In brief: THATCamp 101

An unconference is to a conference what a seminar is to a lecture, what a party at your house is to a church wedding, what a pick-up game of Ultimate Frisbee is to an NBA game, what a jam band is to a symphony orchestra: it’s more informal and more participatory. To get the most out of THATCamp, have fun, be productive, and stay collegial. Don’t bring a presentation (unless you’re teaching a workshop). Propose a session and take charge of running it. Talk, make, teach, play. Listen. Help take notes. Sign up for Dork Shorts. If a session isn’t useful for you, go to another one (that’s the Law of Two Feet). Bring a laptop, not a tablet. Dress comfortably. Consider volunteering to teach something. Keep a record of the experience. Don’t forget to fill out an evaluation.

Key Characteristics of a THATCamp:

  • It’s collaborative: there are no spectators at a THATCamp. Everyone participates, including in the task of setting an agenda or program.
  • It’s informal: there are no lengthy proposals, papers, presentations, or product demos. The emphasis is on productive, collegial work or free-form discussion.
  • It’s spontaneous and timely, with the agenda / schedule / program being mostly or entirely created by all the participants during the first session of the first day, rather than weeks or months beforehand by a program committee.
  • It’s productive: participants are encouraged to use session time to create, build, write, hack, and solve problems.
  • It’s lightweight and inexpensive to 0000ff;">organize: we generally estimate that a THATCamp takes about 100 hours over the course of six months and about $4000.
  • It’s not-for-profit and either free or inexpensive (under $30) to attend: it’s funded by small sponsorships, donations of space and labor, and by passing the hat around to the participants.
  • It’s small, having anywhere from 25 or 50 to about 150 participants: most THATCamps aim for about 75 participants.
  • It’s non-hierarchical and non-disciplinary and inter-professional: THATCamps welcome graduate students, scholars, librarians, archivists, museum professionals, developers and programmers, K-12 teachers, administrators, managers, and funders as well as people from the non-profit sector, people from the for-profit sector, and interested amateurs. The topic “the humanities and technology” contains multitudes.
  • It’s open and online: participants make sure to share their notes, documents, pictures, and other materials from THATCamp discussions before and after the event on the web and via social media.
  • It’s fun, intellectually engaging, and a little exhausting.

Further resources

THATCamp Ground Rules (4:50)

A video we didn’t make (2:50)

Here’s a great video about unconferencing at Transparency Camp: just about everything in it applies to THATCamp as well.

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