EdCamp: an Unconference

EdCamp is a new professional development tool for educators that’s centered on an event known as an “unconference.” The unconference was conceived by technology professionals in 2005 for a Silicon Valley event known as BarCamp. Since then, the notion of an unconference has evolved to encompass any ad-hoc gathering that allows people with similar interests to come together for presentations, workshops, performances, demonstrations and discussions. The schedule for an unconference is typically created the morning of the event with all attendees free to contribute to the design of sessions.

How does an unconference operate? Unlike most professional conferences, an unconference is free of charge (the cost of the facility and other miscellaneous costs like T-shirts are covered by sponsors). On the day of the event, everyone who’s interested in leading a session posts an index card on the conference schedule board. The number of sessions is only limited by the size of the facility. The event organizers hold a quick kick-off meeting to convene the conference and then the sessions begin. Participants may attend any sessions they want and are encouraged to move between sessions to find topics that hold their interest. Participant discussion and networking between sessions is an integral part of an unconference.

The open participatory unconference model was first applied to education in 2010 at EdCamp Philly, an unconference dedicated to K-12 issues and ideas. According to blogger Mary Beth Hertz, an elementary school computer teacher and one of the organizers of EdCamp Philly, EdCamp sessions typically range from basic conversations about teaching methods to sharing student projects to discussions on how to use technology in the classroom. While edcamps don’t necessarily focus on technology, the use of  technology to share information is integral to the EdCamp experience.

EdCamps have been described as organic participant-driven professional development. Because attendance is voluntary, there is a great deal of commitment, enthusiasm and excitement among EdCamp participants. One of the best things about EdCamp is that there is no established hierarchy between presenters and attendees, allowing a greater exchange of ideas. This flattened hierarchy empowers educators to take control of their own professional development and grow their personal learning network.

Not only teachers can benefit from the EdCamp experiences. Administrators can get a fresh perspective about teaching issues and see methodologies that they can take back to their own schools. They can also network with administrators from other schools and school districts. Many EdCamp organizers hope that inviting administrators to EdCamps will encourage school districts to adopt the unconference model to support educator-driven professional development and learning.

If you’re an educator who’s interested in learning more about the benefits of EdCamp, Mary Beth Hertz’s article on Edutopia is a good place to start. Next, check out the Teachmeet/Edcamp Organizer Group on The Educator’s PLN. Another resource is the EdCamp Wiki, a planning space for EdCamps, and a place for educators to connect and share ideas. You can also plug into the Twitter chat by using the #EdCamp hashtag.

Interest in the unconference model for professional development has grown rapidly since the first EdCamp was held in Philadelphia in May of 2010. According to the Edcamp Foundation, 21 EdCamps were held around the world in 2011 and at least 92 are scheduled for 2012.

Here are some of the EdCamps that will be taking place in the United States over the next few months:

A more detailed calendar of upcoming events can be found on the EdCamp Wiki.