rating "Session effectiveness" as either Good or Excellent, and 98% of attendees rating "Met expectations" as either Good or Excellent. Thank you to all of the session presenters who made the first CS&IT Workshop Day go so well.

The experience of chairing the workshop sessions prompted me to reflect on workshops that I have attended over the years. Many have been instructive and inspiring, but others have been demoralizing wastes of time. To me, an effective workshop has to have a significant hands-on component, but it also has to provide enough conceptual content to allow me to build upon what I have done. If it doesn't enable me to continue learning on my own afterwards, it is really nothing more than a few hours of entertainment and/or confinement.

For example, I attended an outstanding workshop some years ago on Bioinformatics Education. The session integrated engaging hands-on exercises, but also provided conceptual background and resources for going beyond the exercises. It inspired me to dig deeper into the material once I got home, and I learned more after the workshop than I did in those few in-class hours. In contrast, a disappointing App Development workshop I attended led me through the development of some really cool applications, but no conceptual understanding of what I was doing. I left the workshop with some impressive apps, but absolutely no idea how I would do anything else.

I'm curious how other people view workshops.

What do you look for when you register for a workshop?

What features do you think are necessary for a workshop to be effective?

What are the biggest mistakes that you think workshop presenters make?

Please share your thought, and if you have a great workshop that you have attended and want to plug, have at it.

Dave Reed
CSTA Board of Directors
College Representative


Workshops provide ways for potential to be enhanced and its success may be dependent on numerous factors like the effectiveness of the strategies used as well as the person's willingness to learn.

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