Sunday, April 6, 2014

This One Time At Edcamp...

I spent part of my weekend at my local Edcamp.  The Edcamp movement has been growing over the past few years and if you aren't familiar with the concept, it's an "unconference" for individuals in the education sector.  Traditional conferences are usually several days, cost money, have a set agenda (with vetted and approved presenters), and can require extensive travel.  Edcamp "unconferences" are one day, local, and free.  The conference agenda is created by the participants that day and anyone with an idea is welcome to lead a session, no PowerPoint needed.  If participants find that the session is not meeting their professional needs, they are encouraged to employ "the law of two feet" and find a different session.  This was my first Edcamp and I came away with several thoughts.

I've attended several multi-day conferences.  The first day is usually exciting, the second day is tolerable, and by the third day, I'm usually hatching an escape plan.  Edcamp offers four sessions in one day, which is plenty to soak up and digest by Monday.  Since it was offered on a Saturday and only about an hour away from my house, there were no leave forms or expense reports to fill out.

The Edcamp sessions were unstructured and were more of a discussion around an established topic as opposed to a presentation by an "expert".  There was a time limit, but since there was no pre-made presentation, there was no pressure to get through a certain number of slides.  This allowed participants to learn from and interact with each other.  Like many educators, I attended this conference alone, so the interaction allowed me to meet other educators and ensured that I had people to eat lunch with.

The sessions were also led by teachers.  Since there was no official corporate presence (there was subtle advertising present since the "free" conference did incur expenses), all of the information presented was authentic and not some highly engaging sales pitch.

The word is still spreading about Edcamp, so for the time being, it appears that the workshops are reaching some groups of educators over others.  I've heard about Edcamps in my area that were mainly attended by Teach for America participants.  In this case, the majority of the attendees were teachers at upscale private schools.  While I enjoyed learning about the diversity of the area's educational options, it was a little difficult to imagine implementing some of the ideas I heard in my Title 1 (majority low income) school.

One disadvantage to Edcamp's approach to setting the agenda on the day of the conference is that there is not time to ensure that there is a diversity of topics.  This past Edcamp focused mainly on technology.  While I understand that this is a hot topic, sessions on areas such as differentiation, classroom management, and Common Core are more applicable to the day-to-day tasks of a teacher.

All in all, I will be on the lookout for future Edcamps in my area. I hope that the concept moves to school districts as a professional development option as well.  One of the most powerful aspects of Edcamp is teacher choice.  Too often school officials sit around an office and determine which areas teachers need help with and then go out and fly in the most expensive expert they can find.  Teachers are mandated to attend these sessions regardless of whether or not they meet their professional needs. By going the Edcamp route, districts will not only save money, they will give their teachers a voice. They will help develop home-grown talent in their district and give their teachers a reason to be wake up excited on professional development days.

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