Advice on Running a Course

By Sonja Krause-Harder and Mary Gardiner

The following is taken from emails we wrote to the mailing lists.

What is a course?

LinuxChix courses are simply a series of posts and some discussion on the courses list. Previous courses have included:

  • programming in C/Perl/Python
  • basic programming skills
  • running a small business
  • security
  • home networking

Courses are normally technical but there's no reason you can't run a non-technical course if you think it would be interesting.

What's the procedure for proposing and starting a course?

It's not set out in stone, but works something like this:

  1. Tell the volunteers list that you want to run a course. Give them a chance to comment on your topic and an outline of your "lesson plan". Comments will normally be along the lines of "go for it".
  2. Ask courses-owner@linuxchix.org to add a courses topic for you (and tell you how to use it).
  3. Announce your course to the announce list and wait a few days for people to join the courses list for your course.
  4. Begin posting "lessons" (a lesson a week is about the right rate) and encourage discussion!

Recommendations

The following are culled from observations of the courses that are taking place, or have already taken place, on the courses list.

  • Aim for a fairly tightly focussed course rather than something bigger in scope (say, "introduction to C pointers" rather than "programming in C"), for the simple reason that course maintainers have without (I think) exception, managed no more than about 10 lessons (normally less) before burning out, losing interest or getting too busy. I would suggest that if you can't cover your course in 6 mailing list posts that you make it smaller, but that's not a requirement.
  • Be prepare to receive little feedback. Sometimes the courses list is very quiet, and nobody seems to be interested in what you are doing. The articles format with separate exercises/activities is a very good idea, as you can later publish the articles at http://www.linuxchix.org/content/courses, or even turn them into an HOWTO or book for the linux documentation project.
  • Even if there is no feedback from the list, your articles are a valuable addition to linuxchix and the courses page. If possible, add a contact email address to them when you publish them on the courses page, in order to get (and enjoy) the feedback from people who find them later.
  • Ask for help with the formatting / HTML-ifying. There are many potential volunteers floating around who would love to help, but don't know how and where. This is a perfect starting point for a glorious linuxchix volunteers career for chix who know HTML ;-) For administrative questions (getting an account for website editing etc.) send them to this list (volunteers).
  • Encourage discussion. People tend to be shy on courses, as nobody really knows how a course on a mailing lists is “done correctly” (answer: there is no “correct” way), and what they are expected to do if they participate. Ask for introductions, let them describe what they already know, why they want to learn this subject, and so on.
  • Some courses have set fixed dates for exercises to be “turned in,” others don't. Just do what feels best to you. Be careful not to put too much pressure on yourself by setting fixed dates (this one caught me once, with the Programming Basics course which never lived beyond lesson 3). If you have time and energy at the beginning of your course, perhaps writing as much as possible in advance would help. And even if you only do half of what you wanted to do, the course is still a welcome addition to linuxchix.
  • Have yourself added to the “Who Runs Linuxchix?” page in the courses section. Just shout “Course has started, please add me!” on Volunteers. You deserve the fame.
  • If there are enough people interested in it, you can start an IRC channel on irc.linuxchix.org ("#htmlcourse", for example) to be available for questions and discussions. Schedule a fixed time where you will be there (and when enough participants will be awake, which is a challenge considering all the different time zones we live in), and announce that time on the courses list. (And if nobody turns up at first, come over to #linuxchix and tell us how the course is going ;-))
  • Remember to have fun!

Additions?

Suggestions for improvements to this document are welcome on the Volunteers mailing list.