21st Century Digital Boy

This winter, I’ll be spending my Valentine’s Day in New York City, preparing for a conference presentation the next day at the College Art Association annual conference. The presentation is based on my ongoing dissertation research on Benjamin West and his students, and I’ll be delivering it to an open session of the Historians of Eighteenth Century Art and Architecture.

While the session is on a Friday, if all goes well I’ll be up in NYC all week for conference-related activities; namely, THATCamp CAA on Monday and Tuesday. What is a THATCamp? Well, per their site…

What is a THATCamp?
It is an informal, discussion based, collaborative unconference, on topics related to the humanities and technology. The participants propose sessions and create the program. All participants are expected to talk and work with fellow participants in every session.

Now I’ve never attended a CAA Annual Conference before, but I really see the THATCamp as just as, if not more, important toward my personal and professional development. Beyond the simple fact that technology continues to drive pedagogical innovation, this sort of meeting provides essential learning and networking opportunities for a young professional. It’ll also simply be good encouragement toward dissertation completion – it’s the sort of thing that makes one excited to be an art historian.

If I’m able to attend (registration closed a few days ago and they haven’t announced the invite list yet), it wouldn’t be my first unconference, or even THATCamp. Last January my home institution was host to THATCamp Games, which broadly covered, yes, games as pedagogical tools , for and as learning. As one of the more neophyte attendees – I’m well-versed in playing games, but haven’t really had the chance to utilize them in a classroom setting – I benefited most from the unconference as an introduction to thinking about the subject matter in an academic environment. To date the THATCamp Games experience has inspired the Close Playing roundtable series that I was awarded a fellowship from Honors Humanities to plan this semester, as well as inspiration for some improvements I have in mind for the 2013 installment of ARTH389E.

A month before THATCamp Games I attended my first true unconference, Bmore Historic, also inspired by the THATCamp concept. That was both more general and specific in subject: the theme was historic Baltimore, and the sessions ranged across the spectrum, covering academia, museums, historic preservation and so on.

I’ll be the first to admit that the more hours I put into my dissertation, the less time I devote to other aspects of my academic environment. While I see the importance in my work, I also understand that in order to reach real audiences (not just for my dissertation, but art history in general) will require engagement with 21st century learning pedagogies. Smarthistory has been on my radar for a while, as an inspired system for delivering short bits of academic content to interested parties. I’ve shared Smarthistory links with students while a TA, and it’s fantastic that they’re a sponsor of THATCamp CAA. Same with the Khan Academy and the Center for History and New Media (Zotero has been a lifesaver for collecting research).

There are fantastic things happening in pedagogy right now. If I want to get this dissertation done, I’ve got to keep shutting them out, to some extent. However, I hope I’ll get the chance to be part of THATCamp CAA, where the participants aren’t just learning about new pedagogical strategies (and research strategies too, can’t forget them, though I see my personal career heading down more of an educational path) but creating them as well. Should be a fantastic time.

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