I have taken a long break from blogging. There are a couple of reasons for this: 1) I often set unreasonable blogging goals for myself, which I inevitably fail to meet, and 2) I’ve been trying to work out why I should blog at all—whether I have anything to say to the world by means of a blog. Last week and this past weekend provided me with occasions to become excited about developing a digital presence again, so I thought this would be a good time to dive back in. In this post I’ll talk about my wonderful experience at THATcamp Digital Pedagogy, and in my next, I’ll tell you about the fantastic social media game #TvsZ.
Last week I attend my first THATcamp (The Humanities and Technology Camp) in Atlantic City, NJ. THATcamps are opportunities for people interested in the intersections of humanities and technology (sometimes referred to as digital humanities) to get together and discuss their ideas, aspirations, and accomplishments. Whether the participants are novices or experts, programmers or teachers, librarians or graduate students, educators or scholars, THATcamps provide a nonthreatening space for sharing and exploring new ideas in 21st-century literacy, scholarship, and pedagogy. The conference I attended was designed for folks particularly interested in digital pedagogy, and since I am a member of a new faculty cohort at Fresno State participating in the university’s DISCOVERe Tablet Program, I felt that learning some new things related to digital teaching and learning would be of particular use to me and my students.
Since I am not a digital humanist, per se, (I don’t use technology in new and exciting ways when teaching, researching, and publishing in my field—not yet, anyway), I was a bit apprehensive about spending some structured time with a group of people who were bound to be more tech savvy and more immersed in the field of digital humanities than I am. My worries were quickly dispelled, however, as I spent the next two days interacting with a generous and friendly bunch of people who neither flaunt their expertise nor patronize technology newbies, like myself. In fact, in many ways I felt I had some knowledge (if not expertise) to contribute to our collaborations and discussions related to digital teaching and learning.
The first day was organized as a series of workshops—or “bootcamps“—which allowed knowledgeable folks to teach less knowledgeable folks about various tools or strategies for teaching in the 21st century. I attended bootcamps on TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) for Teaching, Using Wikipedia for Research Assignments, and Multimedia Production using Camtasia Studio. An ad hoc (a lot of things happen ad hoc at THATcamps, I’ve learned) session on using Twitter coincided with lunch. I learned a lot in these sessions, and I now plan to create Wikipedia assignments for my classes and to use Camtasia for screen-casting elements of my courses in the near future. The TEI session was a little complicated, as a certain familiarity with XML and other kinds of coding was helpful to understand just what TEI is all about, but as I hope eventually to create digital study editions of Restoration and 18th-century texts, I was eager to learn about how TEI works as a means of digitally transcribing and describing artifacts, such as manuscripts and facsimile reproductions.
That evening, I got to know my fellow campers better over drinks and dinner. I was especially happy to meet and hang out with Pete Rorabaugh of Southern Polytechnic State University in Georgia; not only did we outlast the other campers at the bar, but we had some great conversations about teaching, learning, and various aspects of digital culture. We also shared our mutual love nondigital experiences, such as hiking and backpacking.
Day Two was a the “unconference” part of THATcamp. The day’s schedule was an empty agenda that allowed for campers to propose and vote on the sessions they wanted to participate in. Adeline Koh (unconference organizer extraordinaire) and Ed Chang (technoqueer and posthumanist extraordinaire) orchestrated the morning planning session, which could easily have devolved into chaos and confusion, but with the help of Google Docs and some healthy doses of patience and diplomacy, Adeline and Ed came up with a satisfying schedule of events. This day proved to be a whirlwind of activity as we darted from one session to the next; the “law of two feet” reigns at THATcamps, which means that participants are encouraged to bounce around during sessions. I pretty much stayed put for each session, however, because they were only 45 minutes each, and I didn’t feel that I’d get much out of the sessions if I moved around during them. These sessions comprised a smorgasbord of digital humanities and pedagogy topics that I was able to sample. I attended sessions on Digital Storytelling, Academic Hypertext, Digital Badges, and the Domain of One’s Own project, which certain universities are using to give students spaces to develop a web presence during their studies. I even helped run one of the sessions that Pete had proposed on #TvsZ (once known as Twitter vs. Zombies until the Twitter overlords asked Pete to change the game’s name); my role was to create and run a Twitter chatroom/archive of our #TvsZ minigame with Nurph, a social media chat platform that I’ve been interested in exploring in my classrooms.
My final THATcamp evening was spent wandering the Atlantic City beaches and its boardwalk with my new digifriends Pete, Janine DeBaise, and Eduardo Perez. We enjoyed each other’s company and a nice dinner before wishing one another safe travels.
I had a great time at THATcamp. I appreciated the relaxed atmosphere, and I loved learning new things in such a supportive and easy-going setting. Even more importantly, I felt inspired to get my digital game on again—thus, this blog post.