Yesterday, I attended the first day session of Great Lakes THATCamp 2011, a regional unconference hosted at Michigan State University. Originally spun off from the Mother Ship THATCamp (aka Prime) first organized by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University in 2008, this user-generated unconference brings together humanists and technologists for chatting, kvetching, and plotting about digital humanities and the intersection of teaching, research, and technology. It was my first experience with an academic meeting of this type, and I want to pass along a few observations I have and some resources I discovered while in attendance.
First off, I have to say that I find the whole structure and style of the gathering refreshing on a number of levels. The unconference is largely user-generated with scheduling done collaboratively as a group during the first session (a wheeling, chaotic scrum that I thought at one point was going to become Academic Thunderdome) and new sessions popping up as participants saw fit to add them. The whole ambiance and organization of traditional academic conferences comes across as stultifying and inorganic to me, dominated by a series of one-way discourses for preening academics to give papers that no one has read beforehand and largely won’t read afterward. I personally get more out of listening to and participating in academic confabs than passively hearing someone read a paper, so this format was rather appealing to me. I can, however, understand how some might find this messy and unorganized, with organically developed sessions morphing and shifting into something not entirely useful because of their unstructured nature (for example, see this post published by a GL camper during today’s activities). One has to be willing to go with the flow when it comes to a THAT Camp apparently.
I attended a number of interesting and not-so-interesting sessions. The most useful to me were the sessions on Digital Pedagogy and what became called Digivangelism. During the Digital Pedagogy session, campers showed off a number of nifty ideas they used in integrating digital tools into their online and bricks-and-mortar classes. This included the use of a collaborative class Twitter account in a course on contemporary Ireland (@IRST30109); the use of Flickr and geotagging in an ecology course; and a healthy dose of Blackboard hate. The following was also a nice, salient point regarding the weaknesses of Blackboard vis-à-vis a long-term course blog:
Another really cool idea floated was the following:
A brief round-up of the session, including more links to some of the web resources displayed can be found on the main Great Lakes THATCamp website here.
In the Digivangelism session, the discussion centered around brainstorming ways to encourage non-digitally savvy academic colleagues to embrace the use of digital tools in their academic lives (a topic I’m keenly interested in lately). The notes for the session, compiled by Amanda French, can be found here. Nominally the topic I came to the camp prepared to discuss, I amusingly enough found people constantly making many of my points right before I planned to say them; good to know I’m on the same wavelength when it comes to Digivangelism then.
Ironically, the best session I participated in was not a formal session at all, but rather a lunch discussion on games, gamification, and the drama of Dungeons and Dragons with a couple of campers I randomly sat down to eat with (props to Sean O’Brien, Nathan Kelber, and Shawn Graham for the great lunchtime talk).
All in all, I found my experience yesterday stimulating and fruitful, but also a bit exhausting (particularly when technical discussions transcended my capacity to focus and interpret). The camp continues later today on Sunday, but I will most likely not be attending (a combination of end-of-semester grading hell and a exhaustion-induced headache that won’t go away has eroded my desire to drive back down to East Lansing tomorrow morning, which is a shame because the session on “Money, Morality, Technology, Education” sounds intriguing). I’m already looking forward to next year’s camp. Kudos to everyone involved!