MidCamp 2024 Innovates with Unconference Format and Training

MidCamp, the annual Midwest Drupal Camp, is a premier event uniting the Drupal community's designers, developers, users, and evaluators. Known for fostering educational growth through networking, contribution sprints, and training, MidCamp is a crucial platform for novices and advanced users to deepen their Drupal expertise. This event showcases Drupal's versatility and strength and bridges diverse voices from across the globe, reinforcing its significance in the digital landscape.

MidCamp 2024 is set for March 20-22 in DePaul University - Lincoln Park Student Center, Chicago, aiming to gather the Drupal community, including designers, developers, and enthusiasts. Organized by a group of volunteers from the Drupal community in Chicago and beyond, MidCamp highlights the significance of Drupal in the Midwest and draws a global audience, transcending its local roots and providing a comprehensive learning and contributing environment for all attendees.

DePaul University - Lincoln Park Student Center 

I had the opportunity to converse with Norah Medlin and Avi Schwab, the lead organizers of MidCamp 2024, to learn more about the upcoming event.

MidCamp 2024 is set to showcase a variety of anticipated features that distinguish this year's format and focus from past events. According to Norah Medlin, one of the significant changes this year includes adopting an unconference format and marking a novel approach for the event. This year, we will also see the reintroduction of training sessions on Friday, a component that had not been part of MidCamp for several years.

Furthermore, the thematic structure of MidCamp 2024 reveals a noticeable shift towards sessions that are significantly more focused on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and business-related topics compared to previous years. This change aligns with current trends and demands within the tech and digital sectors.

Another point of differentiation for this year's MidCamp is its scheduling. The event has returned to its traditional timing at the end of March. This adjustment contrasts with the previous year's schedule, which placed the event at the end of April. Medlin highlights these changes, stating,

Norah Medlin

"Unconference on Wednesday /Thursday and Training on Friday are big differentiators this year."

This emphasis on new formats, educational opportunities, and timely thematic focus underlines MidCamp's evolution and response to the changing landscape of technology and professional development.

The anticipated turnout of participants for this year's MidCamp 2024 is approximately 100 to 150 individuals, as stated by the organizer, Norah Medlin.

Avi Schwab, another organizer, noted a significant decline in attendance, approximately 50%, between the last in-person event held in 2019 and the restart in 2023, consistent with the trend observed in many other events. However, this year's attendance numbers appear consistent with those of the previous year. Avi remarked, 

"The Drupal Camp ecosystem around the world is still very much in flux, and we’re keeping a close eye on attendance trends in this new normal.'"

When queried about the selection process for sessions and speakers at MidCamp 2024, Norah Medlin, serving as the session selection committee facilitator, provided insights into the process employed. The MidCamp Session selection committee adopts a value-based approach, utilizing anonymized data. Over a span of 2 to 3 weeks, a facilitator meticulously reviews and prepares the session list, incorporating session tracks. Subsequently, committee members individually assign scores using a 5-point system after an initial review of the session list and process. The committee convenes again upon completion, focusing on sessions necessitating further discussion, particularly those with significant score disparities or omissions. 

Sessions garnering higher average scores undergo verification, ensuring selections are evenly distributed across Topic Tracks and themes. Notably, this year witnessed an increased acceptance of AI-focused sessions across various tracks, reflecting heightened industry demand. Sessions falling just short of the cutoff are categorized into a "Maybe" pile, with speakers duly notified. Once all accepted sessions are confirmed, they are published on the website and scheduled based on a combination of speaker preference and anticipated demand.

Avi Schwab

Avi Schwab notes,

“We’ve been using a “blind selection process” since we began MidCamp and we believe it helps remove subconscious biases from the process.”

Avi also explained that inherent biases may exist due to the relatively small size of the Drupal speakers' community. However, he emphasized that employing blind selection during the initial phase is instrumental in directing focus toward identifying outstanding new content, frequently originating from emerging speakers.

When reflecting on the diversity and innovation of this year's MidCamp session proposals compared to previous years, Norah Medlin observed a notable uptick in quality with minimal editing requirements. She attributed this enhancement mainly to the abundance of submissions from experienced speakers.

Despite anonymizing submissions before selection, Norah found gratification in the organic differentiation of accepted session topic tracks and speaker backgrounds.

However, the primary challenge faced by the committee revolved around the surplus of top-scoring submissions exceeding available session slots. Nonetheless, as the event approached, cancellations conveniently transitioned into confirmations from the "maybe" pile. Norah articulated,

"This year, the quality of submission was high and required very few edits."

Norah expressed her enthusiasm for networking with sponsors and speakers during and post-event and engaging with attendees during her session on Effective Project Management on Thursday afternoon. Additionally, she looked forward to contributing to initiatives such as Recipes and Search Web Components during the Contribution Day, besides her attendance at MidCamp's debut of Unconference format in the late afternoons on Wednesday and Thursday.

DePaul University - Lincoln Park Student Center

As the Lead Organizer, Avi highlighted his anticipation for the sense of camaraderie and community fostered at MidCamp annually. Moreover, he looks forward to facilitating non-technical training sessions to introduce newcomers to Drupal. He concludes

"Seeing old friends after a long time away, staying up late debating how to resolve some ancient core issue, and socializing (including #DrupalKaraoke!) are always my highlights."

Please click on the provided link for further details regarding the event and daily schedule.

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