The EdCamp Movement: What are Teachers Seeking — and for What Purpose?
November 27, 2011 by Paul W. Bennett
Four questions are asked by Mr. Bennett at the end of his article:
1. Why is the EdCAmp Movement gaining some traction among teachers in the public education system?
2. What are young and enthusiastic teachers really looking for — and what do they need to improve their craft?
3. Why do so many EdCamp participants emerge from the sessions describing it as their “best PD experience ever’?
4. If that is so, are we blowing millions on PD for teachers that has little or no actual impact on the quality of, or passion for, teaching?
I have put the questions first, rather than last. I do so with the intention of establishing the effect of encouraging the reader to ask: “In the text that follows, are the questions answered, thus making the questions redundant when asked at the end of the text, or are the questions genuinely raised by the reading of the article?”
This question is significant because it sheds light on the writer’s purpose. If the intent was to shed light on something that had received little attention, then we have one reading of the text.
If, on the other hand, the writer’s intent is to raise a legitimate criticism, then we have yet another reading of the text.
As in most cases, the readers are left to draw their own conclusions.
So, before we read, let me put the question to you:
Is this article meant to “praise Edcamp” (my quotation marks), or is this article meant to “ridicule Edcamp”? Hence the title: “To Edcamp, or Not to Edcamp”?
Now, it is fair for you to ask me, “How did I read this article?”
Answer: I found the answer to lie somewhere closer to the middle, and not near the extremes. What that means, of course, is that some praise was given, and that some criticism was given.
For me, that’s consistent with what I understand Edcamp to be about, namely, it’s what you make of it.
You, the participant, actively engaged – fired up, investing of yourself, giving and sharing knowledge, networking, establishing professional relationships that endure beyond the day of Edcamp.
On the other hand, there’s you, the observer, passive, waiting for something to come your way, for the “apple to fall off the tree, hit you on the head, and reveal the secret of gravity to you.
That’s Edcamp. Be active and engaged, you have a great experience.
Be passive, waiting for Super Guru to enlighten you, and most likely you will be disappointed with the Edcamp concept.
No, I’ve never attended an Edcamp before. That’s the honest truth.
I’ve read a lot about Edcamps.
I’ve watched a lot of Edcamp video footage.
Jerry Cybraryman has a storehouse, a veritable encyclopedia on the topic. (Jerry Cybraryman is a mythological creature from Edcamp Citrus fame…) No, here’s the citation:
@cybraryman1: Jerry Blumengarten
Educator & Writer trying to catalog the internet for students, educators and parents. http://cybraryman.com
Further, I also curate the topic with ScoopIt.
And, yes, I almost forgot.
I not only attended Barcamp Santiago 2011, but I also was a presenter and actively live-blogged and microblogged (Twitter: @EdcampSantiago) the Round-Table.
And I’ve been involved in planning Edcamp Santiago, from the very beginning until the present day.
So fair enough, I know something, but I’m no expert.
My conclusion: Edcamp is what you make of it…
An EdCamp Movement is spreading rapidly across the United States and beginning to pop-up in various places in Canada. Since the first EdCamp in Philadelphia in May 2009, a series of one-day unconferences have been held attracting flocks of mostly younger teachers and IT zealots aspiring to be “21st century educators.”
So far, over sixty-four such ‘open concept’ gatherings have been held across North America, including events in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec City. http://edcamp.wikispaces.com/
Apostles (???) of the EdCamp Movement see building these constellations of teachers as the gateway to “revolutionary professional learning” and potentially ‘The Next Great Thing’ in education.
What’s inspiring the EdCamp Movement?
When asked, Dan Callahan, a recognized Co-Founder and Grade 6 LS /IT teacher, provides a rather blunt answer: “Most PD stinks!” http://dancallahan.net/about-geekteacher
Dan (aka The Geek Teacher) is definitely not alone in trashing what North American school districts inflict on teachers as many as 10 days each school year. It’s also a particularly damning criticism, given the millions of dollars poured each year into “in-servicing” the nation’s teachers.
Professional Development (or PD) has long been a dirty word for many regular teachers, essentially something done to them rather than with them.
Initiators of EdCamps like Mary Beth Hertz (Philadelphia) and M.E. Steele-Pierce (Cincinnati) seek to create “powerful experiences” that actually meet the needs and interests of classroom teachers. “Unconferences,” Steele-Pierce believes, ” are part of the learning revolution.
