Thursday, May 19, 2011

What is an EdCamp? Part III

Before this year, I had never heard of EdCamp, and then I got onto Twitter and began seeing tweets about it all the time. People raved about the experience and what they were learning at these unconferences. Was this a fad or would this be a transformative moment in education? I had to see for myself. Fortunately, Wayne State was scheduled to host an EdCamp - not exactly close, but close enough for me to check it out. Reflecting back over the EdCamp Detroit experience (the sessions I attended and the session I facilitated) I can see how it has helped me to refine my vision of 21st century education.

The two main points I wanted to address in my session were: (1) how isolation is destroying our education system; and (2) how technology can help us to break this isolation and connect. These were based on my view of education occurring in silos. Teachers isolated in their classrooms. Schools unaware of what was happening across their district. District disconnected from one another. Universities and K12 schools fighting over curriculum, methods, and resources. I thought that the answer was a lab school. In particular, a virtual lab school that would make use of the available technology to connect teacher educators, inservice teachers, preservice teachers, and K12 learners.

What I learned at EdCamp Detroit was that my vision was too limited. While a lab school would be nice, it did not go far enough.  My vision changed because of what I saw there. I smiled as other session facilitators discussed web resources I had been using myself. Hundreds of miles apart and we had shared an educational experience. I watched as one of my sessions Skyped in with another session at EdCamp Boston. When Nick Provenzano (AKA @TheNerdyTeacher) began to describe an internet project he had used, the teachers in Boston screamed (actually screamed like Nick was some rock star) because they were familiar with his work. Mostly, I was amazed as these teachers referencing the online work of people I respect and follow on Twitter. People like Dan MeyerEric MarcosAlan November, and Derek Muller.

Reflecting on all this has helped me to realize that a lab school might be thinking too small. What I really want is a virtual one-room schoolhouse. A place where it is safe to explore ideas with other like-mined learners. A system that expects success through collaboration and support. A learning environment where the more experienced mentor those with less experience. A school where we share common knowledge instead of isolating it based on subject or grade-level.

So, are EdCamps a fad or a transformative moment in education? I think they are an opportunity. We have worked in silos for far too long. It is time to breakdown the barriers that separate us and work together to educate all learners. EdCamp has the potential to move us toward this goal. 

See for yourself at the nearest EdCamp. Or you can start your own. I know that I will be at EdCamp Grand Rapids on November 5, 2011. I hope to see you there - maybe over Skype.

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