Disseminating Research Results in a DH Center: Mediasprint as “Unconference Proceedings”

Paper presented during the International Conference « Digital Humanities Centres: Experiences and Perspectives », Warsaw, December 8-9, 2016 | Communication prononcée lors du colloque international « Digital Humanities Centres: Experiences and Perspectives », Varsovie, 8-9 décembre 2016.

Why did we question the dissemination of research results in our DH Lab?

We created ICP DH center “L’Atelier du Numérique” (the Digital workshop) 3 years ago, focusing on 3 goals:

  • Bringing together faculty members engaged in DH research,
  • Training fellow researchers to design innovative courses or digital resources,
  • Developing digital softwares, applications or services & implementing innovations in our university.

In 2013, as part of the activities of our DH Lab, we organized our first conference, which led us to the publication of proceedings. During this event, in a DH perspective, we wanted to mix scientific papers and panels, allowing exchanges between researchers, innovators and professionals of the digital world.

Following this event, we published proceedings. But the process – like it is always the case in academic world – was long and tedious: it took more than a year. Moreover, these conference proceedings only took account for the scientific papers, losing the richness of the event itself and what made its « DH specificity ».

cover_issue_4_fr_caFollowing this experience – even if the scientific results were interesting – we listed the items that didn’t satisfy us, and on which we wanted to work:

  • During a DH event, there are not only scientific papers, there are also workshops, hackathons… activities that do not find their place in regular conference proceedings.
  • Articles published in conference proceedings do not reflect the dynamics and the creativity of the exchanges that occur during the event;
  • Proceedings get published a time too long after the event. For example, the online references inserted in the conference proceedings are not always assured: very often, when the paper is published, the links are no longer available).

Conference proceedings may be a good way of dissemination, that meets the expectations and the needs of conventional humanities laboratories. But in the case of a DH Lab, it seemed to us that there was something new to create.

The Experience of the Edcamp

This is the reason why, at the beginning of 2016, when we decided to organize a new event, we thought it was a good opportunity to experiment a new way of disseminating the results of our activities. Especially since we wanted to organize a hybrid event, which was both a scientific symposium and an Edcamp.

Before going any further, what is an Edcamp? An Edcamp is a free participant-driven learning experience for educators. The model was created in 2010 in Philadelphia. It follows the same logic as the ThatCamp (and all the “camps” created along the Silicon Valley BarCamp model). Sessions can be determined the day of the event and anyone who attends it can be a presenter, lead a workshop or engage himself or herself in any activity.


Publishing an accurate record of this type of event raises a number of questions:

First, in a traditional conference, you typically see 10 people speaking, and 90 listening. So,in a way, editing the proceedings is pretty easy: you just have to ask the 10 speakers to write a text and publish it. While in the Edcamp, if 100 people attend the event, in theory, these 100 people should participate to the editing of the proceedings.

Second difference between a traditional conference and the Edcamp: in a conference, the speakers prepared their papers before the event. With the Edcamp, there is much more content that emerges spontaneously during the exchanges.

Third point: with the Edcamp – and it is the case of most DH events – there are now almost as many things happening on social networks as in the conference rooms. Accounting for this specific type of event implies to capture these online exchanges.

The Idea of the Mediasprint

In order to move forward and to make this happen, we decided to include a publisher in the process. We did it with Mikael Ferloni, of MkF Editions, a French publisher who experiments new ways of digital and hybrid publishing.

Mikaël Ferloni | MKF Editions

While brainstorming with him, we focused on a process born in the field of the DH: the booksprint. What is a booksprint? A booksprint is a way of creating a book very quickly – for example a tutorial or a translation – by bringing a team of specialists together in a room for a short period of time. The result is a book published online or published using the process of the print-on-demand. Most of the time, the book is distributed freely.

Thus, the idea was initially to lead a bookprint during the Edcamp. But with a huge difference: we did not want a book made from preexisting texts. Our idea was to edit conference proceedings in real time, in a collaborative manner. We decided to call this dissemination process a Mediasprint, because it was not only composed of textual material, but also of images and videos.

The core of this experience was collaborative note-taking. So, we had to choose a tool allowing this collaborative work. Of course, we could choose Google Docs, which is undoubtedly the most famous, powerful and easy to grip service dedicated to collaborative writing. But it seemed to us, that in a DH perspective, this was not the best thing to do. In our perspective, in this situation, a DH Lab should always:

  • either develop its own tools,
  • or use free and open source technologies developed by and for the academic communities.

And it is only when none of these options is available that a DH Lab should choose proprietary tools. This is the reason why we chose Framapad (from framasoft.org, a French plateform offering Free and Open softwares dedicated to research and teaching.

Sometimes, the use of proprietary technologies is, of course, necessary. And according with that, practicing DH also implies to adapt to common digital uses. For example, Twitter or Instagram data collection is hard to avoid – although the use of these commercial services in a DH Lab should always be questioned.

The Experience of the Mediasprint

During the opening of our Edcamp, which took place in Paris the 1st & the 2nd of September, we explained our plans to the participants. First, we encouraged them to use the collaborative pads to take notes, instead of taking ones on their personal device:

  • We were pleased to see that they effectively used the pads,
  • We were also pleased that they did tweets, took pictures on Instagram and so on.


Mikaël, our publisher, monitored all these data live, collecting texts, tweets and images, and began editorializing them during the event. At the end of the Edcamp, a first digital version of the proceedings was available and shared with the participants. From this date, they had a week to make corrections on the pads, before the final digital and paper edition.

The result is a hybrid editorial object including texts, tweets, photos, flashcodes, which refer to videos & a bibliography, that is not included in the book himself, but edited and accessible on Zotero also via a flashcode (with the idea to enrich it & to give it a longer life).


Perspectives and questions

In the end, we are very aware that this hybrid book is an imperfect artifact. Nevertheless, we believe that it answers, at least partly, to our questions. Among the questions that still arise, we can mention both of these:

  • How to assign discourses written in a collaborative and partly anonymous way? For example, if one looks at the text resulting from the opening conference given by the professor Milad Doueihi, one will not read the discourse of the speaker. The text is the result of what the participants understood and what interested them. In the process of taking notes, they could miss things or even misinterpret part of the speech. In order to counterbalance this, we inserted a flashcode in the book linking to the video of the original speech. And in a way, what is most exciting, is comparing the speech of Milad Doueihi with its reception by the participants.
  • A second question concerns the scientific uses of the book: how does one quote it? Among the participants named in the book, people are mentioned in different ways: there are those whose name appears. There are those who only appear by their Twitter ID. And there are those who contributed anonymously on the pads. More prosaically, where to classify the book in your research resume if you participated to the editing as an anonymous participant? How to present it? A question raised by a participant who addressed us by mail just last week.

These scientific, institutional and editorial questions seem to us typical of those that must be solved today in a DH Lab. So we hope that this Mediaprint experiment will give you ideas and may be taken up and improved by other DH teams.

Laurent Tessier & Michaël Bourgatte