I’m just finishing up hosting the THATCamp LAC conference and I’ve had some issues with different skill levels in the participants. Specifically, we are dealing with both a wide number of participants who are very new to the field and a fair number of really skilled users who are doing highly advanced DH work.
My current question is how do we balance is two needs. What do we do with the newbies who don’t know how to do basic things. How do we work with them and make a conference useful to them, while also having sessions and conversations that the really skilled workers can benefit from and learn from?
It’s easy to say that the opening session should have a schedule that works with both of them. But one of the problems is that they both want to talk about the same general topic. So the natural move is for them to both propose a joint session and think that they will both get quality information out of it. When the session happens the highly skilled workers feel that they need to help the newer ones. They will spend a lot of time teaching, however they themselves may not learn a lot or may not pick up a lot of new ideas. And while it is great to have the experienced once teach the new ones once new tricks, we still want the experienced ones to walk away with high-quality tips and tricks.
I am currently torn. I am not sure with you best way to handle this is, however my reaction is that we really need to separate these two groups out during the THATCamp. But this feels so unnatural to me. I don’t want to have to have two different back camps going at once and I don’t want to say you can’t talk with these other people over there.
I guess my big question right now is what purpose a THATCamp serves. Is it supposed to provide an introduction to digital humanities? Or is it supposed to provide digital humanists with a way to pick up stronger skills and new techniques? Because those two questions seem to represent the needs of the two different participants that we get, at least at the liberal arts colleges conference.
And no you can’t answer yes to both questions. It’s an either or situation.
A related issue is when the new participants try to talk about issues where they don’t have the expertise yet. This pops up in issues like geographic information services and e books. Both of these topics are really complex issues with a large amount of background information that people must master to do it well. However these new participants are trying to wrestle with these issues and I think they walk away with more frustration than optimism. Skilled participants would be happy to talk about these complex issues. But there are often enough of the skilled participants to have a full panel on these issues.
I know, I know. It is a THATCamp and we aren’t supposed to be strictly formatted. However, as an organizer you still want people to have a productive time and enjoy what they do. If anyone has advice for how to handle these different skill levels I would love to hear them and I would love the chance to pass it on to whoever does that camp for liberal arts colleges next year.
Going into the final day, my best thought is that we need a chance for people to simply talk with others. That may give the skilled digital humanists a chance to talk with other ones and share ideas and share techniques that they can really benefit from.