tale of two (un)conferences

Last week was a study in contrasts. Early Tuesday morning, I drove diagonally across the state to Richland Center to attend one of the UW System’s signature events for teaching staff: Faculty College. This four day workshop brings together teaching staff from all of the UW Systems schools for dynamic discussion of pedagogy and socializing. Participants take three workshops, centered on issues of teaching and learning, and spend mealtimes comparing their experiences and making new bonds. As a Wisconsin Teaching Fellow (WTF), I attended an additional session each day to begin clarifying my project and forging stronger ties to the other Fellows and Scholars with whom I’ll be working all year.

On Friday, I drove back home, exhausted but also exhilarated. I had a small set of easy practices to incorporate into my existing classes, I had a clearer sense of my WTF project, and I had new friends among the Fellows and Scholars. Over dinner, I chattered away about the quirks and dorks and connections to my captive audience of one. Gregg commented that I seemed to glow with a sense of purpose and engagement.

After crashing to sleep in my own bed, I woke to a too early alarm and packed a different bag and loaded up my tech tools. I drove north to St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, a suburb of Green Bay. I was still exhausted but excited to learn about the Digital Humanities and THATCamp LAC, an unconference that evolves around participants’ interests. Since my WTF project studies blogs, and may particularly interrogate how the media itself aids in student writing, I thought I could learn a great deal from this conference.

After parking, I walked along neat sidewalks, past brick buildings, old and new, that signified the historied ambience of a small liberal arts college (SLAC). I entered the library and my heart soared and panged–a gorgeous space of glass, a blending of technology and traditional bookshelves, an array of common areas and comfy spaces to sit and reflect or chat between classes. It felt both like home–the kind of undergrad I attended–and someplace foreign–nothing like the campus I currently call home.

The unconference began with hellos to a former undergrad prof and colleagues from another UW System school who are crafting a DH curriculum. I met a handful of other participants from across the country, all of whom were decked out with tech toys and great ideas about integrating technology and pedagogy. In the first session, we collaboratively planned the sessions for the next day and a half, aided by online surveys and google speadsheets.

I attended two bootcamps–sessions in which the “presenters” shared their expertise and guided participants through design and implementation. I was encouraged by the overlap between my previous workshopping in Richland Center and the opening talk–the importance of Liberal Arts/Sciences education, the high impact of some teaching practices, and the possibilities of teaching students how our disciplines work.

Throughout the day, my exhaustion overtook my mental processing capacities, as well as my desire for social connection. I realized that my experience and understanding of DH is fairly rudimentary, and I have much to learn if I am interested in becoming more of a DH practitioner. Beyond pedagogical practices that I already use–blogging, wikis–DH offers more substantial project creation that links technology with humanities interests of texts and culture and various ways of reading and creating meaning. The possibilities are exciting–maritime archives, recovering and delving into local narratives, and so on.

But that’s a long way down my professional road.

For now, I’m studying blogging. I’m introducing my students to some fairly basic forms of digital literacy. And I’m okay with that.


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