Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Part 5: Tutorials (PyCon 2008 Chairman's Report)

PyCon 2008 had 28 tutorials in three sessions (morning, afternoon, and evening) on Thursday March 13. Over 420 people attended, more than the total attendance of PyCon 2006. Almost all of the tutorials were full. More than half of the attendees took 3 tutorials, resulting in a very full day for many people. I'm sure more people would have taken more tutorials if they hadn't filled up.

We were using the ten largest breakout rooms, in the lower level of the hotel. They were of different sizes. The five largest rooms could handle up to 70 - 90 people, according to the hotel's capacity chart. We limited registration to 50 in these rooms. The other rooms could handle anywhere from 18 to 36 people. We limited registration in these rooms too, cutting about 20% off the maximum, to allow for elbow room.

It's a good thing we set these limits, because the hotel capacity charts leave out one crucial detail: the maximum capacities listed are for a room crammed full of tables, with no space for the instructor! I suppose if they're running some test like the SATs, they could actually fit that many people. But we needed room for the instructors.

During registration, Greg Lindstrom (the tutorial coordinator) and I watched the tutorial numbers carefully, assigning tutorials to rooms as soon as they (or other) tutorials reached certain numbers. This worked well enough, although it was a bit nerve-wracking. It would be nice to automate the process next year -- but a logic error could have serious consequences.

On Tutorial Thursday the wireless network didn't work. I wrote about it in part 3, and Sean Reifschneider's report goes into detail. The result was that students weren't able to get access to the internet, which was a requirement for many tutorials. Next year, we will have wired ports available in the classrooms, so even if the wireless fails we'll have a backup plan. That was lacking this year.

Once the lack of wireless was worked around, the tutorials themselves seemed to go well. We had enough people taking tutorials that our overhead was more than covered, and we were able to offer dinner as well as the expected lunch.

By the evening session I could see weariness set in. 9 hours of learning (12.5 if you include breaks) is a long time. Next year, maybe we'll try two days of tutorials, either both before the conference, or one day on either side (one coinciding with the first day of sprints). What do you think? This is another topic we're discussing on the pycon-organizers mailing list.

I taught two tutorials myself, wxPython I & II (afternoon & evening). I underestimated the amount of free time I would have to prepare in the weeks & months leading up to PyCon, so I was not really ready. The first tutorial was about 3/4 prepared (although there was no handout). For the last part of the first tutorial and for the entire second tutorial I did code walkthroughs and Q&A. The second tutorial became a "master class". I hope it was worthwhile to attendees, and I apologize for being underprepared.

Next year, I vow not to present any tutorials or talks beyond my duties as chairman. If I start to indicate a desire to present something, please direct me to this post.

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