Not an edcamp. Not a conference. What I’m proposing is right in the middle.

I’m a huge fan of the edcamp model–Educators voluntarily getting together face-to-face on a Saturday morning to talk about how to make learning and teaching better? Are you kidding me? I’m THERE!

I’d go to an edcamp just to see all the people, and it’s just an added bonus that there are quality learning opportunities and an energy that’s positive and right near electric. You don’t always get that everywhere.

You won’t find too many haters at an edcamp. You have to want to be there.

You have to want to learn, grow, and experience.

In the spring of 2016, I initiated a conversation with Wake County Public School System’s Senior Director of Instructional Technology and Media Services. Immediately, Marlo Gaddis approved my request to relocate #EdcampWake from central office to a school. From there, my friend Melanie Farrell and I formed an Edcamp Wake planning team. Together, the entire team created Wake County’s first school-based edcamp. From planning all the details with Melanie and the team to experiencing the event coming in to fruition–Wow! The administrative view from above the umbrella was definitely quite a different landscape than when navigating an unconference as an attendee. Hats off to the entire team (most of whom are pictured below) as I still look back on our journey with very fond memories.

More importantly, I’m so happy to see the tradition continue

Having attended more than twenty edcamps across North Carolina, and even a few out of state, I’ve experienced some trends that are consistent everywhere. Noteworthy to me, especially while helping plan a few edcamps and being consulted for a few more:

For most educators attending edcamp–It’s their first one.

It’s true. I’d estimate that 50-75% of all edcamp attendees are rookies. Recently, I was tagged in a few growing, ongoing twitter threads centered around this question:

How do we keep veteran edcamp goers returning?

From those discussions featuring several claims and counterclaims, at least four schools of thought emerged:

1–Big Names Draw Big Crowds.

Claim: There should be some famous people there to lead at least one session. For example, if educators knew for sure that:

Big crowds would be there!

Counter-Claims: Aren’t we supposed to check our titles at the door? Is edcamp really about big names? Does it matter if edcamps draw big crowds? Isn’t it about the learning?

2–Structuring Sets Clear Expectations.

Claim: If we plan at least half the session board topics before edcamp, attendees will have understanding of what’s being offered. This will make learning more intentional and meaningful.

Counter-Claims: Edcamp should be participant-driven–NOT organized top-down. Edcamp is not about structure, it’s about organic freedom to move about freely matching learning opportunities to your needs.

3–Students Lead the Way. 

Claim: Students should organize and lead edcamp. After all, our entire mission of service is all about the kids!

Counter-Claims: This might not work well in the planning stages. Educators are with kids all week–Don’t they get enough opportunities to inquire and realize what students want during the day? Edcamp is time for adults to learn and play.

4–Less Is More.

Claim: Two things that affect successful edcamps: time and location. There are too many small, individual edcamps. We need fewer, larger edcamps where we join our efforts to make the experience meaningful for all.

Counter-Claims: Most educators won’t drive too far from home on a Saturday morning. If you have to drive too far, rookies won’t attend. If you have it in your own backyard, veterans have been-there-done-that with the same ideas, and they won’t attend. We need fresh ideas!

My Thoughts

  • Even on one planning team, there can be many different views on how to interpret and implement the right kind of edcamp.
  • I know it goes against the pure edcamp model, but what if we had a learning experience that was a combination of all the above? A few famous educators speaking during sessions; one student-led panel session; half the session board planned, half organically selected onsite; and all in a centrally-located venue.
  • I’ve heard so much about the famous #EdcampElon as one of the first and greatest ones ever in North Carolina, but I missed it! Can we replicate it?

  • Ultimately, everything we do is about making learning and teaching better for kids.
  • We could revamp edcamp, or, maybe we should just let it be?