Yesterday, my principal and I attended Edcamp New Jersey at Linwood Middle School in North Brunswick. This was my first ever Edcamp, and I was anxious to see firsthand what all of the excitement has been about. Edcamps are categorized as educational technology unconferences, because they are participant-driven and with no top-down organization. According to the official Edcamp website, an Edcamp has the following features: it is free; it is non-commercial and with a vendor free presence; it can be hosted by any organization or anyone; it is made up of sessions that are determined on the day of the event; anyone can be a presenter; and it is reliant on the law of two feet. (Edcampers are encouraged to get on their feet and leave sessions that do not meet their needs.) While headed to New Jersey, I was just as interested in the format of the unconference as I was in the content that I would be learning from its actual sessions.
As my principal and I walked into the middle school, we took a long look at the “schedule” for the day. This schedule was located on a hallway wall. It was in the form of a grid, complete with session times running vertically along the right side, and room numbers running horizontally across the top. Willing presenters were encouraged to fill the middle of the grid with sticky notes that contained their session topics. (Throughout the day, an electronic version of the schedule was updated on the Edcamp website, so participants would not have to continuously return to the physical schedule in order to determine where to go next.) As this was my first Edcamp, I opted not to present, as I simply wanted to take in the experience and learn all that I could. In the future, I would not hesitate to conduct a session (now all I need is a worthwhile topic).
The day began as participants gathered in the school’s cafeteria for some light breakfast (I can never get enough of those Panera bagels!) and some brief opening remarks. What was most notable was when one of the Edcamp organizers, Jeff Bradbury, opened by announcing, “Today, you are going to learn what you want to learn.” How many times have we heard a statement like this when it comes to teacher professional development? Choice is so powerful.
Throughout the day, my principal and I attended a handful of presentations. The first was titled “Conversations on Strategies for Expanding your PLN,” and it was hosted by Tom Whitby. The session was conversational and informal (as are most sessions at Edcamp). Whitby mentioned such resources as: Twitter, Delicious, Diigo, and SmartBlog on Education. He also talked about the ways in which Twitter can be used in order to promote professional development. During this time, Whitby announced, “In order to be a relevant educator, you need to be on Twitter,” and, “The conversations on Twitter are two years ahead of the conversations in schools.”
Another noteworthy session focused on Edmodo, which is a social learning network for teachers and students. Currently, my school district uses Moodle as its learning management system (LMS), but I have been looking at Edmodo as a way to promote more sharing and collaboration amongst students. As of now, I believe that each system has its own purpose, and they could both be used simultaneously. This session provided me with a basic overview of Edmodo, and the next step would be to do some experimenting on my own.
Now that the unconference has come to a close, I am left pondering the ways in which its format can be used in order to promote professional development at the building and/or district level. Often times, teachers must be on the same page when it comes to learning new information (Common Core, teacher evaluation system, RtII, etc.), and therefore they must all experience the same professional development. However, all teachers possess different needs, and an Edcamp approach to professional development could help to effectively meet these diverse needs while at the same time empowering multiple teachers to present on their areas of expertise.
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