May 242011

As I said in my previous edcamp post, the movement elicits a lot of emotions and with those emotions come opinions, many positive and some not so. A common criticism is that “Edcamp sessions never bring me to the point of mastery of a topic” or as Bud Hunt puts it:

While Bud asserts that he was merely asking a question, his statement above is also an indictment of the Edcamp model, essentially that Edcamps are vacuous pursuits, devoid of substance. The implication here is that mastery learning does occur at other conferences but not Edcamps.

I’m calling shenanigans! That’s right! Shenanigans!

I find these statements to be either superficial or, to some degree, disingenuous because the dirty little secret of most conferences is that they have very little to do with learning something while attending. In general, conferences are really about networking, sharing ideas, fostering future collaborations. We go to specific sessions to determine whether we would like to follow a particular person’s work more closely, form a collaboration with them, or find ideas to explore further. Any learning that occurs can hardly be called mastery. (See References Below) The Edcamp model is honest about this. It recognizes that conferences are really about finding and planting the seeds of learning, finding individuals to serve as informal mentors, foment future collaborations, or test our own ideas.

To base judgements on Twitter twaddle or the lack of artifacts of mastery learning is to miss the the point. The real meat of an Edcamp, just like any other conference, is people, not content. The big difference is that the egalitarian nature of Edcamp shifts the focus from the presenters to the audience because they are one in the same. It is no longer a one way relationship. For many educators, Edcamp is the first PD experience where they matter and that’s your sizzle.

*I recognize that conferences sometimes have workshops attached to them where content and learning is the focus. It is completely reasonable to expect mastery learning to occur here. I have not included them in this post because these workshops cost an additional amount and are not open to general conference attendees


1. Berry, B., Daughtrey, A., & Wieder, A., (2010). Preparing to lead an effective classroom: The role of teacher training and professional development programs. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina, Center for Teaching Quality, Retrieved from ERIC database.

Research has found that when educators possess self-awareness and engage in a professional network, they are more likely to deepen their pedagogical expertise and closely monitor student learning (Berry, Daughtrey, & Wieder, 2010, p. 6; Garet, Porter, Desimone, Birman, and Yoon, 2001, p. 920).

2. Boyle, B., While, D., & Boyle, T. (2004). A longitudinal study of teacher change: What makes professional development effective?. Curriculum Journal, 15(1), 45-68. doi:10.1080/0958517042000189470.

A body of literature has emerged focusing on descriptions of, and definitions for, ‘effective’ professional development for teachers. The international literature indicates that traditional approaches to professional development, such as workshops or conference attendance, do foster teachers’ awareness or interest in deepening their knowledge and skills. However, these approaches to professional development appear insufficient to foster learning, which fundamentally alters what teachers teach or how they teach. (p. 47)

Thank you to Chrissi Miles for providing the research. It is nice having a smart lil’ sis.

  6 Responses to “My #Edcamp Reflection Part 2 – Dirty Little Secrets”

  1. You touch on exactly the reason why I will not attend another EduCon. At least with an EdCamp model, there is the possibility of a parent presenting, for instance.

    Leading up to EduCon I was told how parents are really wanted/needed. I found that far from the case for most of the conference. I found the Friday night speech to be so self-aggrandizing that I left before the panel discussion.

    What I keep trying to do on Twitter is insist on parents being heard. It’s an exhausting process and often more than a little disheartening. Even so I plod along. I write blog posts.

    I had a parent tell me that Twitter is not as intimate as it used to be in 2006. Conversations are more link sharing and less substantial. Well, I didn’t come along until 2009, so I don’t have a basis for comparison.

    As with life, it is what you make it. I have been involved in some very deep 140 characters at a time conversations. Not as satisfying as one on one for an hour or two, but sufficiently meaty so that I want to come back for more.

    We all have our preferences. I don’t like sitting at a presentation and passively taking in information. That feels too much like “class” to me, and I’ve been out of school both as a student and as a teacher for a lot of years now. I want people to treat me as an equal and that model doesn’t much allow for it.

    I also caution that any conference be it traditional or unconference not get too big. Makes it hard to have a more personal, intimate and more authentic experience.

    • I find EduCon and EdCamp to be very similar in the way they are run. Granted the schedule is unavailable at EdCamp until “go time” but both involved sessions during which the leader was facilitating a valuable conversation.

      Also, what the parent said about twitter seems a bit off. Twitter was a very empty room in 2006 and @Replies weren’t utilized and connected to previous messages until much later. Therefore, conversation was cumbersome.

      My $0.02


    • Debbie, I am really sorry that you had such an unpleasant experience. I have attended Educon for the past two years and found the experience to be valuable. I do recognize that the conference is not for everyone though.

      What I like about edcamp is that so adaptable to the needs of the attendees because they also set the agenda. They are not following someone else’s pre-determined schedule and sessions. If there is something specific that one would like to discuss, then he or she can just propose a session. It does not get more personalized than that

  2. Hello! I just wanted to throw my 2 cents in here. I am torn becuase edcampphilly was enjoyable and I was forced to think about issues that I had never really taken time to consider on that level. One of my colleagues and I even presented our ideas on building a school based PLN and our failures/successes.

    While I love edcampphilly, besides there smackdown there was not as much of the “I can impliment that tommorrow” stuff that I had expected.

    I am a better edcuator thanks to my participation in edcampphilly but not better in the way I had expected!

    Thanks for letting me share

    • As evidenced by how sessions are created, edcamp is less about individual sessions and more about the conversations and connections made. I agree that there is not much in the “implement tomorrow” category. The real value is in who you meet.

      Just to give an example, the edcamp philly crew met at a similar venue, Barcamp Philly. I can not say that I directly learned a single usable thing at that conference but going changed my life. It was meeting Dan, MaryBeth, Kevin, Hadley, Kim, Kristen, Rob and introducing them to my sister Chrissi and Collegaue Nicolae that spawned a international movement in education.

      So if you are looking to learn something specific, then edcamp may not meet your needs. If, however, you are looking to join a community of forward thinking educators, connect and foster ongoing relationships, and possibly start collaborations that could have far reaching effects for you as a teacher, then nothing even comes close to the edcamp experience.

  3. I’m glad to see the EdCamp model flourishing.

    It’s good to see education embracing the successful model that Open Source communities have been using for the last decade.

    It would be great to see EdCamp organizers explicitly acknowledge that intellectual debt. People within the open source world have been working and learning this way for years longer than many people in education were even aware of the possibility of doing it differently.

    So, what you call a “movement” is, to many of us, a normal, accepted, and effective way of working.

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