Last Saturday, I attended my second EdCamp here in Leon county. I was looking forward to it because last year's event was so amazing. While I had a good time, I have to admit that my experience this year wasn't as great as last year's. I've been reflecting this week on what was so different. Were my expectations too high? Maybe I was overly excited last year because it was my first EdCamp event. I don't know...
In this post, I'm going to reflect on both EdCamp experiences and compare/contrast EdCamp 2013 and EdCamp 2014.
First of all, EdCamp 2014 didn't seem as organized or as promoted as EdCamp 2013. Last year, EdCamp Leon was promoted heavily on Twitter and there was no confusion about the registration/start time. When I first found out about this year's event (on a flyer at a workshop), the start time was posted as 10 a.m. When I registered, the start time on my ticket was 9:30 a.m. Eventually, I saw on Twitter that the start time was 9 a.m. I was so confused! I had invited several people and was unsure what time to tell them. I stuck to the 9:30 a.m. time but wish I had arrived earlier so that I could have met and networked with other teachers.
This was another difference. Last year, I arrived at 8 a.m. and sessions began at 10 a.m. This gave me plenty of time to meet new people and talk about what's working in our classrooms. I even shared how I used technology in my classroom with a new teacher-friend and got her started on Twitter. I had so much fun connecting with other teachers and getting to know them before the sessions began. This year, unfortunately, I arrived only 30 minutes before sessions started. I felt obligated to sit next to the coworkers I had invited, so I didn't really get to chat with new people.
If I were in charge of EdCamp, this is what I would do to encourage networking: I would assign each table a number. When people arrived and registered, I'd give them a sticker (indicating a number) to wear on their shirt. I would make sure that those who arrived in a group (or those who are from the same school) would get different numbers. The people would sit at the table that matched their "assigned" number and get to know the teachers around that table. Maybe after a certain time period we could switch seats, but I would encourage attendees to get out of their comfort zones and have conversations with new people. That's what EdCamp is all about--getting to know new people and learning from them. I didn't feel that that was encouraged as much this year.
Not only was there not enough time to mingle before our sessions, but we were given a presentation during lunch (via webcast) so very few people were conversing; they were all watching the screen! I wanted to debrief with my co-workers about the morning sessions they had attended and share ideas, but I couldn't speak across the table because of the loud webcast going on. To me, the webcast wasn't that helpful, so I began talking to a guy next to me who is starting a school next year. He shared ideas with me, and our conversation was enjoyable and exciting. It was great to finally connect with someone. I felt that this year's EdCamp didn't allow time in our schedule for conversations to flow, connections to build, and sharing to occur among attendees. I felt stifled this year; last year I felt free.
Another thing I missed from last year was a whole-group segment called "Digital Tool Shout-Out." During this 15 minute session, teachers had a chance to stand up and share, in 20 seconds or so, their favorite website/app/digital tool that they use in their classroom. I thought that this was helpful, and it also allowed teachers who didn't feel comfortable enough to lead a session to still share what's working in their classrooms.
Throughout the day, just like last year, I attended four sessions. These included:
1. Web 2.0 Resources
2. That's What He/She Said (a session about backchannel communications)
3. Things That Suck
4. 20% Project
The sessions that I went to were great, and I learned something new in each one. Many of the online resources I learned about would work best in a BYOD environment or 1:1 classroom. At this time, my school doesn't have this, so the sites/apps suggested were more "cool" than practical for me.
My favorite session was "Things That Suck," which was the most participant-driven one. I loved it! The leader of the session began by "drawing" an imaginary line down the middle of the room. He said he was going to give us a topic and we had to move to either side of the line--one side of the room stood for "I think this topic is great and I agree with it" and the other side stood for "I think this sucks and is bad for education/learning." Topics included homework, grades, grouping of students, standardized testing, teacher evaluations, and teacher tenure. The tough thing about this session was that there was no middle ground. We had to take a stand on each issue and be able to defend our position. After everyone "voted" we all discussed why we stood where we did. We had some great conversations! This session was such a hit--people were still talking when time was up. One of the EdCamp coordinators had to come in the room and say, "Okay, everyone, we have to wrap this up now because the next session is about to start." No one was ready to leave! I think this would be interesting to do at a faculty meeting so we could all learn about each other's teaching philosophies.
Overall, EdCamp Leon 2014 had some great sessions, and I learned some new things. The down side was that there was very little time to connect with other teachers, and sharing ideas/learning from others is what I enjoy most. I would definitely attend another EdCamp. I've learned that every event is unique and I shouldn't expect the exact same thing each time.