Tips for helpers

This page contains the most important general hints for helpers for helpers. See the Helper introduction for more.

Preparing to help

As a helper, we do not expect you to know all our CodeRefinery training material but if you have time:

  • If you aren’t sure if you can be a helper: you probably can be one!

  • We try to make each exercise self-explanatory, but if you do one thing, scan over the exercises and understand the general point of each of them.

  • Read through the instructor guides for the lessons (there should be a link at the top or sidebar of each lesson).

  • Be ready to introduce yourself in one or two sentences: think about what you would like to convey as helpers to the classroom. How did (or does) CodeRefinery help you?

Tips for helping during the workshop

Code of Conduct

Teaching isn’t about helping those who are already “in”, it is for those who aren’t. Thus, we follow The Carpentries Code of Conduct for all our interactions before, during and after workshops.

If you see anything that is not supporting an equal learning environment, please mention it to one of instructors.

Creating a positive learning environment

As a helper, you have a crucial role during workshops:

  • Encourage learners to learn from each other.

  • Acknowledge that some of the material can be difficult and that they will learn more working together.

  • Acknowledge when learners are confused and raise it to the instructors. Understanding why learners are confused provides useful feedback for instructors. You should be our eyes and ears.

  • As we said, you don’t have to know everything, just like learners don’t necessarily know everything (we don’t know everything, either). It’s more important to be responsive and work together.

  • Stand up and walk around, try to make rounds by everyone. If you are convenient, students will ask. If you are sitting in the back, student’s wont. Students rarely try to get your attention from across the room if you don’t look ready.

Things you should not do in a workshop

  • Take over the learner’s keyboard. It is rarely a good idea to type anything for your learners and it can be demotivating for the learner because it implies you don’t think they can do it themselves or that you don’t want to wait for them. It also wastes a valuable opportunity for them to develop muscle memory and other skills that are essential for independent work. Instead, try to have a sticky note pad and pen and write the commands that they should type.

  • Criticize certain programs, operating systems, or GUI applications, or learners who use them. (Excel, Windows, etc.)

  • Talk contemptuously or with scorn about any tool. Regardless of its shortcomings, many of your learners may be using that tool. Convincing someone to change their practices is much harder when they think you disdain them.

  • Dive into complex or detailed technical discussion with the one or two people in the audience who have advanced knowledge and may not actually need to be at the workshop.

  • Pretend to know more than you do. People will actually trust you more if you are frank about the limitations of your knowledge, and will be more likely to ask questions and seek help.

  • Use “just”, “easy”, or other demotivating words. These signal to the learner that the instructor thinks their problem is trivial and by extension that they therefore must be stupid for not being able to figure it out.

  • Feign surprise at learners not knowing something. Saying things like “I can’t believe you don’t know X” or “You’ve never heard of Y?” signals to the learner that they do not have some required pre-knowledge of the material you are teaching, that they don’t belong at the workshop, and it may prevent them from asking questions in the future.

See also