Monday, 19 November 2012

Learning at Ed Camp

I attended a professional development conference on Saturday, November 17 at Delta Secondary School known as “Ed Camp”. If you look it up online, you will discover that Edcamp is defined as an unconference - an organic, democratic, participant-driven professional development model for people interested in education.  The "organic" definition made me skeptical and I half wondered if Ed Camp would also offer 100% of my daily requirements of probiotics, fibre and would attract lots of people with wool socks and Birkenstocks.  However, I was intrigued that there were no entrance fees, keynote presentations from noted experts, no formal pre-set agenda, and participants were invited to set the course of the day by identifying and then choosing topics they are most interested in discussing or learning more about. 

Upon arriving, I was welcomed by some students, picked up a name tag and was given four post-it stickies. Participants at Edcamp are encouraged to contribute ideas for workshops beforehand and are invited to share a short presentation or propose a question.  There was a range of at least 30 topics posted on a couple of rolling boards, and I was invited to read them and put my post-its on the session topics that were most interesting to me.  From there, the organizers created a schedule and many sessions were offered over four time slots during the course of the day.  All participants were urged to bring a device. There were no paper handouts.  The schedule, school map and session notes were all done online, using QR code readers, Google Docs, Twitter (#edcamplbc) and the EdCamp Delta website.  

The four workshops I attended were informal, interactive, conversation-driven and not typical stand and deliver (with power point) presentations from a guru where the audience remains mostly passive.  While the Saturday event was full of like-minded people passionate about education (including prominent edu-stars, as measured by number of followers in the Twitterverse), it was all about reflective and engaging dialogue. Disagreement and counterpoints were welcomed and encouraged, including a summative session entitled “What Sucks about Education” where we were invited to agree or disagree about current hot topics and defend our thinking.  It seems to me that the most thoughtful conversations and learning I have had at professional conferences or in my career, were in between sessions and after work or meetings, informally with other participants and colleagues.  The EdCamp model is all about the informal conversations where participants can listen, articulate, defend and reshape their thinking.  (See more on informal learning here).

Professional development, like all learning, is determined by the level of engagement, openness and reflectiveness of the participants.  While EdCamp is certainly not a panacea, and it has limitations (read the ever thoughtful Bruce Beairsto here and here), for my money (it was free), it was an excellent day.  I was able to choose what interested me and the '21st century, digital and connected learners & leaders' theme of my day was very helpful. Sessions were facilitated by current, practicing teachers, principals, district innovators and students. They offered a brief overview of things they are doing, now, in class, in their school or district and what they have learned. The audience was comprised of people who serve in similar roles and who can ask questions and pose what ifs and offer counter ideas.  EdCamp recognizes that, collectively, practicing educators have a lot of experience and expertise and, if we’re interested in change and innovation, we can create this together.  For me, it was far better than listening to even the most riveting and current (and costly) expert from abroad, who often has not worked in a school, with students and teachers, for years.  

As I learned at a session entitled, “What is Connected Leadership?” the digital world has flattened traditional hierarchies in education and made ideas more powerful and influential than roles. At this same session, participants were encouraged to get connected to those with different ideas and perspectives, as defending our ideas while entertaining conflicting points of view is the only way to learn and grow.  Ed Camp offered an opportunity to meet a diverse cross section of interesting educators and hear and discuss some innovative ideas. It was certainly as good or better than any traditional conference I have attended, but like all pro-d, the long term, positive growth it will create is really up to me. 

The Edcamp model originated a couple of years ago in Philadelphia.  Since that time, the model has gained popularity and events have been held throughout North America and beyond. Edcamp Vancouver took place in April 2011 with approximately 90 participants.  The session I attended on Saturday, November 17, 2012 attracted over 200 educators, parents and students from all over B.C.  Delta Secondary School administrators Terry Ainge and Aaron Akune and the DSS students in attendance did a fabulous job organizing and participating in the day.

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