On July 30, 2016, GMU STC held its largest event yet, sponsoring TC Summer Camp—an all-day “unconference” that brought together more than 50 writers, editors, illustrators, and students in technical communication to suggest and vote on topics of discussion. The moderately structured but entirely flexible format of the unconference allowed each participant to learn and share individual insights about the issues, skills, challenges, and applications of technical communication, and to meet other technical communicators with similar interests.
Partnering with TC Camp
To host this event, GMU STC partnered with TC Camp, a nonprofit based in San Francisco that had completed its fourth annual TC Camp unconference earlier this year. TC Summer Camp was TC Camp’s first unconference on the East Coast. To support TC Camp’s operations, GMU STC helped TC Camp plan and secure the use of the conference site on Mason’s Fairfax campus, provided volunteers for day-of support, and sponsored a catered lunch for all attendees. With TC Camp’s corporate sponsors, including Adobe®, and GMU STC’s support as a Registered Student Organization (RSO), we were able to host TC Summer Camp as a free event for all attendees.
The Unconference Format
With morning workshops, a keynote panel, and breakout sessions, the unconference might appear similar to a regular conference, but anyone attending the unconference could tell the difference. Intended as an informal event, if you asked any volunteers “Is it alright if I...?” or “Do you mind if I...” your answer was probably, “It’s camp!” meaning, “If it makes sense to you, go for it.”
During registration and lunch, participants voted for their top ten session topics among dozens, with the option to propose and vote for new topics as well. Topics included Technical Writing Fundamentals, Accessible Communication for Vision and Hearing Impaired, Content Reuse Strategies, and Which Is Better: Beer or Wine?
After a keynote panel with four invited technical communicators and a Q&A with the audience, unconference organizers tallied the votes and created an agenda for three breakout sessions with four topics each. At each session, one participant elected to lead and another took notes as “Scribe,” each of which received camp badges to reward their efforts. At the end of each session, the leader gave a “Life Saver” badge to the participant who provided particularly helpful insight.
To wrap up the unconference, the Scribes summarized each session in one minute or less, in an event aptly titled “Camp Minimalist,” and received a second badge.
Two Major Benefits of TC Summer Camp
One of the greatest benefits of TC Summer Camp was the way the unconference format leveraged the range of experience and expertise of its attendees. Because the session topics were determined by the votes of attendees, all attendees were able to meaningfully participate in the hour-long sessions, often bringing unique insights from their varied experience and education backgrounds. Individual sessions had a mix of participants who managed professional writing projects, consulted for government programs, wrote accessible documentation, tutored at a writing center, taught freshman composition and graduate technical writing, or just completed a summer internship for technical editing. Veterans in the field shared lessons gained from decades of facing old and new challenges, and novices taught us about cutting-edge tools and rising industry trends.
Another major benefit of TC Summer Camp was how the event provided both structured and unstructured opportunities for interpersonal interaction, taking a lot of the pain out of professional networking. The hour-long sessions that encouraged participation from each attendee and the quick breaks between sessions for cookies and chatting enabled all attendees to meet and network with a huge variety of people in their field without the discomfort of awkward silences or forced conversation. The event structure provided just enough guidance to get conversations going, but was also flexible enough to keep conversations broad, ongoing, and inclusive.
To Learn More
For more information about TC Camp, visit website here.