Confessions of an Edcamp Fanatic

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I am a lifelong learner. I enjoy giving presentations, going to presentations and just sharing information in general. I have become a Twitter fanatic (follow me @mmatp !) and even have been signing up for MOOCs to explore this new area of on-line learning. But my latest obsession is with Edcamps.

Never been to an Edcamp! An Edcamp is a free, participant driven learning experience where people come to share ideas, brainstorm solutions and learn from each other. An Edcamp is not like your usual PD experience – gone are the pre-made, “canned” presentations. Instead, each session grows organically from a single idea and then takes on the personality of the group. There may be instances where some pre-made materials are shared – but overall it happens on the fly.

Check out this short video that describes Edcamps.

When I thing of all the professional development I present and attend, learners do in fact fall into the three categories described by Mike Spence from Kimbell Associates:

  • The Student: This person wants to learn. The Student shows up on time, sits in the front row with his or her book open, and hangs on every word you, the instructor, have to say. The Student reads ahead, asks good questions, and completes the exercises you assign. If all the people in the class were like The Student, technical training would be easy.

  • The Tourist: This person usually wants to learn but isn’t nearly as motivated as The Student. The Tourist shows up just before the class starts, spends a lot of time getting coffee or doughnuts and chatting with other students, and sits in the back. Instead of seeing training as a chance to improve his or her knowledge, The Tourist typically views training as an opportunity to enjoy a break from the normal office routine. The Tourist may or may not complete the work you assign. Sometimes, a good instructor can find a way to engage The Tourist and turn him or her into The Student. At other times, the best you can do is keep The Tourist busy so he or she doesn’t disrupt the rest of the class.

  • The Prisoner: This person looks at you and says, “Go ahead—try to teach me something.” The Prisoner doesn’t want to learn, doesn’t want to be in training, and counts the seconds until you say, “Class dismissed.” When you notice The Prisoner in one of your classes, your goal is to convert that person to The Student whenever possible. However, you shouldn’t spend so much time and energy trying to convert The Prisoner that you wind up ignoring The Student and The Tourist.

We have all seen these types of participants in a training. Well after attending an Edcamp, I have added one more classification of learner to this list:

The Explorer: This is a person who is comfortable with their area of “expertise” but wants to continue to learn more because they are always growing, and searching for new ways to reach the people they serve. These are the people that are comfortable sharing an opinion and freely give suggestions and strategies to help others reach their goals.

Edcamps tend to draw in the Explorer because of the nature of an Edcamp. First, think about it – you arrive in the AM and there is no schedule for the day! Just an empty session grid searching for someone to fill it in. To anyone who has never been, I often describe an Edcamp as a leap of faith. You go into the day not knowing what it will look like but knowing that you will have a positive experience because of the desire of each participant to make the day work. That is powerful stuff!

The Next Step: Organize it and they will come!

Logo for the EdcampAccessNJ eventWith all that said, the next logical step in my progression is to go from a participant to an organizer. All the Edcamps I have attended have been focused on general education and ed tech supports for students. I am typically one of a few, or one of one, that works with struggling students. In order to change that, I started to organize an Edcamp focused on supports for struggling students. Karen Janowski (@KarenJan ) started the idea of EdcampAccess – with an Edcamp focused on supports for struggling students. As soon as I saw that, I knew we needed one of those in NJ. I enlisted the help of Brian Friedlander (@assistivetek) and we started planning. We have been pleasantly surprised at the response from the tri-state area – as of today we have 164 people signed up for the event!!!!

We have tapped into a whole host of resources to pull this together – encouraging professionals to come and speak on an Assistive Technology topic. We are hoping to present a well rounded assortment of sessions focused on all the supports necessary for struggling students. We also have received an incredible outpouring of support from vendors and manufacturers. Some have provided monetary donations so we can ensure the event is free for participants. Others have been generous with products and services to raffle off to participants.

Never having planned one of these events before – I am sure we could have done things better. But with the event under two weeks away, we are focused on making sure to provide a quality program to all who attend. Who knows, maybe this will inspire someone to host their own event!

Visit www.edcampAccessNJ.org for more details on the conference.

Hope to see you there!

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