Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Why I like the EdCamp model

So we had a great turnout for EdCamp Chicago.  It was my first experience with what is sometimes called an "unconference," a format that has taken off across the country. As a matter of fact, EdCamp St. Louis was happing at the same time as our EdCamp on February 11. It was announced
recently that there will be an EdCamp Milwaukee in May. I hope I can get there. 
The planning session

At an EdCamp, there is no set agenda and there are no keynote speakers. It's free and completely developed by whoever shows up. Participants came from all over the Chicagoland area, and from as far as Council Bluffs, Iowa.  Here's how it works: there are simply rooms available, and anyone can sign up to do a presentation or start a discussion. Saturday's agenda ended up looking like this. Keep in mind that it was completely empty as early as 9:00 am. Leyden's Culinary Arts students cooked lunch for the group, and there was a group of students who participated in some Q & A sessions. As expected, lunch was fantastic and the kids completely stole the show. Jason Markey collected some of the tweets about the event and published them here in this Storify. 

I wonder why this format seems to be so successful. Did we just get lucky with the right blend of people who decided to come in 
to talk about education on a cold Saturday morning in the Chicago area? Or is there something more to this format? 

I think educators are fed up with outside "experts" who blow in for a one size fits all PD session- and sometimes rake in thousands of dollars.  As someone who has paid the bill for those experts, it makes me sick to my stomach sometimes. National conferences? Hit or miss. They're planned months in advance, and presenters sometimes model really bad teaching and fill time with a bad powerpoint, and don't build in time for conversation. They're not fluid or flexible. 

Isn't it refreshing to think that teachers (and administrators!) might actually have knowledge that's worth sharing?  For free? And it doesn't have to be micromanaged and planned to death! We can actually just get together and talk about our profession, share tools that we think are useful, and network with other teachers. All you need is a bunch of rooms, a white board for scheduling (or a Google doc), and maybe some computer projectors. A decent wireless network helps, too.

Oh yeah, we're dealing with educators: Coffee. Lots of coffee.

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