Is the EdCamp model right for all learners?

Ever since I attended a virtual Ed Camp this past summer, I really wanted to organize one for my District.   So many of the amazing Educators in my PLN, especially my Edumatch Voxer friends had organized Ed Camps and had given me lots of advice and resources to help get us started.  If you are on Twitter, you know that the Ed Camp model is the preferred method of professional learning nowadays and I wanted to bring that to my District.

To me, the idea of choosing my own topics, having a discussion around a topic which involves the sharing of ideas vs having to listen to someone at the front of the room show me things I already know is ideal.  The Edcamp “Law of Two Feet” whereby you let your legs do the walking and go to another session is also appealing as I have wanted to do that so many times at conferences.

But that’s me.

When I shared the model with my awesome 21C Board team, some of whom had never heard of it, a few of them were hesitant and a little skeptical.  They brought up good points:

  • What about the learner who doesn’t know what they don’t know?
  • What about the learner who is just beginning on their journey to integrate technology and needs time to consolidate and a place for hands on practice?
  • If we invite everyone, then will the people there get excited by tools not in our District’s ecosystem which we have been trying hard to establish?
  • Can the Law of Two feet actually prevent a learning opportunity?  If I don’t give a session enough time, move on to the next, and then the next, might I get nothing at all out of that session?

All very valid.  I have to admit, I was a little disappointed that the EdCamp wouldn’t run as I had envisioned it in my head, but in the end, we went with a blended model which honoured the contributions and concerns of our team and the needs of the system–with a few added flourishes.

21C Camp 2016:  What we did

  • We opted for a 1/2 day of learning rather than a full one
  • We chose to limit participation to our District (so we actually could not use the kit that was offered to us by edcamp.org)
  • Participants indicated what they wanted to learn and what they wanted to share when they walked in and sessions were created based on this
  • We allotted ample time to network in between sessions and had food and coffee 🙂
  • Participants were encouraged to use the Law of Two Feet
  • We had student keynotes happening while the sessions were being organized
  • We had included in the registration link an optional beginner Google Apps for Education stream for participants who wished to use their time that way
  • We had prizes and a button maker (just for fun)

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What really worked

Student Keynotes

We had three very different student presentations.  Adam Goldbloom (grade 9) showed us how Google Apps for Education have helped him become more organized and a better student despite his learning disability.  Daniel Masci (grade 9) and June Wi (grade 12) showed us the power of Robotics and how it connects to subjects they are studying.  And finally, Aidan Aird, (grade 11) spoke about how he has capitalized on social media to spread the word about students doing remarkable work in the area of STEM using his Developing Innovations website.

Not only did the students present, but Aidan led a session and Adam contributed in another one.  This really added to the day and I would highly recommend adding student voice to your next event.  We plan to have student Ignites at our next Ed Tech event in March.

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A Beginner Stream

Despite the fact that this is contrary to the Ed Camp model, and I didn’t want to add this at first, I am glad we did because this was a good idea.  Having a place for people to go to get their questions answered in a very hands on and practical way is essential for some learners.  The session itself revolved around what participants needed to know, but the format was very much a show-and-practice approach which really benefitted many of the participants who had never been to a Saturday learning day/ Ed Camp and who really needed to learn by doing.  The people who attended the beginner stream loved it.  They stayed in the same place for the whole morning and really felt confident that they could try something when they returned to school.

Prizes and a Button Maker: The Fun Factor

Doug Peterson insisted that prizes are a must, so we pounded the pavement and got some great prizes which built a buzz of excitement throughout the day.  Also, we thought it would be fun if participants could make their own buttons!  We borrowed a button maker from a local school and when it came without instructions, tried to figure it out!  Three of us jumped up and down for joy when we created our first button (after about 5 failed attempts).  In the spirit of making and fun, we decided we would include the button maker, without instructions for participants to play with throughout the morning.

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Reflection and New Learning

At one point I was sitting in on a discussion about the merits of Google Classroom vs our Board’s virtual Learning environment, Desire to Learn. It was a wonderful combination of discussion, showcasing of information, asking questions: essentially what an Edcamp session should look like.  And yet, I noticed one participant who kept trying to create a Google Classroom and being quite frustrated.  Her body language spoke volumes and I approached her at the end of the session. She wanted someone to take her through it.    She told me that she gave up her Saturday to learn, and though having a discussion about the topic was great, she wanted to be able to have something she could go back and try on Monday.

This was an aha moment for me.  You see, I am the type of learner who would go back home, create my Google Classroom, and if I got stuck, Google it.  But I need to remember that not every learner is like this–not that they won’t be some day–but at this moment in time, their needs are very different from mine. Let’s be honest–if teacher is going to give up a day out of her weekend, she should have a learning experience that fully meets her needs.

I sat and showed her what to do and told her that if she thought her time would be better spent consolidating her learning, that she NOT go to her last session.  Instead, I directed her to an empty room where she could just work on it.   If I hadn’t noticed her body language or been at that session, she would likely have left the day dissatisfied with her learning experience.

Next time, I would incorporate into the day a room for people to go to consolidate their learning with a facilitator there to help trouble shoot.

We take participant feedback very seriously.  The comments below affirmed our team’s own reflections and will inform our next steps.

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And so…

It really was a great day of learning and mostly everyone who came loved it…but I truly believe there are no absolutes in Education (or in life).  The EdCamp model works so well for me because I am a connected Educator who regularly converses about educational issues and I have been dabbling in Ed Tech for many years.  Like the students in our classes, District leaders need to remember that people might need different entry points.  No group should feel alienated when it comes to professional learning; it is the role of the District to provide learning opportunities that meet the needs of all learners.  I am grateful to my team for suggesting the changes, and I am glad that as the lead organizer I was not so arrogant not to listen.

When we run our next Ed Tech event on March 5th, we will be able to take the best of this and other previous events and hopefully create a learning opportunity that is even more awesome!

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