A Learners Meetup is an event aimed at everyone who’s learning to code, develop software, or anything tech-related. This includes both absolute beginners as well as developers who want to acquire new tech skills and get into passionate conversations about it. After all: lifelong, we are all learners!
The other purpose of this event is to help build a community around OTS and keep its members engaged, offering a regular event as reference meeting point for learners who want to ask questions or present their latest projects (sometimes as an OTS workshop follow-up: full circle!), coaches willing to offer their skills by joining the event’s discussions, and anyone interested in participating in a skill exchange.
How does a Learners Meetup work?
It’s a 2-hour event, in three parts: two talks, a break, and either a Learn’n’Tell session or a Mini Barcamp.
Talks shouldn’t be longer than 25 minutes, including taking questions during the last 5 minutes.
The topics covered should relate to programming and/or technology and should be suitable for people new to them, explaining even the most complex matter in a clear and engaging way.
In order to make sure the talk follows these guidelines, we suggest asking the speakers to present their slides and talk for review in advance. We’re aware that this requires extra effort/coordination, but it can really make the difference for your meetup (and, most importantly, your attendees).
The break should last around 5-10 minutes and will give everybody the chance to meet, discuss, socialize, and relax.
Plus, a couple of things should be on the wall during the break:
- a white board and a writing utensil. It doesn’t need to be a real board; a big paper sheet will do the trick. Attendees are invited to write on it, asking for or offering help with a project, or to propose a skill exchange (no money involved, please). This is a great way to start a conversation.
- a sheet of paper, entitled “Learn’n’Tell” and a list of available slots (no more than five) to talk at the upcoming Learn’n’Tell session. Anyone interested in doing so should write their name and the topic they’ll be addressing.
- Learn’n’Tell session.
Learn’n’Tell is inspired by Hack’n’Tell (taking place in New York and Berlin), an event during which hackers can present their projects and get feedback from the audience. During our Learn’n’Tell session, beginners have 5 minutes to ask tech questions or show what they’re working on (live coding is more than welcome!) and 5 minutes to receive feedback from the audience (experienced developers also come to the meetup to support the discussion). Important: have someone moderate the session and keep an eye on the time!
A barcamp is an “unconference”, where the participants come up with the sessions themselves. There is a brainstorming phase where all participants write on a sticky note a question they have or a topic they are interested hearing or talking about. Sticky notes are collected and stuck on the wall to form a “question cloud”. The host reads out each question and asks for clarification if necessary. The host, with the help of the group, categorizes the stickies into related topics. Then the host calls out each topic group and asks who is interested in talking about it. The people who put up their hands form an informal discussion group.
Reassure the group that it’s totally fine and normal if no groups form around a topic. It’s still interesting to surface all the topics. The purpose is to connect, share perspectives and learn something new.
If people want to be involved in multiple groups, they can join at the half way mark. After 20 mins, give people a reminder that they can change groups if they are interested in other topics. To close (after 40 mins or earlier depending on the activity of the groups), bring everyone back together in a circle and ask each group to share their learnings via a representative.
Make sure the event and its idea is in agreement with our values. In particular:
- even though your event may be targeting a certain group of people (because of a talk’s topic, for example), it needs to be as open and inclusive as possible
- you have to make sure that the event is enjoyable/accessible at a beginner’s level
- always remember that the Learners Meetup ought to give beginners the chance to learn, (hopefully) get answers to their questions, and present what they have created or discovered
- you are responsible for creating a welcoming learning environment, where learners are encouraged to ask questions and nothing is assumed to be “self-explanatory.” State this explicitly at the beginning of the meetup, to embolden the shy people and so everyone attending can help you create this environment.
Have an idea which topics you’d like to include: the clearer the idea, the easier it becomes to recruit speakers.
Get in touch with OpenTechSchool members (which you might have already done via the mailing list) and discuss your idea. Someone may already be working on something similar, so it makes sense to join forces.
In order to make the organization easier, once you’ve contacted the OpenTechSchool team, find someone who is passionate about helping you organise the workshop from within OpenTechSchool or who has at least done something like this before. We call this person “the co-host” and you are referred to as the “organizer”. Since this co-host might not have access to everything, this document refers to OTS as the organisational team in general.
