THATCamp Columbus Follow Up

March 24, 2010 by

Much has happened in the intervening months since THATCamp Columbus was held.  This past weekend saw another successful regional camp in Great Lakes THATCamp, there have been announced upcoming camps in London and Paris, and yesterday the Center for History and New Media announced that Amanda French would be taking on a new role as Regional THATCamp Coordinator in order to “assist local organizers with whatever aspects of planning and hosting a regional THATCamp (logistics, technology infrastructure, application procedures, publicity, evaluation, etc.) they require, making it vastly easier and more cost-effective to establish and maintain a new regional THATCamp.”  It looks like CHNM will also be providing support for regional camp websites, as well as “micro-fellowships” for younger attendees.  For more information on today’s announcement, check out Tom Scheinfeldt’s post at Found History, as well as the new section for Regional Camps at THATCamp.org.  But putting all this great news aside for the moment, the real reason for today’s post is to follow up with some final notes and impressions about THATCamp Columbus as a whole.

For those of you who completed our post-event feedback survey, thanks very much.  Without getting into excruciating detail, we do have some quick results to share.  In general, it appears that the event was perceived to be a success.  We received plenty of positive feedback about Jim and Erin, the organizers/emcees, as well as for the facility, which was provided at no cost by Columbus State Community College.  CSCC did a great job getting us set up, were quick with support needs, and were extremely gracious with our last minute requests.  Thanks again to the staff at CSCC, especially Paul Boaz!

All respondents commented positively on the unconference model.  For example:

“I liked the flexibility of the overall program.  I think that that allowed an authentic dynamic to develop among the attendees.”

“I was truly amazed at how the structure of the unconference emerged organically on the first morning, thank in large part to the careful — but flexible — planning of the organizers.”

Further, several people commented on the benefits of having a “collaborative” and “cross-disciplinary” audience.  Most importantly, many of you stated that you found the event not only enjoyable but also professionally and intellectually engaging.  Many campers stated that as a result of attendance they would be incorporating new ideas, people, or technologies into either existing and planned projects.

But there is still room for improvement.  Not surprisingly, the catered food was acceptable to most but not especially wonderful and there were one or two glitches in the (generally excellent) wi-fi.  Some noted that they had trouble pinning down the exact location of the event.  Others thought we could have done a better job of publicizing the event in the weeks and months before the registration deadline, and one suggested we reach beyond the usual humanities crowd to bring journalists and others “wrestling with new media projects” into the discussion.  These are all things we will work to improve upon.  (We have our own list as well since we know that you all are far too generous to mention all of our flaws.)

A few people were very clear about their distaste for all things Twitter, feeling that it was impersonal and even “elitist.”  There is some validity to the claim that using Twitter as a venue for meaningful discourse is clearly limited (the old “140 characters” argument) and that it is not for everyone.  We were aware of this argument (and many people’s generally negative perceptions of the service) going in and, although we did encourage campers to join and interact on Twitter, we viewed Twitter as just one way among many in which participants could interact.  On the other hand, we did see plenty of tweets coming out of the sessions and saw some clear interest both inside and outside the conference walls from the swelling ranks of THATCamp and Digital Humanities “twitterati.”  It is notable though that THATCamp Columbus was markedly less “tweet-centric” than most other regional and national camps.

There was another recurring concern we heard not only in our feedback but in the run up to the event and during the first hours: almost everyone was anxious about the schedule; particularly, they were worried about how it would work and when they would be presenting.  From our perspective this is one of the hallmarks of THATCamp.  It’s not that we want to make you sweat (okay, it is a little bit of that), it’s that this serves a few actual purposes.  For one, it keeps people from “showing up to present” and then leaving – something that really detracts from the quality of larger academic conferences.  But more importantly, it helps set an exciting, informal and conversational tone at the outset and encourages unexpected connections between people and ideas.  We did our very best to arrange the schedule in anticipation of those connections (for example, never scheduling one “technical session” in conflict with another) and we were almost able to accomplish that.  Nevertheless, there were inevitably campers faced with tough choices during some session slots.

Overall, we are really pleased with the turnout for THATCamp Columbus and with the quality of the participants and their presentations.  Happily, most attendees expressed interest in attending another THATCamp (whether regional or national) and found their participation to be relevant and beneficial to their personal, academic and/or professional goals.  We had a great time and hope that was the case for all campers (not just survey respondents).  Thanks once again to to all attendees and to CSCC, the History Department at Cleveland State University, the graduate students and staff at the CSU Center for Public History + Digital Humanities, the Ohio State University Goldberg Center, and the Ohio Humanities Council.

As always, keep your ears to the ground for news about the latest regional and national THATCamp events by checking in on thatcamp.org and thatcampcolumbus or by following @THATCamp and @THATCampCbus.  And of course, feel free to drop us a line anytime in the comments or at moc.l1508796868iamg@1508796868submu1508796868locpm1508796868actah1508796868t1508796868.  We welcome further comments, suggestions, and ideas.

Jim and Erin

UPDATE: By request from @BenWBrum, here’s a link to our rudimentary budget sheet!  We need to double check our donation amounts so if you’re interested check back or drop us a line.

About Erin Bell: Erin Bell is Project Coordinator and Technology Director at the Center for Public History + Digital Humanities at Cleveland State University.

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