THATCamp Junior

If my memory doesn’t fail me, it was shortly after last year’s THATCamp at CHNM when a few friends and I started kicking around the idea of THATCamp Junior. I’m not exactly sure what made us think of the idea: it could have been the post-unconference love that made us want to all hang out again as soon as possible; it could have been Jason’s sending his son to “Adventures in Game Design” camp; but most likely it was the realization that we each had one or more children around the same age and the assumption that if their parents enjoyed each other’s company then of course the children would have as much fun with one another. The idea was to get our kids hacking, building, and learning alongside their parents, who would be able to help with different sessions based on their skill sets.

The idea of TC Jr got batted around a few other times in the subsequent months. It got so far this spring that my co-conspirators and I had begun a collaborative Google Doc (my preferred platform for conspiracies, although my vaporware-to-real ratio on such conspiracies is always in flux) and had chosen some dates for the summer. We even had a venue. We hit a snag, however, when we needed to decide whether or not we would make the event open to a large group of people or just restrict it to our friends. Restricting attendees seemed very counter to the idea of THATCamps, but I knew that if I was going to pitch the idea to my wife that we should take our family on a vacation to a place with a bunch of people she had never met that I was going to have be able to sell her on the people involved being very cool. Moreover, THATCamps work best when you have a limited attendance; the largest of them have been about 125 people. You hit that Dunbar number pretty quickly when you’re bringing entire families to an event.

Resolving this problem of inclusivity as well as how crazy everyone’s summer schedules are led to the GDoc being abandoned. On the evening before the camp started a week and a half ago, I found myself talking with Dan Cohen about some of the activities he does with his twin seven year-olds, I found myself starting to talk about TC Jr again. Since I had yet to propose a session for the Camp and since I knew that THATCamp session can be devoted to helping someone with a project they’re stuck on, I decided to propose a session on TC Jr. The session ended up being combined with one proposed by Christina Jenkins on thinking about getting K-12 students the training that they need to be ready for the digital humanities in college. Many people attending the session were interested in both ideas, but it quickly became apparent that the two ideas weren’t close enough to have in one conversation. A small group (David Morgen, Leeann Hunter, Raf Alvarado, and myself) broke off to try to tease out the TC Jr conundrum.

I had previously imagined TC Jr as a mini programming or digital humanities bootcamp. In a short week’s time, my kids would have the basics of programming down, better understand social media, and have their WordPress theme’s chosen. In between, we would throw Frisbees and work with LEGO Mindstorms. But when sitting down with people face-to-face rather than working solo and asynchronously in a GDoc, I was forced finally to articulate what it is that I would like for my children to get out of such an event. And in the end, what I think would be most valuable about TC Jr for my children is twofold.


First, they could use the chance to interact with other children of their same age. For a variety of reasons, some related to where we live in Atlanta, some related to where our extended family lives, and some related to nothing more than life playing out, our children don’t have many other children to play with. Bringing my kids to a one-time meetup with others certainly wouldn’t change their daily lives, but being able to spend 2-3 days with a lot of other kids could be transformative. Something like bringing a bunch of digital humanists together to one physical location.

But even more important than this interaction, what I think the real advantage of taking the THATCamp model to a group of kids is the self-generative nature of an unconference. THATCamps play out not according to the whims of a program committee but according to what the Campers want to do that very day and what they themselves bring to the table. And while I think it would be cool to teach my kids something about programming (maybe I could learn at the same time, right?), having an adult standing at the front of the room teaching them isn’t really what a THATCamp is all about. In some ways, perhaps, I need a TC Jr to help me loosen up and let the kids take the reins about what they would like to learn or make. Who knows what might come out of such an exchange?

Other children and self-directed experience, then, were my chief concerns. But those of us talking knew from our own THATCamp experience that some structure is necessary for an event to come off. So we started talking about activities that children could be in charge of and that their parents, aunts, or uncles could help them make a reality. Based on another secret, collaborative Google Doc (see above re:vaporware), David and I suggested the kids launching a website talking about music. But that seemed hard for a range of kids to be able to participate in. The next idea, which quickly gained traction, was making a movie. The kids could script it; they could film it using something simple like a Flip; they could make costumes out of whatever we had lying around. The adults could provide muscle and help with editing the footage together in iMovie and uploading it to YouTube or any other place the kids would like so they could show it off. And I took a solemn oath, right there outside CHNM, that I would add in as much terrible earthquake effects as the kids wanted. The advantage of making a movie tied in with one of David’s hopes for TC Jr: helping his children understand that they can be creators rather than just passive consumers.

Since THATCamp is about more hack than yak, we not only wanted to come up with a plan but to make sure the plan is carried through. Since three out of the four of us in the conversation were based in Atlanta, we are going to host TC Jr here, this summer; we’ll share the date as soon as we’ve finalized it. It might be a drive, but any and all are welcome to come and we can even try to help you find some place to stay.

Perhaps there’s space for a TC Jr that looks a lot more like a regular—if there can be such a thing—THATCamp or a bootcamp. Goodness knows, I learned plenty during Jeremy Boggs‘s, Amanda French‘s, and Tom Scheinfeldt‘s BootCamp sessions this year. But for now, I think the best model for TC Jr—or at least our TC Jr—is something closer to THATCamp Bay Area’s “THATCamp Project.” This is an experiment. We’ll be sharing what happens and look forward to your feedback!


**It’s worth saying that while I’m using the plural pronoun “we” throughout this post represents my take on the proceedings and that Raf, David, and Leeann share none of the guilt for my inability to write a succinct post. **