What tools could be used to manage software installation problems?

Please add tools or comment on your experience using them. Where applicable, please comment on cost and/or need for support/maintenance by Carpentries staff.

Examples include:
Cloud tools (to provide an alternative when local installation fails)

  • PythonAnywhere
  • RStudio Cloud

Remote desktop tools (to permit helpers to resolve installation problems)

  • Teamviewer
  • Google remote desktop

You can activate remote support in Zoom as well

I’ve heard of people using the “Ask for Help” button in Zoom Breakout Rooms, though they’ve said that it’s a bit overwhelming if there are many people asking for help at the same time.

Maybe there’s a virtual “Install Party” a week before the training, where all students check in virtually and those who need extra help are split into Breakout rooms with the helpers/instructors to follow along with a live demo to install software, then “Ask for Help” if needed?

I initially thought Zoom Remote desktop would work well for this. What I found in practice was that:

  1. It dropped out when the internet was even slightly poor on my end or the learners, kicking both of us out of the meeting
  2. For some learners (I was on Mac, they - on Windows), I could only use the mouse and not type into their text file that I was trying to edit.
  3. Breakout rooms should be used as a last resort, as it means learners miss out and are unable to catch up with the rest of the class (because the code inevitable disappears beyond view in a code-along if you’ve been gone for more than a minute, IF you as the instructor are trying to have a font size that’s readable on an iPad or single laptop screen).

Instead of that, when I ran training online, I asked learners to screenshot their code and resulting error messages and paste them into a shared, class-wide google doc. Then helpers could provide them with suggestions of what to type (in the google doc), and we’d iterate until the problem was solved (or not. In the case of one learner who had a very broken ubuntu installation (apt-get did not work!) we ended up requesting they switch to Windows in order to be able to install core R packages like the tidyverse).

Overall, the latter worked quite well, and is what I plan to try working with in the future.

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We have recently offered some guidance here. See this blog post about offering cloud instances as backup for learners with installation issues.