• Proposing a Session

    Great Lakes THATCamp will be held at Lawrence Tech in Southfield, MI, on Saturday September 28th.

    Everyone who goes to a THATCamp proposes a session. Do not prepare a paper or presentation. Plan instead to have a conversation, to get some work done, or to have fun.

    How do I propose a session?

    Once you register for Great Lakes THATCamp 2013 and are approved, we’ll make you a user account on this site. You should receive your login information by email. Before the THATCamp, you should log in to the site here, click on Posts –> Add New, then write and publish your session proposal. Your session proposal will appear on the front page of this site, and we’ll all be able to read and comment on it beforehand. (If you haven’t worked with WordPress before, see codex.wordpress.org/Writing_Posts for help.) The morning of the event, we’ll vote on those proposals (and probably come up with several new ones), and then all together we’ll work out how best to put those sessions into a schedule. Remember that you will be expected to facilitate the sessions you propose.

    When do I propose a session?

    You can propose a session as early as you like, but most people publish their session proposals to the THATCamp site during the week before the THATCamp begins. It’s a good idea to check the THATCamp site frequently in the week beforehand (perhaps by subscribing to its RSS feed with an RSS reader such as Feedly) to see and comment on everyone’s session proposals. You can also come up with a last-minute idea and propose it to the THATCamp participants during the scheduling session, which is the first session of the THATCamp.

    Why are sessions proposed this way?

    Proposing sessions just before a THATCamp and building a schedule during the first session of a THATCamp ensures that sessions are honest and informal, that session topics are current, and that unconference participants will collaborate on a shared task. An unconference, in Tom Scheinfeldt’s words, is fun, productive, and collegial, and at THATCamp, therefore, “[W]e’re not here to listen and be listened to. We’re here to work, to participate actively.[…] We’re here to get stuff done.” Listen further:

    Everyone should feel equally free to participate and everyone should let everyone else feel equally free to participate. You are not students and professors, management and staff here at THATCamp…. At THATCamp we’re here to be supportive of one another as we all struggle with the challenges and opportunities of incorporating technology in our work, departments, disciplines, and humanist missions.

    Session genres

    General discussion

    Sometimes people just want to get together and talk informally, with no agenda, about something they’re all interested in. Nothing wrong with that; it’s certainly a much better way of meeting people than addressing them from behind a podium. Propose a session on a topic that interests you, and if other people are interested, they’ll show up to talk about it with you.


    Several coders gather in a room to work on a particular project.


    You’re working on something, and you suspect that some of the various people who come to THATCamp might be able to help you with it. You describe problems you want solved and questions you want answered, and strangers magically show up to hear about what you’re doing and to give you their perspective and advice.


    A group of people get together to start writing something, whether it’s an article, a book, or a plan (please note, Great Lakes THATCamp has a “No Manifesto” policy).


    People get together to figure out how to address a shared or general problem.


    A group of people show up to discuss a particular blog post, article, video, report, or book. Not much different from a graduate seminar or highly intelligent one-time book club.


    A pre-planned session with an instructor who leads students through a short introduction to and hands-on exercise in a particular skill.

    Grab bag

    Ah, miscellany. One of our favorite categories. Indefinable by definition. It’s astonishing how creative people can be when you give them permission; performances and games are welcome.

    • David Staley, An installation, THATCamp Prime 2009.
    • Mark Sample, Zen Scavenger Hunt, THATCamp Prime 2010 (N.B.: The Zen Scavenger Hunt didn’t actually happen, but it was still a great idea).

    Session proposers are session facilitators

    If you propose a session, you should be prepared to run it. If you propose a hacking session, you should have the germ of a project to work on; if you propose a workshop, you should be prepared to teach it; if you propose a discussion of the Digital Public Library of America, you should be prepared to summarize what that is, begin the discussion, keep it going, and end it. But don’t worry — with the possible exception of workshops you’ve offered to teach, THATCamp sessions don’t really need to be prepared for; in fact, we infinitely prefer that you don’t prepare.

    At most, you should come with one or two questions, problems, or goals, and you should be prepared to spend the session working on and working out those one or two points informally with a group of people who (believe me) are not there to judge your performance. Even last-minute workshops can be terrifically useful for others if you know the tool or skill you’re teaching inside and out. As long as you take responsibility for running the session, that’s usually all that’s needed. See the book Open Space Technology for a longer discussion of why we don’t adopt or encourage more structured forms of facilitation.

    Empty sessions

    We also encourage organizers to leave a few empty time slots during the THATCamp so that attendees can propose new sessions during the THATCamp itself; if the organizers of your THATCamp have done this, they’ll tell you how to propose a session while your THATCamp is taking place. Sometimes, for instance, your discussion was going so well at the one hour fifteen minute mark that you hated to end it; if there’s a slot available, you should be able to propose “Training Robotic Ferrets: Part Two” as a session as soon as “Training Robotic Ferrets” ends.

    Adapted from: