Remote Desktop Exercises for BI courses

For BI SMEs: Learn more about the purpose of an RDE, its components, and how to get started building one.

Carl Rosseel avatar
Written by Carl Rosseel
Updated over a week ago


  • Remote desktop exercises are often interchangeably referred to as RDEs, VM exercises, or virtual machine exercises.

  • The 3-4 RDEs that follow a demo screencast should cover software-related skills that are covered in the screencast demo.

  • An RDE cannot include a new concept that was not covered in one of the previous demo screencasts. Note however that most courses have prerequisites, so you can expect an understanding of concepts that were covered in previous courses.

  • The exercise should be similar, but an exercise should never be a copy-paste of a demo screencast. Copy-paste exercises from the demo make it too easy and unengaging for the learner. We encourage you to use a different part of the dataset or another dataset between demos and remote desktop exercises.

  • Your exercise should be logically structured and have a good flow. Make sure your exercise is similar to something that would happen in the real world. If the exercise feels unnatural and the method you are explaining to solve it is suboptimal, it’s probably a bad exercise.

  • The 3-4 sequential RDEs of a lesson can build on top of each other. This is encouraged when possible because learners can continuously build upon one report or workbook without opening new reports or workbooks during a lesson. Another advantage is that the starting point of an exercise contains the solution of the previous exercise.

  • Style guidelines for BI Courses should be respected when creating RDEs.

  • Read through this article to learn how to create remote desktop exercises in Teach.

Breakdown of RDEs

There are five main components to RDEs: the exercise file, the context, the question(s), the multi-step instructions, and hints.

Exercise file

In most RDEs, learners will have to complete a set of tasks in a specified exercise file, e.g., .pbix reports for Power BI courses. Exercise files are created by the SME outside of Teach on your local version of Power BI and given to DataCamp. DataCamp is responsible for getting the exercise files in the course's virtual machine. For information about exercise files, please refer to this separate article: Creating and uploading exercise files.


The first few sentences of the context section should add some business context. It should be clear for the learner why they are performing certain tasks. The context section also states the problem and gives a general overview of what the learner is going to do in this exercise.

If the RDE builds on a workbook/report created in a previous exercise and loading a workbook is not the first instruction, the following sentence needs to be included at the bottom of the Context section using italics formatting:

If you lost progress, load the workbook 2_1_data_prep.twbx from the Workbooks folder on the Desktop.

Replace 2_1_data_prep.twbx with the starting filename of the exercise. This is so learners who are picking up their progress from an exercise can continue the course smoothly.


The tricky part about writing questions for RDEs is actually testing the learning objective without being able to check the steps they took to find the answer. For example, if the objective is to build a treemap, we can’t check that they actually built one. For this reason, it’s useful to ask questions that test the interpretation of a specific visualization. For instance, instead of asking who had the highest sales, ask which rectangle in the treemap is the darkest.

You can also ask more than one question to better ensure that the user has built all the necessary parts of the visualization. That being said, users take our course of their own volition. Our goal isn’t to prevent cheating, but to make users think critically about what they’ve learned.

Multi-step instructions

Learners follow instructions in multiple steps to make calculations or build visualizations in Power BI, before being asked a question in the final step. In a good exercise, the learner is not able to answer the final question without following all the steps. A remote desktop exercise usually contains between 3-6 steps. The maximum amount of steps an exercise can have is 7.

  • Instructions should be action-based instead of task-based, and each step should take roughly the same amount of time to complete.

    • Bad (Task-based): Right-click the Measures table and click “New Measure”. Name it Total Sales and sum the [Sales] from the Fact_sales table.

    • Good (Action-based): Create a new measure Total Sales in the Measures table to sum the sales of all products.

  • Each step should contain one action.

    • Bad: Calculate the Total Sales for salespeople in the “East” region, and visualize your result in a bar chart over time between 2012 - 2016. (This should be 2 steps).

    • Good: Calculate the Total Sales for salespeople in the “East” region.

  • Some actions such as changing currency are very small and can be added to another step.

    • Bad: Calculate the Total Sales for salespeople in the “East” region, change its currency to $ and visualize your result in a bar chart over time between 2012 - 2016. (This should be 2 steps).

    • Good: Calculate the Total Sales for salespeople in the “East” region, and change its currency to $.


Since it’s not possible to show the solution of a VM exercise, hints should guide learners to accomplish the exercises.

See a detailed article on how to write hints here.

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