During a workshop I hosted Friday, I was asked how I designed the activity we did. Here’s a quick writeup on how that worked. First, a little context. I presented an 80 minute workshop at the Region 1 FRC. I’ve attended NSBE conferences enough times to know that, no matter how interested I was in a workshop, lack of sleep influences my ability to focus, so I wanted to ensure the workshop was engaging and active. The conference theme for this year is engineering a cultural change; my take on this as a machine learning researcher is big data for social change. My objective for the workshop was that the attendees both learn about the core ideas of machine learning and big data to understand context if following up further and realize how it’s an exciting field with lots of room for exploration and discussion.  The workshop was formatted with the information loaded more at the front, but that we quickly worked into shaping the conversation around the attendees’ interests. I wanted to make sure that the activities were challenging and prompted discussion, but that they were also accessible, so I made it group activities.

However, in my own experience, too many groups reporting out and sharing their responses to the same questions, can get repetitive and boring.  To be able to let all groups share and give myself the ability to select the best groups to share for each different portion of the activity, I used Google forms and had the groups submit their answers to each step. Even without wifi, having participants complete the activity by submitting responses on their smart phones it worked great. I wanted the activity to be completed in stages: after some introduction from me, we’d break out, report back, discuss add new material, and repeat a few times. I also didn’t want the groups to have to type any information repeatedly while I could still match responses from one breakout part to the next. To achieve this, I set it up for them to “edit their response” and for separate pages of questions for each stage of the activity.

In Google forms, here’s how to set up a form for use in an activity like what I ran:

  • Set  the first question as a multiple choice question, “Breakout part” and set “after page 1” to “go to next page”.
  • For each sub-activity, add page breaks and name the pages.
  • Set the various choices to the “Breakout part” question to jump to the respective pages, by checking the box, “Go to page based on answer” and then set the “Go to page” field on the breakout choice question.
  • On the separate pages, add the questions necessary for each part of the activity and for each of those pages, set “after page x” to “Submit form”.
  • At the bottom, below the confirmation text, check the box for “Allow responders to edit responses after submitting.”

In testing, I added some dummy responses, to each phase. Then I created figures that displayed the results of each step in the different ways I wanted to have available for discussion. With the figures made, I published them and then made short urls for each published figure that I could put in my slides for use during the workshop. Before the workshop, I cleared my dummy data out of the spreadsheet.  In the first activity, I had the groups name their project with an identifier that could be used as a title in subsequent steps.  When I gave the instructions for the activity, I reminded them to save the “Edit my response” link from the confirmation page. Having the breakout questions on a form they could open on their own, also allowed me to go back to reference slides while they discussed and meant I didn’t need to print out any handouts.

During the workshop, as the attendees completed each activity, I clicked the link on the next slide and we could then use the plot of their results. This made it easy to compare the prevalence of various results and discuss trends.The first activity, the groups defined a problem they wanted to apply machine learning to, for this I had all of the groups share their idea. In the second, they rated how hard various steps of the design process would be for their problem. Since I had them submit the results in the form, I was able to call on groups based on being atypical or extreme to justify their choices instead of going around and having all of the groups explain their decision making since much of it would be similar. The third idea was a series of a or b choices about what types of machine learning they might want for their problem. Again, being able to discuss the trends and commonalities immediately after the participants finished their small group discussions, made for a better use of time and I was able to have groups who chose differently than the others explain their decision making.

In the end of the workshop, the attendees said they enjoyed the workshop format, had learned something new and that entering the responses via the form wasn’t too complicated.

I’ve published as a template a simplified version of the google form used for the activity.