How to Create a Workshop from a Research Paper

Photo by You X Ventures

I recently gave a workshop for a group called “Dramatic Solutions”, a newly formed group which aims to provide tech and analytic solutions for the Theatre industry, through community and education. This was both the first workshop I’d given for Dramatic Solutions, and the first workshop I’d given, period.

Here I’ll break my experiences down, in the interests of helping others who would like to create their own workshops, especially from raw or novel material.

Brief Overview of Our Topic

In the airline industry, the cost of a ticket is related to both the time until the beginning of the flight, and how many seats have already been sold, together referred to as “dynamic pricing”. We adapted the latest research from the context of the airline industry to the Theatre industry, to show Theatre people how they could increase ticket revenue by selling, or even giving away tickets at lower prices initially.

Original Dramatic Solutions Workshop Format

The first few workshops that Dramatic Solutions put on began earlier in the evening, and were more lecture-focused. Responding to participants’ requests, the group pushed the workshops back from 6 to 6:30, and decreased the time spent on lecture, while increasing active participation time for activities.

The group had come to this workshop format before I joined, but I believe that they were using some methodologies from the Design Thinking toolkit. Design Thinking is a human-centric approach to solving problems that involves understanding the human needs involved, generating ideas, and rapidly iterating through potential solutions. The team did this by asking for continuous feedback, considering people’s busy schedules, and by experimenting with changing the format until they found the most optimal.

Photo by Andrew Neel

Teach Yourself (Optional)

I volunteered to help Yaakov Bressler teach a workshop coming up in two weeks on “Statistics for Dynamic Pricing”, a subject I knew nothing about. He referred me to a dense paper on Dynamic Pricing and Airline Availability.

In order to learn the material, I used some helpful tips I had recently picked up from a Coursera course I had completed, Learning How to Learn. First I skimmed the headlines, to get a broad overview about what the paper was about. Next, I looked at the images. Only then did I go back over and read each section of the paper, taking notes.

Photo by Roman Mager

Yaakov came up with some mathematical models in Python and Excel that we tinkered around with. He took abstract concepts, scarcity and supply and demand, and then put them in a form that people could experiment with using Excel formulas. For more details, please see medium article Statistics for Dynamic Pricing of Theatre.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters

Write List of Terms

I created a list of terms and conditions that we sent out to the attendees in advance of the workshop. Take some time to tailor the terms to the audience, their level of education and how familiar they are with the content. You may not be not be able to find the perfect definition online or in a dictionary, so consider creating your own definitions.

Create Slides for Workshop

For slides, we kept it simple: we stuck to images mostly and tried to minimize text to several short bullets to guide us.

Photo by Mae Mu

Plan Fun (Edible?) Activities

I wanted to come up with some fun, hands-on activities, both to get people engaged, and to demonstrate the points that we were trying to get across. To demonstrate scarcity in action, I bought some cookies from a nearby bakery, and put them on two plates, one plate with three cookies, and one plate with fifteen cookies. Participants were then asked to write down which of the cookies seemed better.

We also did another activity involving grabbing as many M and M’s as you could grab in one hand to demonstrate the concept of a probability distribution. It’s always a good idea to keep participants engaged, and fun activities, especially with edible treats, are a good way to lighten the mood and get participants interacting with each other.

Physically Arrange Room

We were expecting a small group, about a dozen people, and we wanted to have a very laid back, informal discussion style workshop. The way that you arrange the room will depend on the size of your workshop and the vibe you are going for. We combined all the tables together, round-table style with the two of us at the head. Everyone was seated, and the projector was aimed at the wall behind us.

Photo by Muhamad Reza Junianto

Cover Core Concepts

Yaakov spent a lot of time going over the basic concepts of probability and distribution, before we went over the more advanced stuff. One shorthand that he came up with was thumbs down for “don’t understand”, thumbs to the side for “kind of understand”, and thumbs up for “yes I understand.”

As a way to interact with the audience and determine their level of comfort with the material, he asked them to give their thumb sign before moving onto the next concept.

Cover Interactive Scenarios

At this stage, I walked everyone through the models that Yaakov had built, making sure that they understood how various factors affected the probability of customers purchasing a ticket.

Independent Work

At this stage everyone broke up and was asked to work on a set of questions that we had given them. This was originally intended to be the majority of the workshop. Yaakov and I went around and answered participants’ questions, related to different model scenarios.

This stage was a great chance to get to know the attendees of our workshops better individually, and to make sure that everyone had gotten all of the earlier points.

Add Advanced Section (Optional)

After regrouping, Yaakov discussed the play Hamilton, and used it as a real world example to demonstrate how demonstrate how dynamic pricing might work in practice. Everybody seemed highly engaged at this point. This is a good opportunity to add something relevant to popular culture, that the majority of the audience will be able to connect with.

Photo by Afonso Coutinho

Looking back, the main part of the workshop that we wish we had spent more time on was the hands-on portion. We felt that we had spent more time than we had intended on the games, and on the basic concepts. We realized that one of the games, where the participants reached into a bowl and grabbed M and M’s, did not illustrate the concept of statistical distributions quite as well as we had hoped among our small sample size. We spent a lot of time going over distributions, which was not necessary in the end and took time away from the main topic of the workshop, dynamic pricing.

In hindsight, we would have liked to portion more time for the independent work and question section. That was our original intent, but time got away from us. Perhaps next time we could allocate less time to sections of the workshop that were not as vital. Probably the best way to do this would be to cut the number of slides for those sections, for example those on distributions. Less time could also be allocated by setting an electronic timer or by having a helpful colleague come in and offer a reminder.

Overall, we were quite content with how our workshop went. Yaakov was an amazing, brilliant, energetic colleague to collaborate with, and it was a fantastic time.

Data scientist with a background in Neuroscience, Epidemiology, and Sociology.