Have you heard of EdCamp?
Our local Professional Development Committee was talking about it recently and it caught my interest as something very organic and useful.
If I understand correctly, professionals get together, ready to share, and through a process that can vary by group, they naturally form groups that break-out to share and enjoy professional development and collaboration.
We’ve all been there: A mind-numbing, passive, professional development session that aims to “fill up” your mind with knowledge and expertise. Quite often, these types of experiences leave you drowsy and uninspired.
Well, there’s a new form of professional development sweeping the nation that aims to change all that. Edcamps are unconferences for educators where learners share their experiences and their professional expertise in a collaborative, interactive learning environment. Edcamps are based on Open Space Technology (OST) which states that “whoever comes are the right people and whatever happens are the only things that could have” (Boule, 2011).
EdCamp: Do It Yourself PD: It can be face-to-face — school, district, even region-wide — and always free. Most of all, EdCamp is do-it-yourself PD, planned by volunteers and led by attendees.
An authentic Edcamp has the following features:
- free: Edcamps should be free to all attendees. This helps ensure that all different types of teachers and educational stakeholders can attend.
- non-commercial and with a vendor free presence: Edcamps should be about learning, not selling. Educators should feel free to express their ideas without being swayed or influenced by sales pitches for educational books or technology.
- hosted by any organization or anyone: Anyone can host an Edcamp. School districts, educational stakeholders, and teams of teachers have hosted Edcamps. YOU could be the next Edcamp organizer!
- made up of sessions that are determined on the day of the event: Edcamps do not have scheduled presentations. During the morning of the event, the schedule is created in conjunction with everyone there. I know it sounds crazy, but it works! Sessions end up being spontaneous, interactive, and responsive to participants’ needs.
- events where anyone who attends can be a presenter: Anyone who attends an Edcamp is able to be a presenter. All teachers and educational stakeholders are viewed as professionals worthy of sharing their expertise in a collaborative setting.
- reliant on the law of two feet that encourages participants to find a session that meets their needs: As anyone can host a session, it is critical that participants can actively self-select the best content and sessions. Edcampers are encouraged to leave sessions that do not meet their needs. This provides a uniquely effective way of “weeding out” sessions that are not based on appropriate research or not delivered in an engaging format.
Edcamps were founded when a group of teachers, including me, were inspired by a local Barcamp unconference on computer programming. Since the first Edcamp was held in Philadelphia in May 2010, over 50 Edcamps have been held by teachers in the United States, Chile, and Sweeden. (Interested in holding your own Edcamp? Visit the Edcamp wiki at http://edcamp.wikispaces.com)
Teachers and educational stakeholders are using this format to start meaningful conversations about their work. Social media, including blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, have served to continue the conversation in online spaces as well. Professional reflection, application, and evaluation abound.
Lately, Edcamps have received some criticism due to the interactive, unpredictable format. How can you guarantee that every Edcamp session is based on the latest research? Quite simply, you can’t. Edcamps should be used as one meaningful item on the professional development menu. There will always be a place for traditional professional development to ensure that faculties are using the latest research and effectively employing the most fundamental strategies purported by the educational organization. However, using the Edcamp format to honor teachers’ expertise and provide interactive learning opportunities is a worthy process.
Edcamps strive to provide space for teachers to learn from each other. They give everyone a voice and a forum to explore new ideas and strategies.