TPS Fest 2022: Reflections and Community Feedback

TPS Fest 2022, which ran from August 2–4, was this year’s iteration of the Teaching with Primary Sources Unconference. Held since 2015, these unconferences have provided informal space for folks who do instruction in or with archives and special collections to gather, share questions and ideas, and build networks for collaboration. 2022 marked the third year that we have run a virtual-only version of the Unconference.

The Unconference has always been organized by volunteers in the TPS community. While the organization of previous events evolved over time to consist of a few committees focusing on different responsibilities and were coordinated by a team of two to four co-leaders, we struggled to find co-leaders who could take on that work in 2022. We decided instead to try something new: 

  • We held brainstorming sessions to gauge what the community wanted; 
  • we shared updates and ideas in an ever-evolving Google doc and a Padlet
  • we held a series of monthly drop-in planning sessions on Zoom; 
  • and we created a shared spreadsheet for people to start inserting sessions they were willing to lead into a schedule.

We also relied on an impressive infrastructure of volunteer labor and know-how that has been built up over the years: We’ve learned how to collaborate on schedule building over six years of unconferences. The TPS Collective website is an impressive platform that we can use for sharing event information. And, since 2020, we’ve developed great systems for the skill-sharing that’s necessary for more than 25 volunteers to feel comfortable providing tech and moderation support to zoom-based sessions.

How did the TPS Fest go this year?

Following three days of sessions, we shared an evaluation survey with all individuals who attended at least one session that we re-sent to attendees three weeks later. We received 45 responses. Although a 10% response rate is not optimal,we know that summer vacations were in full swing when this survey hit inboxes and we’re grateful for the reflections shared with us. Read below for a summary of attendees’ responses, and what we learned from them and from the event.

An Overview of Survey Responses

This year, 564 people registered for at least one session over the three-day period of TPS Fest. Over 400 people attended at least once. One hundred percent of survey respondents said they would attend again.

This year, we tried something new with registration: we asked people to register for individual sessions they were interested in (rather than providing registrants a list of links to join sessions), in hopes of increasing online security. Below is a breakdown showing how folks rated the ease of the registration process, with 1 being “very easy” and 5 being “very difficult”:

Forms response chart. Question title: How did you find the overall registration process?. Number of responses: 34 responses.

The graph shows that 72.7% of respondents found the new registration process “very easy,” which suggests that we could continue to offer the registration in the same way in future years.

This year, TPS Fest included 17 sessions that facilitated a broad range of formats–presentations, facilitated discussions, reading groups, among others. Session descriptions can be found on our website, and over 85% of survey respondents indicated that their content was a “good” or “very good” match for what they had hoped to learn:

Forms response chart. Question title: How closely did the content of TPS Fest match what you wanted to learn about?. Number of responses: 34 responses.

Attendance & Content

The post-event survey also asked attendees to rate the usefulness and relevance of the sessions to their current positions. Some attendees were completely unfamiliar with using primary sources, while others indicated that they currently teach with these materials. Across the board, they found sessions useful. Seventy-one percent of attendees described the sessions as “useful” or “very useful,” with people highlighting the TPS for Beginners session, the shared notes document, and the opportunity to hear experiences and get new ideas from others as the most notable aspects of the sessions. Three respondents specifically mentioned the value of engaging with different perspectives on challenging situations, while others described the value of sharing common experiences and learning ways to make lessons more effective.

A few participants were disappointed that the sessions they attended did not match their expectations, either in topic or target audience. This feedback can be helpful for how we ask facilitators to describe both their session plan and intended audience in future years. One respondent noted that they’d be interested to come away with more concrete resources and not just ideas; another was interested in TPS activities with the general public in addition to student audiences.

Conference Planning & Format

Respondents who participated in planning appreciated that the process was collaborative and flexible, allowing individuals to jump in whenever their availability allowed. One respondent was interested in using a project management chart for future planning to make the collaborative process even more transparent and accessible.

In considering the future possibilities for similar TPS gatherings, 40% of respondents were interested in virtual-only formats and 31% were interested in some kind of hybrid setup. Twenty-one percent recommended alternating between in-person and virtual gatherings. Respondents noted that virtual gatherings are more accessible for many.

Close to half of the respondents said that the conference structure was “successful” or “worked well.” A few respondents were frustrated by overlapping sessions, and several recommended scheduling fewer sessions over more days to enable folks to attend more easily. Some respondents suggested holding fewer sessions with breakout rooms or planning those rooms much more intentionally. A couple of people recommended recording the sessions next time.

Attendees’ Suggestions

Suggestions for serving the needs of non-US participants included recording sessions to make them more accessible to people in other countries, and reaching out to individuals and organizations to invite people from outside the US to lead sessions in order to hear from a broader range of experiences and approaches.

Fifty-eight percent of respondents recommended either developing a session or sessions for K-12 teachers, focusing outreach on K-12 teachers, or inviting K-12 teachers to present or co-present sessions.

Feedback compiled by Kelsey Brown, Julie Grob, Jen Hoyer, and Marian Toledo

Thumbnail caption: Currier & Ives. My Three White Kitties: Learning Their A.B.C. , None. [New york: published by currier & ives, between 1856 and 1907] Photograph.