This week I’m one of twelve participants at One Week One Tool, a National Endowment for the Humanities summer institute hosted by the Center for History and New Media, where we have five days to discuss, design, and build a software tool for the digital humanities. Last night we publicly released a list of possible tools we’re considering and asked for votes and commentary. You also can follow our progress (and roadblocks) via Twitter #owot.

Since our fearless leader, Tom Scheinfeldt, reminds us that what matters most is the learning process, not the technology project we’re scrambling to build, I’ll try posting short reflections on selected learning moments that stand out in my mind. (But definitely check out how other participants chronicle their experience, such as teammates Brian Croxall and Amanda Visconti.) As an educational historian, I teach my Trinity College students about John Dewey’s project-based social learning philosophy and try to practice elements of it in my introductory urban education class (with participant-observer placements in Hartford public school classrooms) and my Cities Suburbs & Schools seminar (through team research projects with community partners). What makes this week different is that I’m one of the regular learners — not the instructional leader — and digital tool creation is outside my comfort zone, as most participants have more coding and design experience than me. While I can hack my way around some WordPress PHP and Google Maps JavaScript, most of what I’ve do is simply modifying open-source code that other people have already written. Creating a new tool from the ground-up is an entirely new — and somewhat frightening — experience for me. Two moments that have stood out for me, so far:

Learning point #1: From open brainstorming to more focused thinking

While this may seem like a small point to some, I learned a great deal about how groups can make progress on brainstorming ideas. At the beginning of our Monday afternoon session, we launched into a free-for-all discussion to generate possible tools on the white board, in somewhat random fashion, as shown below.

photo The first general brainstorming whiteboard at One Week One Tool 2013 (by Brian Croxall)

To move our discussion one step further, our group followed Tom’s advice to focus on who we are building for and why. With participant Meghan Frazer leading us, we started filling out a grid with these categories — tool, audience, and need — by refining the content from the first whiteboard, as shown below.

photo Filtering brainstormed ideas by tool, audience, and need at One Week One Tool, 2013

Learning point #2: From group idea talk to collaborative text

Anyone who has worked with me knows that I favor making discussions more concrete by helping the group to capture its thinking in writing. For #owot 2013, we created a Google Document and restricted the link to our group, then expanded descriptions from the tool idea grid. The collaborative document also allowed individuals to refine the text while the larger group continued to discuss topics, while generating a semi-permanent archive of our thinking process. Most important, all of us worked together to craft the wording that we released when we requested public feedback for our tool nominations (see link, but voting has closed).