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Guidelines for Creating a Hands-on Workshop

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There are numerous guidelines available on how to write a paper for a SAS user group conference -- see the SAS Global Forum site or any of the regional user group web sites. However, there seems to be no similar guidelines for creating a Hands-on Workshop (HoW). Given there is considerably more work as well as many other things of which a person needs to be aware when creating a HoW, I thought this a major hole in the guideline section. I took the liberty of putting together my ideas, then sought and incorporated feedback from both successful HoW presenters and past HoW section chairs. The followingis the result. I hope people find it userful.

Guidelines for Creating a Hands-On Workshop

The following are some guidelines for creating a Hands-On Workshop. As the name implies the attendees are expecting to learn about your topic by actually creating code that works and demonstrates the principle you are trying to teach. I use the term code loosely in that GUI products such as SAS Enterprise Guide or SAS DI Studio may use examples where the attendees create the process flow equivalent of code.

You not only will be talking about your topic as you would in a tutorials type section, but also you will be providing directed exercises. As you prepare your talk, and more importantly as you create exercises, keep in mind there is a fine line between talking down at the attendees and talking over their heads. You will lose some people because they want more challenge and lose others because you were too challenging. Don't worry about this, you cannot please everyone.

1. Keep it simple. Do not try to cover too much. Remember that most of the attendees are in your workshop because your topic is new to them. In fact, many of the attendees are probably relatively new to SAS.

2. Keep your exercises consistent. As much as possible build upon the previous exercises. Your attendees may be struggling with the concept you are developing so do not confound them more with exercises that jump all over the map. Also, when possible solve a single problem with increasingly complex exercises/solutions/options. Finally, limit the number of datasets to be used. Whenever possible only use one dataset; needless to say exercises aimed at teaching join techniques will require multiple datasets.

3. Be aware of the time. Rehearse your presentation and schedule a set amount of time for each exercise while building in a few extra minutes for clarification and questions. One good way to check the time and the challenge of your exercises is to rehearse with one or more colleagues/friends who you think are at the target level of user. Not only will this help you hone your timing, but also it will let you identify and correct any ambiguity. Make sure you have the right amount of material to fill your time slot. At SAS Global Forum we provide 105 minutes for your workshop; this includes any time you want to set aside at the end of the workshop for questions. We expect you to finish at the 105 minute mark, not at 90 minutes and not at 106 minutes as we politely reboot your computer.

4. Minimize the amount of typing an attendee has to do. Your exercises should be 'fill in the blanks'. If you have the time and energy you may want to create 2 versions, one just fill in the blanks and the other where they have to think (and type) more. Make sure you number your exercises; some attendees will get lost and this will help them find their place again.

5. Provide a working copy of each exercise. If a person gets totally muddled, he/she can run the working copy and get the exercise completed to move on to the next section (rather than walking out because he/she is lost). Keep the working copy in a Solutions folder (see folder structure below).

6. Have a one page hand-out/cheat sheet for the attendees to reference. This is particularly important if your exercises will be using a specific syntax rules and/or options that are easily forgotten.

7. Aim for a 50/50 to 60/40 split between exercises and lecture. Attendees are there to learn by doing, not learn by listening. Depending upon your topic and the complexity of your examples you should be considering 8 to 10 exercises.

8. Introduce the exercise. Let the attendees know what the exercise is about to teach them. Tell them how to locate the exercise and tell them how long you are giving them. Before they start, ask if there are any questions.

9. Check progress on the exercise. Halfway through the exercise ask if there are any questions or problems. There will be session coordinators in the room helping the attendees, however you must watch for the room for session coordinators trying to catch you attention if they need help from you. At the ¾ mark ask if people need more time and wrap up the exercise if appropriate.

10. Wrap up the exercise. When the time you have allotted for the exercise has come, summarize what the exercise was teaching and ask if there are questions.

Unlike tutorial style papers, you have to deliver more than a final PDF version of paper; you have to deliver all of your workshop materials. Moreover, the workshop materials are often due before the final paper is due. Well before you have to provide a copy of all your workshop material, you will have to provide a detailed list of all the SAS and non-SAS products you require along with the versions of these products. The tech-support people at SAS who image and configure the workshop computers need the lead time to assemble all of the software and make sure each of the workshops runs properly and does not interfere with the running of any other workshop.


In order to facilitate the reconfiguration of the workshop computers you must use the following directory as your ‘home’ directory: C:\HOW\<lastname> where <lastname> is your last name, or the last name of the primary author when there are multiple authors.

NOTE: The root folder shown above is subject to change. Verify the location with the Hands-On Workshop section chair(s).

Although you can create any folders you see fit within your home directory, you should consider limiting to the following: \data for your datasets \exercises for your exercise \solutions for the working versions of your exercises \results for any HTML, RTF, PDF etc generated \startup for your AUTOEXEC.SAS and custom configuration files

Your AUTOEXEC will execute any LIBNAME and/or other statements to prepare the SAS session for the exercises.

You should create a desktop shortcut that will invoke SAS using your AUTOEXEC and configuration files. One option you will want to set in your configuration is SASINITIALFOLDER so the attendees will be able to open your exercises without having to navigate from the default SASINITIALFOLDER to your \exercises folder.


Create a ZIP file of your home directory and all the sub-directories and files; make sure you include full path names. Include in the ZIP a README.TXT file with the following: • Your name • Contact information (email and phone) • The paper number • A description of the files in the ZIP • The software required to run your exercise

The README file is for the SAS tech support people who will be configuring the computers.

For the non-GUI workshops there are two additional files you must include. One is a .SAS file with a complete runnable copy all of your exercises; the other is a .LOG file showing your results. The runnable .SAS file will allow tech support to verify everything runs with no manual intervention while the .LOG file will allow them to verify they have results consistent with yours.

On or before the deadline for the materials email the ZIP archive to your section co-chairs.

NOTE: Contact the Hands-On Workshop section chair(s) to determine if a special file name is needed for the ZIP archive.


There is a mandatory speaker meeting on the Sunday. At this meeting you will personally test your workshop material on one of the computers and give your signoff that it works. SAS tech support make every effort to ensure your workshop will run as you expect but it is up to you verify it does; if problems are found on Sunday they can probably be corrected before your workshop.

On the day of your workshop arrive at least 20 minutes before your presentation and ensure the section chairs know you have arrived. There is a 15 minute changeover between workshops.

After your workshop take any remaining questions outside the room; all attendees are required to leave the room between sessions.