Friday, March 23, 2012

Guest Post: How Edcamp Makes Professional Development Meaningful

EdcampSTL was amazing.  It was everything I wanted it to be and so much more.  Probably the best thing about Edcamp was building so many new relationships.  These relationships are with people in town, supporters of local education and out of town.

Edcamp is an outstanding way to build your professional network and find new supports outside the walls of your school building.  As a by product of this planning I had a chance to "virtually" meet Sarah.  Sarah asked to write a guest post for my blog on her take of the Edcamp concept and how the movement is changing the way we think about Professional Learning.  Here she goes:

Sarah Fudin (MAT@USC)currently works in community relations for the University of Southern California's online teaching program, which provides aspiring teachers the opportunity to earn an MAT degree online and will be offering an online Masters in Education program this Fall.  Outside of work Sarah enjoys running, reading and Pinkberry frozen yogurt.

Edcamps are shaking up the traditional model of professional development for educators. Most professional conferences and seminars involve one-way communication with teachers trying to soak up information that they can later integrate into the classroom. Educators may come away with unanswered questions or with a feeling that their professional reality is at odds with theories presented by the expert speakers. Many teachers who have wondered if there isn't a more meaningful way to expand their professional knowledge are finding answers at Edcamp, the "unconference" concept that's based on two-way communication and a spirit of collaboration.

By its very nature, an Edcamp puts professional development (PD) into the hands of individual teachers and administrators. An Edcamp is a free one-day event that requires less planning than a multi-day conference with preplanned speakers. Because everyone is viewed as an expert in his or her own area of experience, anyone can organize an Edcamp or lead a session. Since Edcamp is free, there's less pressure on participants to forcefully absorb as much information as possible. An Edcamp is not a trade show and there are no vendors, so there are no sales pitches and no pressure to spend money.

The only real limitation on the topics covered in Edcamp sessions is the interest of participants. Lesson plans, academic testing, technology tools, educational activities and administrative issues are all fair game for sessions. Edcampers can choose the sessions they want to attend and if a session is not delivering as expected, attendees are encouraged to use the "rule of two feet" by leaving and finding a more meaningful session.

Unlike traditional conferences where networking takes place between sessions, networking is continuous during Edcamp. The benefits of Edcamp can extend far beyond the event. The collaborative setting provides more opportunities for personal interaction than a traditional seminar or online PD program. Face-to-face meetings can turn into mutually supportive professional relationships. Conversations often continue on blogs, Twitter and Facebook. Teachers who are facing similar issues or who share philosophies can connect and share their expertise. Edcamp can also help teachers who are passionate about their profession realize that they are not alone and that there are other equally passionate educators who are making a difference in their communities.

Although the emphasis at Edcamp is on personal interaction, digital technology and social media are key tools for setting up and publicizing an event. School districts and teams of teachers can use district websites and email networks to get the word out about Edcamp events. An Edcamp can be publicized on the Edcamp Wiki, which is also a good source for information and advice about Edcamp organization. In the past two years, there has been an amazing growth of interest in education unconferences and many education professionals are eager to share their experiences.

Since the schedule for an Edcamp is determined the day of the event, it's important to recruit participants who are willing to lead sessions. Rather than attracting a large number of attendees, an Edcamp should bring together passionate educators who are willing to share their knowledge in a discussion-based format. An Edcamp thrives on the energy of its participants and generates its own takeaway energy.

Traditional professional development programs can still play a role in continuing professional education. According to Dr. Kristen Swanson, an Edcamp founder, an unconference is one more offering on the PD 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."


Special thanks to Sarah Fundin for the post!