Sunday, November 10, 2013

The EdCamp Experience

Yesterday I experienced my first edcamp.

For months, I had heard bits and pieces about edcamps from people I follow on Twitter, and the people who shared their edcamp experiences sounded excited, even (re)invigorated after having attended it. Naturally, their tweets piqued my curiosity. I started looking for edcamps in my area because I had to know what all the hype was about.

Unfortunately, there weren't any edcamps in my immediate area until late spring 2014 - about six months away. I couldn't possibly wait that long to attend an edcamp, so I broadened my search to all of Texas. Thankfully, I found edcamp Austin was coming up in a few short weeks, organized by teacher Stephanie Cerda (@Ms_Cerda), assistant principal Adam Holman (@AGHolman), and technologist Jon Samuelson (@ipadSammy). 

I registered for edcamp Austin right away and tweeted about how excited I was to be taking part in it, even though at this point I still didn't know exactly what it was. My friend and fellow librarian, @JoReeding, commented that she was interested in going, too. We made plans to attend together, touching base every now and then, trying to figure out what we should contribute as participants. 

In the weeks leading up to the events, I followed the #edcampatx discussion on Twitter to get an idea of who would be attending. I was thrilled when I found out Rafranz Davis (@rafranzdavis) was going to be there, especially after attending her Discovery Education Network Fall Virtual Conference session on using Haiku Deck and Movenote. When I arrived, Rafranz was sitting at a table with my friend, JoAnne, and I was immediately star-struck. I thanked Rafranz for her willingness to share her knowledge and skills with others because it had really helped me grow as a librarian.

Edcamps, in short, are unconferences. An unconference means there are no keynote speakers, and the sessions are participant-driven. And they're free. Participants arrive about an hour before the sessions begin to suggest sessions or offer to facilitate sessions. As soon as details about times, meeting rooms (typically a classroom), and facilitators are sorted out, the schedule is shared with the participants. 

After much deliberating over what would best serve me and my school, I decided to attend sessions about using Augmented Reality, Productivity Tools, Design Thinking and Google Apps for Education (GAFE), and Project Based Learning (PBL) with Devices. For the first two sessions - Augmented Reality and Productivity Tools - JoAnne and I stuck together because we both felt that we needed development in these areas. In the afternoon, there were just way too many interesting sessions, so we decided to split up and share notes with one another. I opted to check out Design Thinking + GAFE and PBL with Devices. 

The sessions at edcamps were like nothing I've ever experienced. It's very relaxed, and, like I said, participate-driven. For one thing, it's OK to use your laptop, smartphone or tablet during a session. With the #edcampatx Twitter feed, I was able to follow what was happening in other sessions as facilitators tweeted links to their presentations, which I bookmarked for later use. The use of technology and social media, along with sharing personal notes with my colleague, allowed me to be in more than one session at a time. That, in my opinion, is professional development at its best. 

The best thing about edcamp was that it wasn't limited to just teachers, or just technologists, or just administrators. It was a mix of all of the above, plus a few of us librarians. Personally, I love seeing administrators participating alongside classroom teachers, edtech specialists and librarians. It shows their commitment to find new ways to engage our students and inspire our teachers. It speaks to how much they value collaboration and growth. 

After attending four sessions and meeting wonderful educators from a  variety of disciplines, edcamp was over. It went way too quickly. I left edcamp Austin with great, new ideas to use in my library and to share with my teachers. I'm looking forward to the two edcamp sessions coming to the Houston area in spring 2014, and I hope to have something to share with participants there.

EdCamp Houston
April 26, 2014

EdCamp Region IV
May 3, 2014

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