“Anyone can learn tech skills, but not everyone has the heart of a teacher,” a superb classroom teacher at my school recently shared with me. And, I entirely agree. It was that sentiment that motivated us at The Solomon Schechter School of Queens alongside Jedcamp to sponsor an Edcamp inspired Educational Technology and Social Media Conference.
We weren’t “officially” an edcamp. Instead, we danced at the edge of edcamp style learning, striving to meet the needs of educators who are not yet comfortable in the world of professional learning networks and unconferences; educators for whom the thought of attending a conference, or rather an unconference, without knowing what sessions are being offered in advance still sounds foreign. Sensing that some of our teachers with great heart might be suspicious of coming out to a learning experience without knowing topics in advance and might feel tentative and insecure around the networked crowd to which our local unconferences have primarily appealed, our school’s educational technology coach Rebecca Penina Simon and I sought to bridge the gap.
As shared on the Edcamp Foundation wiki, Edcamps are:
- non-commercial and conducted with a vendor-free presence
- hosted by any organization interested in furthering the edcamp mission
- made up of sessions that are determined on the day of the event
- events where anyone who attends can be a presenter
- reliant on the “law of two feet” that encourages participants to find a session that meets their needs
Our learning experience was free, non-commercial, interested in furthering the edcamp mision (to support free edcamp unconferences for educators to exchange ideas and learn together) as well as the edcamp vision (to promote organic, participant-driven professional development for K-12 educators worldwide), and reliant on the “law of two feet” that encourages participants to find a session that meets their needs. We broadly recruited presenters and welcomed all who volunteered to lead sessions. However, veering from the edcamp style unconference, we determined and advertised sessions in advance. In addition to sharing information about the conference via social media, we placed an ad in our local newspaper and asked regional schools to share information about the conference with their teachers. We sought to include topics connected to educational technology and social media that would appeal to educators in a wide range of roles and with diverse comfort levels and experience using educational technology and social media.
The registrations poured in. 106 educators signed up in advance and, on a cold Wednesday night in Queens, NY, close to 100 educators actually showed up; battling icy roads, traffic, and in many cases one if not two bridges. Some were teachers in our own school, energized by a style of participatory learning to which they had never before been exposed. Some were members of our own professional learning networks with whom we speak on twitter and Facebook and whose blogs we read. Yet, many were educators whose names we did not yet recognize. We networked, connected, collaborated, shared, and learned together.
Our conference was one of a series annual events for #jedcampnjny, an effort among Jewish educators in the greater New York area to extend edcamps from one-shot learning experiences into a community of learners within our regional schools, connected via regular face to face activities as well as on-line engagement.
So, what was the biggest complaint of our teachers at the end of the conference? Too little time, too much to learn! What was their recommendation? Let’s have more such conferences in the future. Let’s hold them not on a week night, but rather on a Sunday when we can spend more time. Let’s continue the learning.
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