Next week I’m heading up to Oshkosh, Wisconsin for edCamp Oshkosh.
What is edCamp? Sometimes called an “unconference,” edCamp is a grassroots professional development movement for educators. There are no pre-set topics. Attendees decide what they want to explore and then they do it, drawing on the expertise and experiences of those gathered. The topics tend to be geared toward technology, but that’s understandable given that edCamps are publicized mostly through social media sites. (Teachers who use social media for professional development are more likely to know about and attend edCamps and are more likely to be interested in tech-related topics.) edCamps are free. That’s right. No one pays to attend edCamp. edCamp is funded when organizers recruit sponsors, usually technology and educational product companies who provide door prizes, refreshments, and other swagalicious commodities.
Why am I going to edCamp? Well, I’m interested in the edCamp format as a professional development platform. This will be my first in-person exposure to it, although I’ve followed various other edCamps through Twitter hashtags. I’ve seen some toxic professional development set-ups based on top-down mandates and tightly-scripted reporting requirements, so I’m excited to attend edCamp because it throws out all of that. Everyone at edCamp wants to be there.
I’ve also seen some well-intentioned PD experiences derailed when registration fees are deemed too expensive by decision-makers or potential attendees, or when programming glitches leave conference-goers dissatisfied. Again, edCamp theoretically overcomes those obstacles because there are no registration fees and the programming is determined by the attendees.
Another big draw for me is the chance to hang out for a day with enthusiastic educators. My on-site colleague Shawn McCusker will be there. My Twitter pal Joy Kirr will be there. And one of the organizers of edCamp Oshkosh is Jeff See, a teammate from the English Companion Ning Webstitute series. I’ve exchanged dozens of messages with Jeff and spent hours on camera with him while planning and delivering those online extravaganzas, but we’ve never been in the same room at the same time. It’s nice to attend a conference and already know some of the other people there.
What do I hope to learn? As with any conference, I hope to be inspired and informed by what happens there. What can I learn that I can bring back to my classes in a few weeks to help my students? What new technology works smoothly and supports the literacy goals I have for my students.
I’m also interested in what I can learn from the edCamp format to help plan other PD experiences. Can some of the benefits and advantages of edCamp be applied to traditional conferences and online professional development designs?
As publicity chair for the Illinois Association of Teachers of English, part of my job is to figure out how to get the attention of Illinois English teachers and provide them with new ideas, opportunities to exchange information, and various platforms for discussing important issues, all with an eye toward cost-effectiveness. Does the edCamp format provide any possibilities for IATE to consider?
Because I’m asked or selected to give presentations at traditional conferences from time to time, I’m always looking for ways to make those sessions more helpful and entertaining. What can the edCamp format show me that I can put to use in those situations?
There is also this little wrinkle: I’m on standby jury duty for the day before edCamp Oshkosh. Civic duty comes first, of course, but I’ll be disappointed if my trip north is scuttled by it. Never mind about that. I’ll find a way. Do you want to go too? As of this writing, there are a still some registrations available.