A long shot, but perhaps somebody here can help. I'm planning a workshop (=3 hours, mixed presentation bits + "hands-on" parts, ~30 people). It includes a (brief) section on setting up a simple server on DigitalOcean. Some of the participants will be directly interested in this and would probably benefit from leaving the workshop with an account and server set up. Some will not.

I'm wondering if there's any/a best way to deal with this.

  • I want to show, concretely, how one would set this up. But I don't want to spend 15 minutes clicking through an interface with everybody staring. Ideally this would be a hands-on part.
  • I don't want to force those participants to set up an account if they don't need it (they'd need their credit cards)
  • I don't want to have half the people setting it up, the other half wasting their time.

My only idea so far is to make this dependent on the number of people actually interested in setting up an account, and allocating a final part of the workshop for this. Those not interested can leave earlier. But it doesn't sound optimal either.

Does anybody have any better ideas? This related question did something similar but is basically too much presentation.

  • $\begingroup$ Why do you want to do this if only about half of the people are interested? Give them a handout they can follow and use face-time for something more useful. Even those interested are likely to do this only once or twice, so it isn't really a useful skill, I think. $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    May 7, 2019 at 12:42
  • $\begingroup$ A hands on version is unlikely to be short with 30 students. People will get stuck. They will get stuck at different points. They will have questions. The questions will all be different and require answers. This will take time. Use the time more productively, even if it is essential that they get a server working to continue other work. $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    May 7, 2019 at 12:54
  • $\begingroup$ And why a commercial service with no free tier for students? I'd strongly suggest that you rethink this whole thing. Sorry to be so negative. $\endgroup$
    – Buffy
    May 7, 2019 at 13:42
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the comments! Not negative at all. There are good reasons to use DO. But I take your point that it probably is pointless to do it live. $\endgroup$
    – elisa
    May 7, 2019 at 14:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Buffy Are you aware of any (commercial or not) service which has a free tier for students? Digital Ocean makes an effort to be easy to use and has currently a 60 day try-out period where one can spend 100$, which is usually more than enough for a small project. AWS and Google have similar offers but they aren't as easy to use (imho). $\endgroup$
    – Kris
    May 8, 2019 at 19:13

2 Answers 2


Let me give an idea, though it will shoot down your proposal, I guess.

Face to face time with students is precious. Use it only for those things that are best done that way. Three or four hundred years ago lecture was very efficient since even books were unavailable and very expensive. A hundred years ago books became reasonable for a student to purchase so lecture changed a bit and the book and its exercises took on a larger role.

Today, as you suggest, we can do live demonstrations of things and have interactive sessions. But the time with students is still precious. If you want to demonstrate something or have students do something in a lab where they follow your direction, you should make sure that the topic is something that is really important and advances your main teaching goals. Setting up servers isn't likely to be in that category unless the course itself is about server management.

The problem with work-along demos is that the students, if there are more than about ten will get out of sync. Some of them will be confused. Some of them will, when typing or otherwise interacting with the machine, miss an essential instruction from you and get lost. They will get blocked if they see something unexpected, and if it is new to them, the unexpected is expected. They will come up with questions and wait, fairly passively, until their questions are answered.

If you are doing something truly essential, then all of these difficulties are worth it in the long run. But for the inessential and even for some essential things use handouts or web pages. Use official documentation that you point to, perhaps supplemented. Give them a way to ask their questions in a way that doesn't intrude on face time. I found a mailing list dedicated to each course as a way to do this. Especially when other students are encouraged to answer student questions.

Use the "big impact" methodologies for the "big impact" ideas. Face time is the biggest of all. It is often even a waste to use it for lecture - a broadcast mechanism, rather than a personal one that might be used instead.


For the record, I agree with @Buffy's response that it is not a great use of course time, and it sounds like you will be taking that advice. I have just two things to add:

  • If you believe that this is something students will likely get stuck on, you can provide time after the workshop for those who wish to stick around so that you can help them if they run into trouble.
  • If you actually still want to integrate it into your workshop, the way to do it would be to have a second activity (ideally open-ended) for everyone, and have those creating accounts join into the second activity when they are ready. (Beware that this might be frantic for you for about 15 minutes or so, as you are answering people's questions in several different domains at the same time. Having a helper can smooth this over nicely.)

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