Yesterday I attended the first ever EdCampNC, and my first EdCamp in general. For those unfamiliar with the format, EdCamp is designed to be an “unconference” or even more simply, an informal gathering of educators, with no real setup prior to the day of the conference. The sessions are not predetermined, though there may be some timing structures put in place. I signed up for EdCampNC back in late Februrary or early March along with close to 200 other people. As it turned out, we only had about 75 or so show up to Poe Hall on the campus of NC State University in Raleigh, NC.
As the event kicked off, pieces of colored paper served as the template for the days discussions. About 36 sheets of paper were lined up along the wall in four rows, one row for each session time that was scheduled. Participants added session ideas to the wall based on things they were interested in discussing throughout the course of the day. The final session listings can be found here. After the session boxes were filled up, some of them were combined/cut/moved, etc and the final time slot was devoted to a Tech Smackdown which would be held for all of the participants.
- Number of People – This proved to be a challenge. The expectation based on registration was close to 200 people, the reality was much closer to 75. With 8 sessions per time slot, 200 people would have meant about 25 in any individual conversation room. Throughout the day, my rooms consisted of five, six, and three people. Now I’m not saying a good conversation requires more people, however, in the format of “Ask a question and get answers from smart people in the room” that EdCamp proposes, the small number of people in the conversations led to many few sources of possible answers. Recommendation: Cut the number of sessions slots down to four or five. That limits the available conversations, but increases the number of people involved in those conversations. 8 would have been perfect if 200 people had shown up, which may be the case in the future.
- Conversation Merging – Another way to cut the conversation list down a bit would have been to merge a few of the conversations. Time is short between the “Board” filling up and the first session starting, however, when it was evident that the number of people would be small, Inquiry Practices and Project Based Learning could have been combined. Or “Teachers Expectations of Administration” could have been combined with “Administrators Expectations of Teachers”. That might have been the most obvious “One Room Conversation” on the board. Separating them seemed like taking the answerers away from the people asking the questions.
- Tech Smackdown – Really enjoyed this, and I think most of the other participants did as well. The danger in this kind of forum for sharing is someone walking away thinking they have to use all of the tools, or conversely, that they don’t know how to use any of the tools. For most involved though, just getting a view of other things people are using is important to begin thinking differently about their own practice. I always enjoy the fact that there are things I haven’t seen before that get shared in these sessions. The list of tools shared can be found here.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed my first EdCamp and can see just how powerful the potential is for these kinds of discussions. After the day wrapped up, I met with a few of the folks who helped organize EdCampNC, and the discussion eventually moved to the possibility of Regional EdCamps in North Carolina to increase participation. Though I like that for a future idea, I think it needs to be considered carefully before splitting up something that needs some time to grow first. A couple more years of the main EdCamp, or at least continuing to have a single “EdCampNC” along with regional EdCamps seems like the best way to grow these conversations and allow more people to participate.
Many thanks to those who organized EdCampNC and I look forward to future EdCamps in our state!