Academic Proposals, Presentations, Research, Technology

THATCamp returns to Texas!

Transport plane takes off on test flight, Cons...

An image suggested by the auto-recommend image feature on, which is coincidentally a mode of transportation that I will not be taking to Houston, TX, if I am selected to participate in THATCamp Texas in mid-April. Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

So, once again, this space finds itself neglected while all manner of other developments take place. However, for at least this evening, I’ve found some material that I wrote already that I thought I’d re-post here and kill the proverbial two birds with one stone.

Back in the summer of 2009 I attended my first THATCamp meeting, which was held in Austin, TX. This meeting was the first THATCamp that took place away from the George Mason University campus. It was a really great event and I got to connect and talk with a lot of smart, creative, and thoughtful people — in fact some of the connections I forged there have been important sounding boards and resource providers via my Twitter PLN in the intervening time. If you’re interested in any of that ancient history, I posted a wrap-up of the session back in 2009.

All that long-winded background serves as a segue to mention that THATCamp is returning to Texas in April 2011, and will be meeting in Houston in the middle of that month. I found out about this via the History Department at UT-Arlington, so I thought I’d go ahead and attempt to make a return trip given the relative proximity and the need to remember how relatively pleasant Fort Worth’s climate is, which a visit to Houston will always do.

Below, for your collective edification, (and this is where the borrowed content comes in), I’ve posted two of the responses I wrote in my application to the conference. I’m hoping to get good news come mid-March!

I work full-time as an upper school history teacher (teaching World History and U.S. History this year) at an independent school in Fort Worth, TX. Additionally, I’m in my penultimate semester of coursework as a PhD student in transatlantic history at the University of Texas at Arlington. In both my professional teaching capacity and in my work as a graduate student, I have a great interest in incorporating technology to help further research, organization, and analysis. For my own research, tools like Zotero and Filemaker Pro have been vital in helping me cull and synthesize my research, and I’ve sought to help students experience that same phenomenon in their own work. Moreover, I believe that the range of digital tools available (many great ones that are free) can help students engage in the critical intellectual activity of reorganizing information in meaningful ways. The other exciting thing about incorporating technology into the study of humanities is that I’m constantly discovering new tools and pushing myself to be a better student, teacher, and thinker.

I attended the Austin THATCamp meeting in August 2009, which I found really valuable for the networking and exchange of ideas that came out of that evening. I was excited to see that THATCamp is once again back in Texas and I find the unconference format really engaging and more profitable than the more traditional sit-and-get formats.

This year, my hope is to connect with other educators and discuss the challenges of getting students to engage in technology in a risk-taking and creative manner. I’ve noticed more and more over the past few years that there’s a large disconnect between the popular cultural discourse of “millenials” and their tech-savviness, and the reality of how many students are fairly tech-phobic when it comes to new programs, resources, or unfamiliar platforms. I’d like to discuss what pedagogical approaches, assignment structures, particular resources, or other strategies people have for getting students to become more willing to embrace risk and willingly challenge themselves to learn and master resources with which they are unfamiliar. Moreover, I think it’d be interesting, given the likely academia-heavy audience, to learn what colleges and universities expect of entering students in terms of tech-knowledge. Gaining a sense of these expectations I hope will allow the conversation to address the issue of how secondary school teachers (and secondary schools more generally) can help students become more confident and resourceful in navigating and employing the ever-changing landscape of technology.

On a final note, one of the things I liked most about the application/registration form is that it lacks the intimidating formality of many other conference and workshop proposals. While I understand that the decentralization of the un-conference format makes this much easier, I nevertheless think that making the barrier to participation less threatening can do nothing but encourage more people to attend, who will presumably share more ideas, thereby benefiting the conference as a whole.

Also, I really liked the snarky prompts. If more applications could have vaguely snarky prompts, the world would also be a better place.

Pedagogy, Technology, Uncategorized

THATCamp “Social Media & Education” Panel Follow-up

John Jones has just posted the video he took  of last week’s session on social media and education at THATCamp Ausin. I’m looking forward to spending some time and refreshing my memory about the session, but will likely have to continue forging ahead with before-school preparations today. However, I’m most excited about the fact that the frozen image present before you start the video is a rather frightening visage of yours truly — hey, any press is good press, right?

Thanks again to John for putting this video up and making it widely accessible.

Social Media, Technology, Uncategorized

THATCamp Austin Thoughts and Wrap-Up

Yesterday I returned from Austin and my whirlwind trip down to UT for the first regional THATCamp meeting. Schedule-wise, the THATCamp meeting coincided with the Society for American Archivists annual conference, which meant that the unconference drew a fair number of archivists interested in digital preservation, harnessing technology to increase accessibility to archival information, and a whole host of other, techier subjects that I really didn’t understand (which goes to say that I’ll omit an extensive recap of the Dork Shorts segment of the evening.)

My interest in attending stemmed from learning about the THATCamp meeting at George Mason University that took place earlier this summer. I had initially thought that I’d have to wait until Summer 2010 to attend this event, but once I learned that they’d start holding regional meet-ups, I jumped at the chance to attend and talk about a number of the issues I’ve been writing about here on this blog. Particularly in these last few weeks leading up to the start of school, I was excited to have the chance to float some of my thoughts about a social media-structured class by others and cull both their ideas and feedback.

