Professional development (PD) opportunities for educators today are still relatively limited to seasonal workshops and conferences. While this can be the preferred model for district administrators when looking at continuing education requirements, teachers are finding ways shake up the idea of traditional ongoing professional learning opportunities.
“We’ve all been there: A mind-numbing, passive, professional development session that aims to fill up your mind with knowledge and expertise. Quite often, these types of experiences leave you drowsy and uninspired,” says Edcamp Founder Kristen Swanson.
In November 2009, Swanson attended a Barcamp where she met educators equally interested in changing the traditional workshop paradigm. Months later, in May 2010, they launched their first-ever Edcamp, an unconference for educators, at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA.
Edcamps, which are free of vendors or sales pitches, deliver learning opportunities for educators based on open space technology (OST), which means learning is spontaneous without pre-organized sessions or content. Any attendee can schedule a session to present based upon the input from all attendees.
“Edcamps strive to provide space for teachers to learn from each other. They give everyone a voice and a forum to explore new ideas and strategies,” says Swanson.
Edcamps are largely based on local relationships and cooperation developed through social networking, says Swanson. Social networks like Twitter, Wikispaces, and Facebook provide a cost-effective way to organize and publicize an event.
“Since Edcamps are free by design, they draw people together for face-to-face interactions. These types of interactions help teachers to build relationships with colleagues facing similar challenges in similar systems. This makes the learning opportunity uniquely different from traditional ‘sit and get’ workshops or widely dispersed online professional development programs.”
Social networking is also key during the event, says Swanson. Many educators live tweet or blog throughout the sessions, which encourages virtual participants to attend the events remotely.
“The use of social media has really put the power in the hands of educators when it comes to organizing, publicizing, and participating in crowd-sourced learning events,” says Swanson.
The first meeting was a smashing hit. Today, Edcamp has been held on more than 50 occasions in the United States, Canada, Chile, and Sweden.
“I simply cannot believe how many people are interested in replicating this type of event for their local educators,” says Swanson. “I am always most inspired by the wisdom and expertise of my colleagues in Edcamp sessions.”
“There is so much that I can learn from other teachers facing related challenges. Teachers today have gotten a bad rap in the media,” says Swanson. “There is a vibrant community of passionate educators that really care about kids.”
Some states are adapting to these new professional learning or leadership meet-ups like Edcamp by introducing “Learning Forward” professional development standards. Edcamp events assist in the practical implementation of these standards, says Swanson.
While open learning opportunities like Edcamp and similar events like Teachmeet, Edubloggercon, and Podcamp grow in popularity, there will always be a place for more directed forms of professional development, says Swanson.
“Well-designed professional development programs offer learners with a continuum of opportunities. For example, a school district could offer teachers peer coaching, Edcamp experiences, and critical friend groups,” says Swanson. “Supporters of Edcamp realize that there are many different formats that have value.”
Any educator, parent, or administrator passionate about professional development in education can become and Edcamper.