We are now 2 weeks post WordCamp LA and I can finally put my thoughts together on another great WordCamp. This year I took a more hands-on role as a co-organizer, and more specifically, organizing a Friday WordPress Beginner Workshop.
I just wanted to debrief and share a bit. I can tell you one thing, I was not prepared. However, I loved doing it.
Beginner workshops have been a thing at WordCamps and Meetups for a while, I’ve participated in a few, but never planned one. One thing I wanted to bring to this workshop was a new way to look at the whole day. We only had about 4 hours (8:30-12:30), but I wanted to make it as easy as possible to get in, get going, and learn.
One thing I disliked about previous workshops was their lack of flow. It would be better if it was 1 teacher, but 1 teacher gets tiring, having a few teachers each speaking about things they are passionate about means the students / attendees are better of. Have you ever taken a class with a boring professor? Its horrible.
With the flow, it was important to me that a student could continuously learn and work while teachers were talking. That means even though each teacher had 20-30 min. to do their part, a student could follow along the whole day without much interruption. Even though I had Christina Hills do a talk about how to pick at theme, I wanted to make sure for flow, everyone installed the same exact theme and kept using it throughout the day.
The teachers were very important to me. I had a hard time picking, being in Southern California there are so many talented individuals who can talk passionately. I wanted to make sure we showcased the best, but also needed to find teachers that would play well with others, as the main focus was a continuous flow throughout the day.
Organized a WordCamp is not easy, you have to manage to do it on top of your normal responsibilities, so asking teachers to come up with things to talk about and teach, I commend them greatly. I also commend them for all being go-getters. I never had to track down or push a teacher along, all of the teachers for our workshop were able to put together what they needed without much hand holding (loved it!).
The Syllabus was the first thing I tackled once I got the team together, and I wanted to make sure we al worked on it as 1 collective. My ambitious goal for the day was:
I got all my teachers together and had a few meetings about my plan for the day, and wanted to gather everything they’d need from me in order to get it accomplished. What themes / plugins were needed, how would we show deployment? Where would they deploy to?
The same week of the camp we had our final meeting, and all the teachers joined in. We connected from DesktopServer to Pantheon, how we would run the day. I felt confident it would be a great day that would run smoothly since we seemed to all be on the same page. Dwayne from Pantheon had planned out how to get everyone on Pantheon with all the themes and plugins we needed for the class.
Rewinding a month, the Beginner Workshop was supposed to be part of the ticket purchase process for WordCamp LA. When you bought a ticket, a simple checkmark for “beginner workshop” would be there so you could signify you wanted to attend. That didn’t happen, instead we created a Google Form and linked people from the site and through social media to the form where I could view some basic information that I asked for as well as get a count on how many people would be attending.
We had a capacity of about 50 people, so we were keen to keep an eye on it, but didn’t think 50 people would want to attend.
WE WERE WRONG
WordPress Beginner Workshops isn’t something I thought would be that popular, but it was! We had a few complaints of people not knowing about the form, and that was our fault for not making it part of the ticket process as we wanted, but still the form got to 50 people within a week or so, and we were closing in on 70 once I finally decided to close it.
We still had people walking up day of wanting to attend even though they did not register, that was amazing.
As part of the final emails leading up to the workshop I sent out the Syllabus and some instructions for people to download things like DesktopServer and some other things to make the limited time we have go smoothly. Did everyone install and have their computers ready to go? no but was I really expecting 100% on that? no.
The few walk-ins we did have (which replaced no-shows) also had to get setup as they didn’t receive any of the pre-requisite emails.
I have spent a lot of time with WordPress, and even though I learned how to code before using WordPress, it has taught me a lot or help me by leveraging it to learn something new. I think I kind of lost site that people are still coming into WordPress to learn, 13 years later. Some of the crowd knew how to setup the basic site, but some didn’t. There were even a handful of people there that had NEVER USED WORDPRESS – can you imagine? Yes, I can.. ’cause it happened & I was there.
I almost think while WordPress Beginner Workshops happen, we are forgetting about this demographic. As WordCamp talks get more technical to appease the community, they are becoming too advanced for the beginners. It is why so many beginners are moving to things like Shopify or SquareSpace. They want the benefits of WordPress (org) but don’t know how to use it. I look at WordCamp Miami’s Kid’s Workshop, and I think we need to be doing this for adults too, even on that same level of “This is WordPress.org vs. WordPress.com”
I really want to plan another one of these, but this time focus on bringing it down even another level. In some of our post-workshop talks we discussed even breaking the room up at the beginning and actually teach people how to USE WordPress using WordPress.com. With the addition of plugins and a clean interface thanks to Calypso, its not a bad way to introduce someone to WordPress, and show them how to just use it.
I can’t wait to get another opportunity at this, and hope that I find another group (if not some of the same) of teachers that are into it as much as I am!
I want to reiterate that even though this was 4 hours, it was a hard 4 hours, and I didn’t do it alone. I couldn’t have done it without the teachers who were willing to drink the Kool Aid on my idea. I also want to thank Sergio Scabuzzo for the awesome photos!