As educators gear up for a new school year, they’ll be doing some learning of their own in professional development workshops and sessions. Unfortunately, district and school-based professional development is often described as tiresome and irrelevant, but there are alternatives. One of these alternatives that’s quickly catching on is an Edcamp “unconference”—the antidote to mandated professional development.
Edcamps are free, organic, one-day, participant-driven professional development gatherings organized by educators for educators. Typically held on Saturdays in educational facilities, Edcamps have no pre-set presentation schedule, nor any pre-selected presenters. Instead, participants volunteer to facilitate conversations and hands-on activities among peers.
The first Edcamp was organized in Philadelphia in 2010 by a team of like-minded educators who were frustrated by one-size-fits-all, passive-learning professional development experiences. Inspired by Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, the originators felt that their intrinsic motivation for self-directed learning was a more powerful incentive for professional development than district imposed “sit-and-git” training. They first met at another unconference for people in the local technology community, called BarCamp, to share their best practices and brainstorm solutions to common problems in education. It was there that the idea of the first Edcamp was conceived.
The current Edcamp schedule lists 164 events, starting with the original Edcamp Philly in May 2010 and running through February 2013. Some districts, like Burlington Public Schools in Massachusetts, have adopted the model for weekly professional development meetings—strictly voluntary, and open to all. While most Edcamps are organized regionally, some target specific audiences, such as superintendents, principals, a specific discipline like art or social studies, or a theme—like Edcamp CommonCore. There are even rumors of an upcoming Edcamp organized and facilitated by students—a vehicle for honest dialog between educators and students, education’s most important stakeholders.
Edcamps generally follow a similar timeline. An event is organized, registration opens (some fill up fast), and an online sharing space (where participants can initiate conversations about topics of interest before the event, post content for sessions during the event, and comment about discussions afterwards) is created. Here is a typical schedule for an Edcamp: