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EdTech & Design, Opinion, Promising Practices, Teaching

The EdCamp Explosion

Taking it to the next level

EdCamps are a great way for the Twitteratti to meet face-to-face for a good old fashioned dialogue and to cement their PLN relationships, but is that all there is?  In my last post I expressed some concerns about the quality, continuity and cumulative impact of this exciting new movement.  How can the potential be consolidated so that EdCamps can take it to the next level rather than plateau and fade like so many promising innovations before them?

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CC photo by: kjarrett

I don’t profess to have the magic sauce – that needs to come from the participants themselves – and I do realize that there is no prototypical EdCamp – they vary greatly – but I do want to venture some modest proposals based on my own experience.  Perhaps they would be good discussion starters for EdCamps!

If a teacher were planning for a discussion in class s/he would generally not just leave it to chance, but rather use some strategy intended to focus and deepen it.  This probably happens in some EdCamp discussions but it really should be the norm.  Of course, a wide open exploration can also be productive, but as a steady diet it generally fails to make progress.  How about a debate, perhaps structured something like an Academic Controversy (as in Beyond Manet) or something modeled on the Final Word strategy in which every participant has a chance to speak prior to the open forum.  Why not break into four small groups and then reform in the middle of the session into 4 groups representing all the originals for a report from each participant on the first half discussion in order to spark a second half that extends from the first?  Or Think-Pair-Share perhaps.

These are random examples.  Teachers have many more, probably better, ways to make sure that all participants are heard and that the discussion is neither dominated by strong voices nor prematurely channeled.  Almost anything is better than just letting ‘er rip.

Moreover, even an illuminating and energizing discussion can lose steam when it starts going in circles, so it might also be useful to think about how EdCamps can build on previous discussions rather than repeating them in essentially similar form?  My fellow blogger, Stephen Hurley, tells me that he has been to an EdCamp that had an identified “harvesting committee” to gather ideas from the discussions and report on the essence.  Perhaps this could be archived in some manner; maybe a Wiki that allows the discussion to extend to those who could not attend and provides a foundation for the next EdCamp.

Might there be a #chat, or perhaps several, prior to an EdCamp to get the conversation going and then some sessions at the EdCamp that used those chats as fodder for more in depth discussion.

In the absence of discussion strategies that deepen the dialogue and provide for some continuity over time, I fear that EdCamps will continue to be popular social gatherings but not have the cumulative impact that they might – and should.  It would be a shame to stop here, so what do you think might be done to build on this promising beginning to a more democratic approach to professional development?

And, I suppose the corollary question is, what is it about traditional approaches to pro-d that fail to meet some teachers’ needs, which is what has led to the spontaneous emergence of this new “flatter” form of discourse?  Perhaps while we innovate to enhance EdCamps we can also learn from them and apply those lessons to improve our traditional practices.

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Bruce Beairsto

Retired school superintendent, educational consultant and adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University

Bruce Beairsto is a retired school superintendent, educational consultant and adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University.

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