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Omeka Workshop Review

Last Saturday we hosted the first of four digital scholarship workshops here at the Studio.  This workshop covered Omeka, an open source collections management platforms designed to let scholars curate collections and create narrative displays for the public.  It’s a perfect tool for supporting a balance of rigorous scholarship with a public-friendly face.  We use Omeka here at Iowa for projects ranging from DIY History and History Corps to individual course assignments in undergraduate classrooms in a variety of departments.

Despite only having a week of registration, I was thrilled to have eighteen attendees! The class included faculty, staff, and both graduate and undergraduate students at all levels of technical experience.  We blasted through a lot of material in a little over three hours, from the basics of the site structure, adding items and exhibits, and administering the site; to more advanced concepts, such as creating custom item types, exporting between installations, and mapping with Neatline. Some attendees already had some basic knowledge of Omeka, and were generous in helping their fellow attendees who had questions.  The hands-on structure of the workshop, in which every attendee was tinkering in their own website, also gave people who were more comfortable with the technology the chance to work ahead and try features out for themselves.

This model of people going at their own pace but tuning in when they needed to and communicating with each other was made much easier by the TILE classroom.  Attendees were able to work in small groups where they could feel comfortable asking their neighbor a question, but everyone could still see what I was doing as I walked them through various parts of the site on the screens around the room.

I was glad to see that everyone’s enthusiasm carried over to lunch!  We adjourned to the Studio for sandwiches and chatting, and a lot of interesting conversations were going on about various research projects.  People had a chance to reflect on the basics that we had covered before lunch, and bounce around ideas for how Omeka might be used in classrooms.

For me, one of the most important parts of any technical workshop is explaining the overall structure and main concepts of a platform, not just the step-by-step motions of doing things with it.  This has often been a difficulty for me when researching new tools, that often the documentation assumes you already understand what you might want to do with it.  We had great questions about the differences between different versions of Omeka and how to decide which is best for a specific purpose, and also about how much of how a site is used and set up depends on decisions specific to a project versus field standards.  It’s important to me for people to understand that there’s often not one right way to “do digital”, but that digital resources can be used differently to express what we really want to get at with our research.

Registration is still open for our upcoming workshops on text encoding, 3d modeling, and mapping, so come join us!