Instructor technical setup

Appearance matters. When you look at other professionally made videos online, they look good. As a presenter, you also need to work to make your screen look pleasing to the eye. As a teacher of tech, you also need to make sure that your screen supports the learning process: you have conflicting goals of:

  • Making your screen look simple, to not distract from what you are trying to teach, and

  • Showing more advanced practical setups that others may want to copy.

In general, try to use a simpler arrangement at the beginning of workshops. You, or other teachers, can begin showing more advanced screen layouts once learners are able to see what is important and what is extra.

Check with someone before you start teaching

Most importantly, get your setup done well in advance and show your co-teachers for feedback. Feedback and time to improve is very important to make things beautiful.

Clean your environment

Do you have fancy .bashrc, .gitconfig, etc files? Move them away so that you are as plain and normal as possible - beyond appearances, you don’t want to use any shortcuts that every learner won’t have access to (“hint: configure this” isn’t enough, those who miss this will still be lost).

Relevant files:

  • .bashrc

  • .gitconfig

  • .ssh/config, .ssh/authorized_keys

  • .conda/*

  • Any config for any program you may demonstrate

Command line prompt

Learners have to read your prompt quickly, understand what you entered, copy it, all the while not being distracted by everything else or your screen. Set an easily-viewable prompt.

  • Colors may be good, or if not have a newline (don’t little minimal color and no spacing between commands, it is hard to parse what’s a command and what’s an output.)

  • Consider prompt-log by rkdarst ( It adds a interesting idea that the command you enter is also in color and also provides terminal history before the command returns (see below). This is still in development.

  • The minimum is export PS1='\n\w \$ ' or even \$ .

  • With color is export PS1='\n\[\e[0;36m\]\w \$\[\e[0m\] '.

  • Consider setting export PS1="\w $ " in terminal (see below for more), especially the first day.

  • Have a space after the $ or % or whatever prompt character you use.

  • See below for more prompt configuration

Terminal appearance

  • Create a nice, large shell window with good contrast on the screen. Beware of colorized text, such as the red in “git diff”.

    • Consider setting a profile for your terminal, pre-configured for courses (e.g. white, large size, dark colors).

    • Eliminate menu bars and any other decoration that uses valuable screen space.

    • Know and use keyboard shortcuts for changing the font size. You can be larger when you are doing simple things, and make it smaller when you have long lines that learners need to see.

  • Don’t clear terminal often (or ever). Learner’s can follow as fast as you! More people will wonder what just got lost than are helped by seeing a blank screen. Consider pushing ENTER a few times instead.

Terminal color

Should you have a dark-on-light or light-on-dark color scheme?

  • Dark text on light background seems to be best for projectors.

  • Some people prefer light text on dark backgrounds, and this works on screens. Some people want the terminal to contrast with web browsers that is often shown at the same time, and so on.

  • Our recommendation: Use dark text on a white or light grey background (to be updated)

Optimize any other applications

Adjust any other applications to appear “normal” and minimize wasted space. For example, an advanced things to do would be minimize the size of title bars, remove menu bars when not needed, or reduce the size of tabs in web browsers.

Command line history

You need to find a way to show the recent commands you have entered, outside of your main window, so that learners can see the recent commands.

If you are doing live shell work, you will have commands and output all interleaved, which makes it hard to follow what you actually typed. Have a separate window that shows recent commands only, without output. Arrange your screen so there is the main window and the smaller “history” window. The history window runs the tail commands and can be used as a reference for what you just did.

  • Ideally, commands will appear before they terminate (if you less file, the command should appear before ``less` returns).

Consider prompt-log by rkdarst (, which gives colors and history even before the command returns.

Also check the shell exporter by sabryr, which copies recent history to a remote server.

Simple: The simple way is PROMPT_COMMAND="history -a" and then tail -f -n0 ~/.bash_history, but this doesn’t capture ssh, subshells, and only shows the command after it is completed.

Better yet still simple: Many Software Carpentry instructors use this script, which sets the prompt, splits the terminal window using tmux and displays command history in the upper panel. Requirement: tmux

Better (bash): This prints the output before the command is run, instead of after. Tail with tail -f ~/demos.out.

bash_log_commands () {
    [ -n "$COMP_LINE" ] && return  # do nothing if completing
    [[ "$PROMPT_COMMAND" =~ "$BASH_COMMAND" ]] && return # don't cause a preexec for $PROMPT_COMMAND
    local this_command=`HISTTIMEFORMAT= history 1 | sed -e "s/^[ ]*[0-9]*[ ]*//"`;
    echo "$this_command" >> "$BASH_LOG"
trap 'bash_log_commands' DEBUG

Better (zsh): This works like above, with zsh. Tail with tail -f ~/demos.out.

preexec() { echo $1 >> ~/demos.out }

Better (fish): This works like above, but for fish. Tail with tail -f ~/demos.out.

function cmd_log --on-event fish_preexec ; echo "$argv" >> ~/demos.out  ; end

Better (tmuxp): This will save some typing. TmuxP is a Python program (pip install tmuxp) that gives you programmable tmux sessions. One configuration that works (in this case for fish shell):

session_name: demo
  - window_name: demo
    layout: main-horizontal
      main-pane-height: 7
      - shell_command:
          - touch /tmp/demo.history
          - tail -f /tmp/demo.history
      - shell_command:
          - function cmd_log --on-event fish_preexec ; echo "$argv" >> /tmp/demo.history  ; end

Windows PowerShell: In Windows Terminal, a split can be made by pressing CTRL+SHIFT+=. Then, in one of the splits, the following PowerShell command will start tracking the shell history:

Get-Content (Get-PSReadlineOption).HistorySavePath -Wait

Unfortunately, this only shows commands after they have been executed.

Obselete: The below commands rely on recording your entire session using script, and then dynamically following the output. This allows you to track commands even in subshells/over ssh, but introduce a lot of other errors in corner cases. These might work but needs debugging (there are lots of complexities in extracting out the right parts). Note: some of these ignore the first line you type.

script -f demos.out

# most general... prompt must end in '$ '.
tail -n 0 -f demos.out | awk '{ if (match($0,/^[^$ ]+ ?[^$ ]*[$][[:cntrl:]0-9m;[]{,10} (.*)/,m)) print m[1] }'

# Prompt format of [username@host]$
tail -n 1 -f demos.out | while read line; do [[ "$line" =~ \]\$\ ([^ ].+)$ ]] && echo  ${BASH_REMATCH[1]}; done

# Standard bash prompt of 'user@host$ ' (less likely to have false positives)
tail -n 0 -f demos.out | awk '{ if (match($0,/^[^@]+@[^$]+[$][^ ]* (.*)/,m)) print m[1] }'

# Prompt is $ ' alone on a line.
tail -n 0 -f demos.out | awk '{ if (match($0,/^[$] (.*)/,m)) print m[1] }'
# used for the fish shell (note: untested)
tail -f -n 0 ~/fish_history | sed -u -e s'/- cmd:/ \>/'

# used for zsh shell (put this into a script file)
clear >$(tty)
tail -n 0 -f ~/.zsh_history | awk -F\; 'NF!=1{printf("\n%s",$NF)}NF==1{printf("n %s ",$1)}'