While largely focused on integrating new technologies into the classroom, CEP 811 also includes a component on connecting and sharing experiences with colleagues, which was the goal of our recent virtual EdCamp. EdCamp is an innovative way to impart ideas and trade best practices with other educators, and it was a helpful, informative experience. One aspect I especially appreciated about EdCamp was the flexibility it offered. I appreciated being able to select a topic I was both knowledgeable and passionate about, and share that with others. Flexibility in content was also valuable, as I knew that my colleagues were selecting topics that mattered to them and that worked for their students, too. The culture of collaboration created by EdCamp is so inspiring. Everyone was eager to learn and encouraging, patient when our technology lagged a bit behind our enthusiasm. The contributions made in the the chat bar comprised an unexpected benefit, as well! Even when the microphones were muted, there was rich conversation flowing about tools and ideas. I found myself so eager to incorporate these elements into my own classroom that I copied the whole chat bar into a Google Doc!
Participating in EdCamp virtually proved tricky at times. The conversation was less free-flowing than it would be in a central location, and it could be hard to read the audience or know when to chime in on during another presentation. I had some audience participation elements that would have been easier to gauge if everyone could share freely, without having to worry about sound feedback, but I didn’t feel that my presentation suffered too badly for it. If I were to participate in an experience like this again, it would be helpful to stick to the given schedule and perhaps also to have options for sessions like a live EdCamp would. It might be productive to have certain days that focused on certain topics, i.e. an elementary EdCamp and a split secondary EdCamp. Finally, a more workable platform would be desirable. Google Hangout is a great tool, but when so many people are part of the conversation and the microphones have to be muted, it can get confusing and a little discouraging, since it limits group participation.
Overall, however, EdCamp is productive and invigorating and has great implications for future professional development at both macro- and micro-levels. So many professional days are “sit and get,” which, educators know, is fairly unhelpful. An EdCamp is interactive, provides choice, and leaves room curiosity and exploration. It also opens the door for teachers to both be filled by other experts and fill others as the expert themselves. Recently, my district did an in-house professional day in which teachers created sessions based on their own interests and specializations, offering them to other staff members. It was exciting to present to my colleagues, knowing that we know the same students. It is easy to envision an EdCamp in my own environment. The cost would be much lower than workshops of similar quality and the structure leaves room for open, personal, tailored discussion. Moreover, working together can help teachers see each other as valuable contributors to growth, therein inspiring others to rise to that expectation, reducing competition, and increasing comraderie- all of which are extremely beneficial for students.
Organizing an EdCamp could pose some challenges, but having organized events before, it seems that most of the
challenges would be logistic in nature, as opposed to challenges in vision or content, since EdCamp is so strong in these areas. It would be crucial that the vision and purpose of EdCamp be clearly communicated to stakeholders in clear, concise ways so that all participants could develop clarity on the expectations and outcomes of such an event. To gather a core of presenters that would fuel the creative force and expert knowledge of EdCamp, I would logically begin by linking with the best teachers I know personally in my PLN nearby. I imagine it would then be beneficial to expand to the second degree, which would be great teachers those great teachers know! The variety in perspectives of some teachers who had presented before and some who had not would help lend vision to the project. It would be important to push creative thinking, to publicize on- and offline to the community, and to work hard to make peace with the unstructured structure of EdCamp so that it could be most beneficial to as many people as possible.
The detailed nature of organizing an event would dictate that all logistical factors be considered ahead of time. The time that goes into planning a first-ever event of anything is always more than one thinks, so that would be a major commitment! Cost is another factor. EdCamp has relatively low overhead, but there would need to be a small budget for materials and potential building rental. It would be important to consider the space for the actual event (if it were live), answering crucial questions like, Will this space uphold all of our technologies? Is there sufficient bandwidth? Does the space support collaboration? Is it centrally located? Even considerations such as the number of outlets and local options for purchasing lunch would be necessary. The importance of timing would also merit consideration. An EdCamp, especially a new one, would benefit from being isolated from other events on the calendar, and should not be attempted during busy times like September, the holidays, or after spring break. Some informal research -perhaps through PLN outlets like Google Forms or Twitter- might be helpful in determining the areas of interest, length of sessions, scope of focus, and tech proficiency of the community, as well.
Finally, as an organizer, it would be important to manage expectations. When holding an event for the first time, sometimes interest and turnout can be lower than one expects…or sometimes it can blow the roof! Gauging interest and securing registrations in a timely manner would be integral to coordinating the EdCamp and prepared adequately to help it run as smoothly as possible. All of these elements of would be challenging, but I am hopeful that the rewards for educators would be more than worth it.