This past Saturday I went to Edcamp Vermont. It was my first Edcamp experience, and I’m glad I went. If you don’t know much about the Edcamp movement, you can learn more here.
Here are my takeaways:
1. The “unconference” model really works.
During his introduction Larry Fliegelman assured us: Don’t worry – the agenda board really does get filled. But as an introvert who’s comfortable with space and silence, that wasn’t actually my concern. Rather my biggest concern was that the loudest, quickest people would gobble up the space for each session and the day would serve more as a soapbox for the few than a conversation among many.
That is far from what happened.
Instead, the group of us made our way to the board, calmly looking at the available space and talking in small groups among ourselves. Eventually, a couple folks grabbed a sticky note and posted an idea. That sparked more little conversations, and little by little other folks starting posting both new ideas and little additions to the post-it notes that were already up.
Once the board was filled, we did not end the process of filling the board.
Instead, we continued to look over what had been put up so far. We were invited to continue to take some time and think things over. Some people eventually moved some sticky notes around, and others added a few new ideas.
Only then did the first session begin. It’s important to me to emphasize that the time and space that was given for the board to be filled allowed the sessions to be as meaningful as I found them to be.
Speaking of meaningful sessions, here’s my second takeaway:
2. We have an incredible community of enthusiastic, brilliant educators in Vermont who are passionate about the work they do.
I enjoyed each of the 3 sessions I went to. In one session I was inspired by the creative ways educators are building and utilizing PLNs. In another session I was blown away by the way teachers are blogging with their students in thoughtful, carefully planned ways that are allowing kids as young as kindergarteners to participate authentically in both online and face-to-face communities. (Sharon Davison led this session. I highly recommend learning more about the inspiring work she does with her kindergarten students.) In another session I had a chance to share some of what I’ve learned by implementing Edmodo in my school this year, while simultaneously learning about the radically different ways other teachers are using Edmodo in their classes. In all cases, it was clear that we have a vibrant community of educators who are passionate about facilitating and inspiring student growth.
Speaking of a community of educators, that leads me to my third takeaway.
3. By having my iPad with me and using twitter throughout Edcamp, I was BETTER able to connect with the other participants than I would have been without being “plugged in.”
This takeaway surprised me. While I love technology, I sometimes worry that being “plugged in” all the time prevents us from being fully present in the here and now. That worry has not completely gone away — I very much believe that we need to be mindful of when and how we’re using technology — but my experience having my iPad and tweeting throughout Edcamp expanded my understanding of when and how technology can be useful.
I could write a much longer blog post than I’m going to right now about why I found using my iPad and twitter throughout Edcamp to be so beneficial (and at some point I might do that). But for now I’ll just say that being on Twitter didn’t distract me from connecting with the people I was sitting next to. Rather, by occassionally checking twitter I was able to learn more about them – thus being able to connect more meaningfully in the moment. Additionally, I was — and continue to be — able to continue conversations with the people I met at Edcamp through twitter. While I would have enjoyed the conversations I had at Edcamp without twitter, I wouldn’t have gotten nearly so much out of them. Twitter provided differentiated ways for me to participate in Edcamp, and as an introvert who gets just plain exhausted after hanging out with strangers for hours, I found myself able to be more present in the here and now than I would have been if I hadn’t been able to go back and forth between having big face-to-face conversations, and checking/posting to the VTed hashtag we were using for Edcamp.
If you haven’t had a chance to check out an Edcamp, I recommend it. And if you’re interested in learning more about what we discussed at Edcamp Vermont this past Saturday, then check out the Edcamp Vermont website.