THATCamp CHNM 2013 (Part I of II)

-Greta Kuriger Suiter

Over the weekend Kristen Korfitzen and myself attended, and participated in, the annual event held at GMU known as THATCamp (The Humanities and Technology Camp). This unconference is a gathering of historians, museum professionals, librarians, archivists, and students interested in digital humanities (DH) (or as they may or may not be called in the future, the humanities). If you are unfamiliar with the term there is a website dedicated solely to its definition.

The schedule for THATCamp is determined on the first day and is based on suggestions from attendees. There were a few pre-planned sessions that focused on making and improving digital projects. These included a NARA Citizen Archivist transcribathon, Omeka workshops, and Wikipedia editathons, in addition there were dedicated spaces for making and gaming.

Throughout Friday and Saturday, Kristen and I found ourselves at a variety of sessions that included a workshop on digital teaching strategies and tools, a broad discussion on designing DH websites in public humanities, a brainstorming session on advocating for DH projects, a session on tips and tricks for 21st century research, another broad discussion focusing on the non-textual future of DH, and finally a workshop type session on freeing images from digitized books. This is blog post I of II and includes notes and thoughts that resulted from Friday’s sessions.

Day 1: Friday June 7, 2013,

The day began with voting for sessions and consuming baked goods after which all campers assembled in an auditorium for an introductory session. This session gave the organizers a chance to count up the session votes and create the schedule for the next two days. Volunteers presented “Dork shorts”, two-three minute pitches for DH projects. Some of the interesting projects mentioned include:

Bob Vay of GMU Special Collections and Archives presenting on the George Mason University A History, Omeka site. Photo by tehgort Kirsten Mentzer.

Bob Vay of GMU Special Collections and Archives presenting on the George Mason University A History, Omeka site. Photo by tehgort Kirsten Mentzer.

Rails Girls – Get started with tech. Our aim is to give tools and a community for women to understand technology and to build their ideas. We do this by providing a great experience on building things and by making technology more approachable.

Session one: De-MOOCing the past.

Padlet wall created at THATCamp Prime 2013.

Padlet wall created at THATCamp Prime 2013.

This session was all about what’s happening with online learning and how to make it better by utilizing online tools to create successful learning opportunities. We used Padlet for some group brainstorming and then broke into four groups to discuss issues of Engagement, Assessment, Technology, and Resist to Change. Some of the main themes were learning by doing and empowering students to be creators. I was particularly interested in a couple comment tools I learned about including Nowcomment and Rapgenius.

Session two: Designing DH websites in public humanities

In this session there were many participants from a range of backgrounds. We discussed DH project websites, tools, best practices, and how to share research and do outreach both local and beyond.

We talked about thinking about one’s audience and what public humanities were. It was brought up that the public humanities serve some public good and DH websites in public humanities should be about something other than vanity, and that they need to have an audience beyond the creators. This lead to discussions on assessment and demographic information to help understand who might be accessing the site and how they might be accessing it – whether on a computer at home, in a public space, or on a mobile device. We talked about delivering a site verse engaging in an online community and how engaging with people in real life or online will always be more challenging and more rewarding than just creating a website and hoping it gets seen by the audience the creators have in mind.

A tool I learned about in this session was VisualEyes for presenting different types of visual information with text.

One of the big reminders for me in this session was that the value of public humanities (or in general DH) comes from the data and the research that should be the backbone of any digital project. The platform is separate and cosmetic and tools need to be assessed to successfully match the code to the content.

Session three: Advocacy in DH

This session provided some general thoughts on how to explain DH to people unfamiliar with the concept. It was mentioned that there is a lack of cohesion on what is DH among students, librarians, educators and others. Some ways to advocate for DH endeavors were to emphasize the critical thinking skills that go into a DH project – everything from the traditional research and data collection to issues of design and technical prowess. It was mentioned that an easy way to get people excited about DH is to show them impressive technical examples, but these don’t really explain DH or do it justice. Just because we can do something cool technically doesn’t mean that it is worth doing. There has to be added value to make DH projects worth the effort. When we learn by doing we are using a different skill set than memorizing information, DH projects are suited to getting students to think about creating rather than just consuming.

Other ways to advocate for DH projects included emphasizing that DH is the future of humanities and if we don’t invest in it we will be left behind. On June 6th there was a ConnectEd “show and tell” program that was all about schools incorporating technology and digital learning. The White House blog about ConnectEd uses a scare tactic in it’s advocacy for digital learning. “In South Korea, for example, all schools have high-speed internet connections, and all teachers are trained in digital learning. Printed textbooks will be phased out by 2016.”

Another way to approach the issue is to emphasize that students are looking at the internet first when starting a research project. Getting as much vetted, accurate information to students is an important service that DH and libraries can provide.

After discussing some arguments we could use for advocating we watched this youtube video and broke out into groups of two to create our own elevator pitch for advocacy.

This was the last session of the day. Saturday’s session will be covered in THATCamp CHNM 2013 part II.

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