The History and Practice of Guild Workshops

One of the original, primary goals of the Guild was to create a "rationality dojo" that was both accessible and effective. Since the Guild's inception, what this looks like in practice has evolved rapidly. The following forces have influenced these shifts:

  • International membership
  • Unpredictable attendance rates
  • Workshop difficulty
  • Instructor burden

International Membership

Our international membership requires multiple workshop meetings, now three per week. This rapid-fire schedule makes it nearly impossible for workshop instructors to attend each and every session. Thus, workshops must be prepared in a way that doesn't require the instructor's presence.

Luckily, the flipped-classroom model is well suited for this situation. Workshops are led by a Guild facilitator, and individual breakout sessions are led by cohort facilitators. Feedback is relayed to the workshop instructor asynchronously. This setup is analogous to the traditional college TA/Professor structure, except that our classroom sizes are an order of magnitude smaller.

Unpredictable Attendance Rates

Cohorts were originally created to provide natural groupings for classroom breakout sessions, and we assumed that six cohort members would attend each workshop. This assumption has proven false.

Attendance varies wildly on a week-to-week basis. To avoid cult dynamics, we encourage our members to prioritize their real life matters, and this means that sometimes they can't make the week's workshop. Furthermore, interest levels fluctuate based on the workshop topic, with attendance sometimes dropping by 50% if the workshop was particularly unpopular.

To manage this, we've begun polling for interest levels in all workshops prior to running them. We've also told our Council facilitators to prepare for varied attendance levels — in most cases, this means that we don't have breakout rooms if there's not enough people.

Workshop Difficulty

Our original, multi-session courses were meant to be comprehensive, deep, and demanding. In the Alpha, it was widely agreed that they were too difficult. We scaled back the time requirements to one hour a week. Unfortunately, it's often hard to tell ahead of time what "one hour" actually means, and we still occasionally have workshops that ask for too much or too little. Hitting the sweet spot between "impractically time consuming" and "trivially easy" is something we're still working on.

Instructor Burden

On the instructor side of things, building out a high-quality five-week class is shockingly labor-intensive, especially since we had a tacit expectation that instructors would create video content. To alleviate this burden, we've transitioned to one-week, single-session workshops with no original video content.

This explicit relaxation of requirements, plus the upcoming How to Teach Anyone Anything workshop, is intended to dramatically increase the number of member-led workshops. Our hope is that this will flatten and democratize the workshop creation process.

Instructor Guidelines

The most important tenet of Guild workshops is regularity. Maintaining structural regularity helps avoid confusion and frustration, since our members expect each workshop to follow a similar pattern. Week to week, each workshop's subject changes, but the approximate format and expectations remain the same.

At a higher level, instructors should frame workshops in terms of why. Why should the student learn this? What can they use it for? What will it enable them to do?

In a related vein, the workshop content should optimize for fun and engagement, even if it trades off against depth. In particular, workshop assignments are an opportunity to provide a fun challenge. People learn better when they're having fun and end up spending more time and energy.

Additionally, optimizing assignments for fun will help prevent a tendency to make them too difficult. If you're a domain expert, then your assignment will be too difficult by default because you can't remember how opaque the material was the first time you encountered it. Make the assignment fun instead of hard, and your students will learn more.

At the practical level, the following features are the critical kernel of a workshop:

  • A landing page
  • Assignment
  • Cohort activity

Landing Page

At the start of each week, students are provided with a link to the workshop landing page. The landing page is the main document for the workshop. It presents the content to be read or viewed, describes any assignments, and outlines expectations for the cohort meeting.

Beyond the landing page, the instructor is not expected to write original workshop content. In particular, they aren't required to create a video. Links to pre-existing articles or videos are standard practice for Guild workshops. The most labor-intensive part of building a workshop is finding and vetting information sources to link in the landing page.

Note. While a workshop landing page is an actual page on our site, we don't expect our members to know web programming. Instructors are generally free to use whatever file format they prefer, and the Council will translate it into a web page.

Assignment

The assignment is a one-hour task for members to complete in the week leading up to the workshop meeting. In our experience, students take 2-3 times as long to complete the assignment as instructors predict.

Some examples of past assignments include:

  • Tracking your calories and macronutrients for a week
  • Writing a short story
  • Analyzing a conversation for nonverbal cues

Cohort Activity

The last major part of a Guild workshop is the cohort activity, which is meant to be completed by each cohort during the workshop meeting. Cohort activities are generally about 30 minutes long. However, instructors should create at least 60 minutes of content -- this is to ensure that cohorts never run out of stuff to do. Additionally, the cohort activity should involve everyone, even if only a small portion of it is completed.

Example. If a cohort has six people, "each person talks for 10 minutes" is not an acceptable activity because the last three people might not get to talk.

This activity could be reworked as "taking turns, each person talks for two minutes. once you finish, start over with the first person" which would ensure that everyone has a chance to speak.

Conclusions

We're still optimizing our workshop format given the practical limitations of the Guild. Attending workshops should be fun and valuable. The current paradigm will evolve, but it can only do so with greater Guild member involvement. Please consider preparing a workshop for your Guildmates, so we can all progress together.

Teaching a Workshop

If you want to teach a workshop, contact Matt (moridinamael#1693) on Discord to hammer out the workshop description and get it approved. You will then submit the landing page document, and the Council will translate it into a web page. Afterwards, the workshop will be added to the official schedule.

Join the Guild

Flower
$15/month
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Unlimited workshops per month
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Unlimited workshops per month
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Unlimited workshops per month
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One one-hour meeting with a Council member per month
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* Cohorts are groups of four to six classmates that form a permanent study group.
** The Gardener prestige title will not be revoked if your membership expires or is downgraded.