Starting to organize
Even if you already have a pretty clear idea of what you want to do, we strongly believe that more people working together yields bigger results. In any case, you want to have other people helping you with organization, so the next things OTS will do are:
Provide a mailing list for all discussion related to learners meetups (https://groups.google.com/a/opentechschool.org/forum/?fromgroups#!forum/team.beginners-meetup).
Every message posted here will need to mention the city it belongs to.
E.g. “Amsterdam. Call for speakers for the upcoming Learners Meetup in May”
Promote that mailing list via our social media channels, spread it in our mailing list, user groups, and communities.
Still, we also need to you to spread the word and convince people to join yourself - after all, it is your cause!
Scheduling the first organizers meeting
Once there are enough people who want to help organize the event (we suggest at least 2-3), you can set up a first meeting in order to get to know each other as well as figure out how to actually get things done.
- Create a Doodle poll with potential dates in the next 2-4 weeks
- Once the meeting is set, a notice about it is sent to the mailinglist.
Note: We recommend meeting on a weekday evening after work hours. Monday to Thursday work best in our experience.
At the organizers meeting
- The meeting is moderated by the organizer and the co-host. This means you make sure the conversation does not get off track or lose productivity. You can ask for suggestions for the agenda at the beginning of the meeting to give it structure. Asking participants to raise their hands and wait for you to call on them before talking will help maintain order, too.
- Start with a short introduction round to hear everyone’s name and interests/skills, as well as their motivation to be a co-organizer. You will find the information about this last point useful when trying to hammer out the goal/learning purposes of the meetup.
- Start discussing!
The usual goals for the first meeting are:
- Getting to know the interests, motivation, goals, and availability of the co-organizers.
- Creating a plan for the next steps: this could be anything from a second meeting to talk more, setting up speakers line-ups, date and time for the event to take place.
Planning the meetup
People, venue, drinks, a projector: the organizer’s checklist!
- Find speakers. Any tech-related topic is more than welcome, from coding to understanding what an API is, to getting to know an Arduino board.
- Find a venue. We suggest trying to get in contact with coworking spaces, hacker spaces, and start-ups that might want to offer their office for an OTS event. Any space that would make a good fit with the OTS network and spirit (these are also the kinds of spaces which usually already have a projector).
- Find sponsors. This is optional! However, if you want to offer some free drinks to the attendees, a sponsor would be a nice addition to the event. If you are not sure whether the sponsor is a good fit for OTS, write to team sponsors.
- Find a date. We suggest picking a weeknight (optimally, Tuesday - Friday), starting no later than 19:30 and going on no longer than two hours (break included). Ideally, you would already plan to have the meetup monthly, but this is not mandatory.
- Find attendees. We can help! If it doesn’t already exist, we will set up an OTS Meetup account for your city (e.g. meetup.com/opentechschool-yourcity) and you’ll be able to use it to communicate about the meetup and have people join the event. Furthermore, we’ll promote the event page through our social media channels, mailing lists, user groups, and communities. Of course we also need you to spread the word and get people to join! A couple of days before the event, write all the attendees a reminder e-mail asking them to update their RSVP status (if they are unable to join, by changing their RSVP to “not coming,” there will be seats freed for people who might be on the waiting list).
At the meetup
- Be sure to get to the venue at least one hour in advance and with at least another co-organizer, in order to set up the space and the projector, put signs up outside, as well as meet the speakers in advance.
- When the attendees start to arrive, someone from the organizational team should greet them and ask them to create and wear their nametags (stickers or simply tape to write on are both great for this).
- Have a member of the OTS team moderate the event. When everybody is sitting, they should do a quick introduction covering:
- what is OTS?
- what is the Learners Meetup?
- explain that the event is meant to be especially welcoming for beginners
- the meetup’s format and timetable
- point out the other organizers and coaches
- welcome the speakers on stage and lead the question time, encouraging everyone to feel at ease with sharing their questions.
After the meetup
Report a problem
- Invite everybody who joined the meetup to have a drink together! You can go to a nice bar nearby (so nobody gets lost and you can reach it in a snap) and take the chance to meet new people, get feedback from the attendees, and spend some much deserved relaxing time with team members and speakers. Have fun!