How can we structure DH meetings to account for scholars' wide variety of backgrounds?
It is certainly a good thing that interest in the digital humanities is increasing among not only students and young scholars but also established scholars. Yet this exposure and growth poses a variety of challenges. In what follows, I want to consider one of these--but first, consider the following two paradigms*:
In what we might call a fairly standard scholarly meeting (e.g. a seminar), the group is typically comprised of individuals who have completed at least an undergraduate degree, and probably a Master's or Ph.D., in a discipline related to the topic of the meeting. To some degree (often a large degree) participants are familiar with methodologies, terminology, forms of argumentation, and discourse regarding the field or topic at hand. The discussion assumes this experience on the part of attendees, and the success of the meeting depends not so much on one individual but on each member contributing his or her own prior knowledge toward a collective discussion (which, ideally, becomes greater than the sum of its parts).
In what we might call a fairly standard introductory course to an academic discipline, the participants are not expected to be experts in any field--much less a field related to the topic at hand. While some students may have had prior exposure to the topic, others have none, and the course material begins at an elementary level.
Through some pedagogical approach, an instructor helps students understand and apply new concepts. Instruction can take various forms, but even in courses where the students' primary roles including discussing and producing (as opposed to listening to lectures), the instructor's careful preparation of resources and materials, planning of class time, and setting of learning objectives, are key.
Now, consider the following: a meeting of scholars (all of whom are accomplished in some academic discipline) to consider aspects of the digital humanities. The participants have a large variety of backgrounds in DH. Some are familiar with certain aspects of technology but entirely unfamiliar with others. Some are well established digital scholars who want to think critically about theoretical issues. Some are new to the whole idea of DH but might start a blog if someone could help with the setup.
How can the organizer of a meeting for this group most effectively schedule time in order to help participants at all levels to engage helpfully and to move forward in their pursuits?
More specifically, I want to ask whether we too often revert to a "Paradigm I" approach in large meetings of scholars interested in DH, when instead we might be wise to use a mixed approach that includes more "Paradigm II."
The particular application of aspects of these two paradigms (and others) will certainly vary among individual meetings; yet I'm wondering if there are general principles for this type of meeting of individuals of mixed backgrounds. This seems especially important as more and more individuals are beginning to attend workshops and conferences related to technology.
I'm interested to hear your thoughts.
This is a second post inspired by topics I was encouraged to think about during THATCamp AAR. The first is here.
*I ask for generosity from my readers where my brevity may lack precision. The sketches are illustrative, not prescriptive; I do not mean to set up purpose statements for the direction of seminars or classrooms.