Today we take a look at a new trend in teacher professional development: Edcamps.

The Edcamp Foundation, a 3-year-old non-profit based in Wilmington, Delaware, helps other individuals and organizations host “unconferences” where participants collaborate to exchange ideas and learn together. Unlike traditional conferences, where workshop schedules are set long before the start of the event, Edcamp agendas are created the day of the conference by the participants themselves. There are no prepared “presentations,” rather participants volunteer to lead sessions on the spot once the agenda is set. All sessions are meant to allow professionals to build knowledge together by sharing expertise and answering their own questions. Edcamps are also free, while other conferences can cost hundreds of dollars to attend, and there are no sponsors (like textbook or curriculum companies) there to sell you on their products. There have been over 250 Edcamps in the past 3 years. Here is a summary of the differences:

In essence, Edcamps are professional learning experiences of, by, and for teachers. They assume that teachers are self-directed, competent learners. They assume that professional development can be empowering if it is organic and driven by our desires, passions, and questions. What a powerful idea.

Participants generally spend the first hour or so of the “unconference” building the agenda by suggesting and voting on session topics. While some participants feel strongly about a topic and decide to lead a session, others “vote with their feet” and are free to travel from session to session to meet their own needs and interests. There is usually a lot of break-out space so that pods of participants can follow a line of inquiry or continue conversations outside the scheduled agenda as well. See a sample agenda board from one EdCamp unconference below:

What are typical sessions about? It’s hard to say. Because topics are participant-driven and sessions are participant-led, each Edcamp is unique and different. Edcamper Kristen Swanson offered this list of sample topics from various Edcamps in her blog on Edutopia.

  • “Engagement, Respect and Reciprocity in Public/Private School Partnerships” by Chris Thinnes at Edcamp LA 2013 (@curtisCFEE)
  • “We Taught Sixth Graders Quantum Physics with Dance” by Miller Rothlein at Edcamp Philly 2012
  • “How to Address Privacy and One’s Digital DNA” by Nancy Sharoff and Beth Knittle at Edcamp Boston 2012 (@nsharoff and @bknittle)
  • “Design Thinking and Innovation” by Don Buckley at Edcamp New York City 2012
  • “Writing in the Digital Age” by Toshi Carleton at Edcamp Leadership British Columbia 2012

Although the Edcamp foundation offers support for organizers of Edcamp experiences, ultimately individuals and institutions choose to develop and host these events. Edcamp connects these hosts to resources, including “how to” guides, organizers’ checklists, and ways to fundraise for an event. They also encourage collaboration amongst like-minded people in the same geographic area by encouraging organizers to use Twitter and other social media outlets (their wikispaces page included) to find co-organizers and participants.

Tweets, blogs, email blasts, and Facebook event pages are often the primary marketing tools of Edcamps. So if you’re looking for one in your area, you may have the most luck searching this way (#EdCamps), or by checking the Edcamps wiki page regularly. Take a look at the list of upcoming Edcamps here.

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