They’re participant driven professional learning gatherings.” http://plpnetwork.com/2011/03/07/unconference-revolutionary-professional-learning/
Organizers of EdCamps go to great lengths to ensure that, like the British BarCamps, the events provide “an ad hoc gathering born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment.”
All EdCamps are free to participants, non-commercial, organized in an initial morning session, and count upon participants to be presenters. They appeal to the tech-savvy because they are created in Wikispace and all feature live blogging and tweeting to spread the word to the wider community.
EdCamps were started initially as teacher-driven, crowd-sourced gatherings, but have now been adopted by new wave “21st century educators” such as Vancouver’s David Wees.
(“Is this personal? – I wonder..)
Some Canadian EdCamps have become fronts for the rump of the “progressive” movement in public education.
In Toronto, the EdCamp held October 15, 2011 at York University was actually conceived and spearheaded by Stephen Hurley, the official blogger for the Canadian Education Association.
The Toronto EdCamp was captured (what other word could have been used instead of “captured“) on video and posted on the Wikispace site, just like the original EdCamp Philly. http://www.edcampto.org/
While billed as being inclusive, the York University event attracted a crowd of mostly wide-eyed young teachers, education professors, and faculty of education students looking for their first jobs.
(for me, a free event is about as inclusive as you can get)
“Doing your own Thing” at a PD session was something of a revelation to the most zealous participants, far too young to remember Summerhill, the Hall-Dennis Report, or the sixties.
Critics (secret critics???) of the EdCamps see the Movement as the progeny of educational idealists and “21st century” IT promoters seeking a kind of escape from the recent era of educational standards, testing, and accountability. (since when does a one-day, voluntary particpatory event qualify as an escape?? wondering again…)
Even veteran teacher activists like Doug Little of The Little Education Report remain skeptical of what looked much like a “summer camp” for grown-ups. (a one-day summer camp??? by the time you have lunch it’s time to start packing for the trip back home )
Most Ontario parents, including Annie Kidder and People for Education, find themselves on the outside looking-in during the camp meetings.
(strange…educators not making parents feel like they belong in a conversation about education – thank God it only happens in Ontario)
Long-time education reformers like Malkin Dare, founder of the Canadian Society for Quality Education, do not look kindly on the core philosophy and implicit purpose of EdCamps.
“My preference would be for teachers who went to conferences to learn how to hone their teaching of basic – and not-so-basic – skills and knowledge,” she recently wrote.
(Hmm…was she also in Ontario?) (In defense of Ontario, they were doing, whatever they did, on their free time…)
” Personally, I would rather that my children’s teachers didn’t view themselves as change agents, for I see this as an attempt to tamper with the parents’ job, nor do I believe that children should be allowed to determine what they learn – since this approach will inevitably leave random gaps in what should be a solid foundation.”
(What were they doing in Ontario – trying to change things? Everyone knows you are not supposed to change things. After all, things have been the way they are now for the past 100 years and it worked out really well for everyone, didn’t it? Don’t change the system… )
What? What about Finland?
Oh, there you go with Finland. They’re special. There are only about 5 million Finns and a few immigrants (it’s cold – very few people actually immigrate there – there’s lots of time to read in the long, dark, cold winter months – about 10 months – though).
OK, by now, my position on the article is crystral clear. I find the article to be biased, and I don’t know why. If this were a courtroom. I would say that the Edcamp concept, as I have come to understand it – did not receive a fair trial – and I’m being civil.
However, I caution those who have enjoyed my use of humor. There were four questions asked.
Four truths were told. I would urge every educator who participates in an Edcamp to be able to answer those four questions for yourself, on an individual basis.
And yes, to conclude, it’s quite all right if your answers differ from mine. They are supposed to – that’s the core concept of Edcamp, namely, the experience is what you make of it. There are no guarantees…
Finally, I apologize in advance to anyone who feels anything I’ve said, or hinted at, was inappropriate or off-base.
The apology I offer is as sincere as the humor I used to make my points. And now, the question remains: “To Edcamp, or Not to Edcamp, that’s the question?”
In Santiago, we will Edcamp on January 14, 2012, beginning at 9:00 a.m.
Where the place?
Universidad Mayor, Av. Manuel Montt 367, (Metro Manuel Montt).
It’s FREE. Totally free. Space is limited, so get your tickets early – like now.
We look forward to meeting you, sharing our stories with you, learning from you, sharing what we know, and forming lasting professional relationships which ultimately benefit our students.
Oh, by the way, everyone is invited. Parents, students, teachers, future teachers – everyone is included.
Here’s the link for your FREE tickets: http://www.eventbis.com/edcamp