After dinner and an informal chatting session, (where it became strikingly obvious that most people knew one another better by their Twitter handles than by their real names) we convened in the extremely well air conditioned main room to decide on session topics and locations. The predominance of archivists meant that the bulk of the sessions dealt with archival issues, but nevertheless, my proposal for a session idea was given the thumbs-up by 13 attendees and became a session in and of itself. Most of the attendees to the session (perhaps five of the ~11) were associated with the University of Texas’ Computer Writing and Research Lab, whose website and Learning Record page I’ve found really compelling.*

I was glad to have the chance to meet with the graduate students who work at the CWRL and instruct the freshman writing and rhetoric courses. Although my subject matter as a teacher is ostensibly “history,” I nevertheless think critical writing and argumentation is a much more vital skill than fact memorization and is hopefully one of the key skills students will leave high school possessing. Therefore, being able to talk with teachers who work with college freshman and have a clear sense of what they struggle with was helpful for me in terms of seeing overlapping challenges and areas for improvement.

Some of our discussion centered on strategies for incorporating social media into writing, although I must admit I didn’t take copious notes, didn’t Tweet too extensively, and haven’t yet perused the archive of others’ tweets from that session. However, John Jones at UT-Austin and the CWRL recorded the whole thing with his Mino HD Flip camera and will hopefully post it somewhere for posterity’s sake. (John, when you get the link up on Vimeo or wherever else, send out a tweet and let us know where to find it. Thanks!) I do remember though that we talked about the challenges of incorporating technology into writing and research and collaboration (or the lack thereof) in the humanities.

The session ended, however, on a semi-ominous tone when talking about student blogging and what legal hurdles might stand in the way of teachers wanting to incorporate blogs–particularly those that are publicly visible–into the classroom. One of the attendees brought up the issue of FERPA and whether it provides students with a legal shield that would enable them to avoid having to participate in a class blog or write their own blog given their privacy concerns. Dave Parry, (a fellow Metroplexer who I’ve followed on Twitter for a long time, was really glad to meet in person and chat with, and to whom I owe a special debt of gratitude for driving to Austin and back. Thanks, Dave!) a professor at UT-Dallas, argued that for his classes and for those students majoring in Emerging Media and Communications at UTD, it’d be impossible to pursue the necessary coursework, complete it satisfactorily, and avoid participating publicly on the internet. This issue was of interest to me given my hopes to structure student writing assignments around blogs and RSS feeds. However, my brief research about FERPA seemed to indicate that the law deals mainly with student grades. In any event, I think that the issue of technological and media literacy is a really vital one that students and parents are justifiably concerned about. However, it seems that a class where students are encouraged to pro-actively define themselves in a positive manner online through participation in social media — and the learn about the implications and dangers of those tools in the process — is providing a valuable learning experience. Certainly, it is far more effective to have students actively experience these social media tools in a learning context than have a sensationalist speaker come in and didactically talk at students about stranger danger online and the glut of sexual predators on MySpace.

After our first session we listened to the Dork Shorts presentations, but for my purposes I found the most applicability in Matt King’s presentation on the CWRL’s “Rhetorical Peaks” video game. I won’t try to explain it too in-depth as it’s worth checking out, but will say that I think its structure and manner of presentation is really clever and I’m hoping to integrate the game into my classes this year. The second session was on digital inequalities and the archive, which raised some interesting issues, but none which I had much knowledge of or investment in, making it thought-provoking, but not professionally useful.

Perhaps the best thing about the entire unconference, however, involved the networking and connections I forged with other scholars interested in issues of effective pedagogy through technology. In this regard, the post-conference hang-out at the Dog and Duck Pub proved a really valuable wrap-up to the evening. Our group from the first session reconvened and we chatted about various ideas for structuring assignments around social media to encourage more collaboration and student-to-student feedback.

Ben Brumfield, one of the organizers of the event, has already posted on some of the challenges that surfaced in the planning and execution of this initial foray into regional THATCamps. Nevertheless, I’m extremely glad to have gone, netted my free t-shirt, eaten delicious pizza (all of which was gratis thanks to the savvy budgeting of the organizers!), and connected with really impressive, smart, people whose thoughts and ideas about the digital humanities and incorporating technology into the classroom have been and will continue to be influential. I look forward to continuing the discussion and innovation!

*The CWRL’s concept and procedure for “minimal marking” is brilliant! If only I could rein myself in enough to not nitpick the whole thing I might begin to actually move through grading writing expeditiously. However, I’m determined to make a good faith effort this year to employ that strategy, which will no doubt save my more time than Don LaPre’s tips from “The Road to Self-Improvement.” Moreover, though this is a topic for a separate post on grading, I’m also quite compelled by the CWRL’s “small multiples” grading system; however, I’d need to find a way to make this system easily quantifiable given the frequency of assignments and grades that characterize the secondary versus the university classroom. However, if anyone has ideas about how to convert dots on a Cartesian coordinate system into fractions for the purpose of grading [or has already done so] please let me know.