Running an Overleaf Workshop: The experience of Rodrigo Smarzaro during Academic Week at Federal University of Viçosa, Brazil
Overleaf is the perfect solution for anyone running a LaTeX training workshop—no need for any participant to install LaTeX: just bring a portable device equipped with a modern browser. Because Overleaf is a cloud-based LaTeX platform, it minimises support requirements and significantly reduces the organizers' workload—helping the event get off to a flying start.
One of our Advisors, Rodrigo Smarzaro, ran a workshop in May at Federal University of Viçosa, Brazil at Academic Week for the Information Systems Undergraduate Course. Here is a link to Rodrigo’s slides (they are in Portuguese). We also asked him a few questions about how it went and what was involved in setting it up.
What's your background and how did you find out about Overleaf?
I´m a Computer Science Professor at Federal University of Viçosa (UFV). I´m doing my Ph.D. at Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG). In the year 2000, when I was working on my masters' dissertation I heard something about LaTeX.I tried a little to use it, but, at the time, the effort to get LaTeX up and running on my computer as well as learn to use it felt too much.So, my first experience was not so good. It was only when I was already working as a professor that I started to learn how to use LaTeX (I think it was sometime in 2004-2005) and that time I was committed to giving it a fair try. I fell in love and regretted immediately in being so dismissive when I first tried it and not using it in my dissertation.
What motivated you to run a workshop?
The problems I had when I tried to use LaTeX for the first time motivated me to teach others the basic knowledge to get started. The learning curve is slow at the beginning comparing to WYSIWYG editors (like Word), but the productivity improvement and the quality of the final result using LaTeX quickly overcome the initial difficulties. So the workshop has the main purpose of giving the participants the "survival kit' to start using LaTeX.
What was the response like?
It is really nice to see the surprise face when you show the advantages of using LaTeX. For example using LaTeX provides a neat way to achieve great formatting, makes referencing simple as well as the positioning of figures and tables. This "surprise" is really stronger when the participant has some research background like other graduate students and professors.
Who was the audience?
The workshop was part of an academic week for the Information Systems Undergraduate Course at Universidade Federal de Viçosa, therefore the audience was mostly undergraduate students. There were also a few graduate students and professors.
What went well and what you aim to improve next time?
The audience was very motivated to learn but unfortunately, the time (about 4 hours) was short to show all they wanted to learn as well as what I would have liked to show them. I had to cut some planned content to give them time to have some hands-on practice. So for future workshops I have two options: cut more content or use more time. I think I´ll choose the second. :-)
How many attendees were there?
The workshop on Tuesday had 33 and on Wednesday 42. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture on Tuesday.
How did you promote the event to let people know about it who might be interested?
As this time the workshop was part of a larger event - Information Systems Academic Week at Federal University of Viçosa, it was not hard to promote it. The organization asked me if it was possible to open a third class due to demand, however unfortunately there was no time slot to do it.
What was the support from Overleaf like?
Some time ago when I entered the Overleaf advisor program I received a welcome gift box. With this workshops now I ran out of them. The overleaf duck was the most desired gift by the participants :-). Also, using overleaf during the workshop makes it very straightforward to do hands-on practice in the workshops. I remember the first workshop I gave on LaTeX - I had to install LaTeX distribution and offline editors on all computers. So much work.
Did you get any feedback from any of the attendees and if so, what kind of thing did they say?
Yes, received lots of positive feedback. Since I started to promote this kind of workshop, the use of LaTeX has increased a lot in our undergraduate students. In addition, many of my professor colleagues have asked for new workshops on this topic too. During the workshop many shared their thoughts on how hard it is to write articles/dissertation/thesis using Word software and how excited they are to start producing their academic texts using LaTeX instead.
Do you plan to run future workshops?
Yes. I´m planning a longer version of the workshop with lots of hands-on practice. I’d like to include content on how to use journals and events LaTeX templates to produce the articles. Produce monography texts (dissertations and thesis) using ABNT (Brazilian Association of Technical Norms, also known as "ABsurdas Normas Técnicas” (in english, ABsurd Technical Norms) in LaTeX. I’d also like to add some content specifically for teachers like exams/exercises sheets and presentations (slides).