Edcamp Vancouver UnConference: UnBelievable Pro-D!
Some words to describe the Edcamp experience: genuine, collaborative, organic, significant, engaging, sharing, new, autonomy and choice.
What happens when you open up an opportunity to ANYONE who is interested in education and give him or her a forum to share, present, or ask questions? Well, those who attended Edcamp Vancouver got an engaging and self directed learning experience with opportunities to hear how others are tackling hot topics in education (such as assessment, problem-based learning, using social media with students and many others). They also heard perspectives from a variety of stakeholders in education including public and private school teachers, educational consultants, administrators, parents, and students.
The day started out with all attendees, many of those who were before today only “e-connected” through Twitter, blogging, and other means over the Internet, engaging in face-to-face conversations around education. These informal yet rich conversations were actually the critical birthing process of the day. Everyone was empowered to present a topic or ask a question to start a conversation by simply writing it on a piece of paper and posting it on a large board for all to see. Then those who were interested could put a post-in note underneath to exercise their choice. I have never seen a more transparent or organic process surrounding professional development than this. Simple yet very effective. This ‘UNconference’ process allowed attendees to pursue something of interest to them and/or pose their own topic. By the end of the process, there were sixteen sessions on the board with ten or more people interested in attending!
So what did the sessions look like? I will use the following examples that I was able to observe to describe and speak to the overall experience.
In the session “Moving Away From Letter Grades”, the following question was asked: “So what now?” Now that we (attendees) have these ideas on the table, and through practice and experience we know they are benefitting the learning of our students, how do we get them in to practice? How do we stop tearing down the world of students by telling them they did a “great job” but only scored a C? How do we get a large-scale change in the way marking is done? In response, @tomschimmer said, “Formative and summative evaluations must not be done together.” And @mrwejr added, “Do students even see the feedback when there is a numeric or percentage mark on the paper?” I believe if you get a group of like-minded individuals who are open-minded, passionate about the learning of their students/children, and HAVE EXPERIENCE, their great ideas and effective practices will spread like a virus. Now with technology tools and social media to share these great ideas, this spreading is already happening. However, just like any great movement, it takes time and the moment of inertia must be timely.
In the session “What Should Pro-D Look Like?”, the following question was asked by someone who said she did not wish to name which school district office she was from and who apologized ahead of time for the attached cynicism: “Where is the quality control in an UNconference structure where you have a somewhat homogeneous collection of individuals who don’t necessarily have the credentials to speak to a topic? Where is the control?” In the UNconference format, the general rules are that a presenter should speak for approximately 15minutes and the rest of the time (30-45min) is open for discussion and participation. The quality control is in the latter period of time allotted for each session. Those with experience in the classroom, or those with their own children, are free to respectfully agree or disagree with anyone in the room. Is there another more effective form of quality control than from people with first-hand experience? In any arena, those with experience cannot be fooled and it is human nature to stand up for what is right. Parents and educators alike are some of the very best at putting the future of the youth at the top of the priority list.
By the end of the day, there were so many rich and deep conversations. However, one burning question lingered in me: What can I do to offer more people, who are interested in education, the opportunity to participate in such a great experience? From the sessions I attended, there was a fair amount of alignment in the thoughts around the Collaboration Timetable Model and the Unconference Model. I am currently exploring the possibility of adopting the Collaboration Timetable to my current school’s timetable and now I have even more passion to make it happen. The other thought I had was to collaboratively plan a day with schools from other districts and engage in an Unconference. It seems from the Twitterverse that I am not the only one with this thought. The ideas that are now in my head are like seeds that have been planted and I can’t wait to see what they grow into. I am so thankful to have been a part of the Edcamp Vancouver experience. If you have planted seeds yourself, I would love to hear what they are!