After hearing/ reading the unrelenting enthusiasm of my colleagues who have attended ‘edcamps’ and ‘unconferences,’ I determined I needed to experience this phenomenon for myself. Could it really be that everyone who attended these events got exactly what they wanted and more? People who had experienced unconference-style events reported feeling professionally satisfied, respected and invigorated.
My attitude is generally pretty ‘glass-half-full…’ maybe even mostly full. This however, seemed too good to be true. I’ve watched enough late night infomercials to know that when something sounds like a win-win, and costs only 4 easy payments of $49.95 (a much better deal than $200)- your best move is to change the channel.
I’ve tested that theory a few times just to be sure, and my juicer, food dehydrator and wavy hair-maker all insist- my theory is correct (too good to be true). In the name of research however, I thought I should look a little more deeply into this idea of no-cost, participant led, free-learning that everyone was raving about.
My research told me that the closest edcamp event to me wasn’t until August, so I needed to get creative if I was going to get to the bottom of all this hype.
I decided my colleagues’ constant quest for knowledge, might provide an opportunity to bring the research specimen directly to me! Some of my (amazing) colleagues had been exposed to a variety of tech tools while coaching around the state this year- and their interest was peaked. “I just need time to sit and let someone show me this without pressure,” said one coach as she was getting to know Drop Box. Another asked again, “Can’t we just put some time aside so that the people who are using Twitter can help the rest of us get started? They’re learning so much!” The teacher in me heard: “I am ready- teach me now!” The conspiracy theorist in me wondered, “did someone pay them to ask that? Are they like the live studio audience at the taping of an infomercial?” Nevertheless, my wheels were turning!
The teacher in me won out. I networked with two other coaches to explore how we might utilize an unconference style format to meet the very diverse learning interests of our colleagues. We took our cues from David Wees, who has posted valuable details about Edcamp Vancouver, and linked to Kristen Swanson’s TED talk about organizing Edcamp Philly.
Shawn Rubin, who organizes EdCampRI (which is coming up in October-yes!!), was also key in supporting the event by sharing his insight and reflections, as we found ourselves looking for answers. It’s so helpful to talk to someone who has done something before, pick their brain about the logistics you just don’t read about in an article or blog post, and breathe a sigh of relief, realizing it’ll all work out. And it did!
Our unconference was small- about 35 participants in all. But, it yielded some serious learning. You can see pictures and comments Tweeted that day on our Storify.
Upon reflection, it seems like those educators who told me how great their experiences at unconferences were telling the truth… I guess they weren’t paid actors, like I suspect everyone in the studio audience of an infomercial is. I shouldn’t be surprised. Educators are dying to learn new strategies to engage students and families… on their own terms! Engagement at the unconference was high- really high. At one point, we tried to interrupt learning to transition to the next session… and it just didn’t happen. No one wanted to stop their learning conversation for a minute. For me- that was the highlight of the day! My brain was fried when the day was over. I learned SO much. And, I’ve been playing with the new tools and tricks I picked up that day…a lot.
Unfortunately, not everyone who wanted to attend was able. In fact, a few people who we really wanted to share this experience with, couldn’t make it on June 26- which was kind of a bummer. Then, though people started asking, “when’s the next one?” which led us to wonder if there might be a next one. Maybe my research isn’t done yet. Maybe June 26th is a little like the first month I had my juicer, before it was relegated to the way back of the cabinet to collect dust. I should probably experience more unconferences before I draw any conclusions. And maybe, I should dust off that juicer in the meantime.