Teachers drive their own PD in Edcamp movement

International network of free, one-day "unconferences" allow educators to set agenda
By: | Issue: January, 2015
December 18, 2014

If today’s students are expected to direct their own learning, teachers have to be prepared to do the same. One of the best ways to do that is to let teachers lead their own professional development.

That’s the philosophy behind Edcamp, an international network of free, one-day “unconferences” where agendas and sessions aren’t determined until educators arrive in the morning and suggest topics. The individual sessions themselves are free-form discussions guided by the educators involved.

“If we don’t put teachers in the kind of learning environments that we want for our kids, they won’t know how to create them for our kids,” says Kristen Swanson, a founder of the Edcamp movement and former tech director for a Pennsylvania school district.

The Edcamps are organized by superintendents, district administrators, principals and teachers. They often take place on weekends in high schools, libraries or other public spaces that can be used free of charge. About 600 Edcamps have been held in 15 countries since the movement began in 2010.

Using social media for PD and connecting students with outside experts and professionals have been frequent topics covered in recent Edcamps. Another popular subject has been Google Apps, which more teachers are using to collaborate with their classes.

Another common session is called “Things That Suck,” which, Swanson says, isn’t as crass as it sounds. The session begins with someone suggesting a topic, such as homework. In the ensuing debate, others may argue why homework “rocks,” Swanson says.

“What we see with EdcampÑbecause the events are often organized by principals and district leaders and teachers, and because the day is highly social and interactiveÑis that people form lasting social bonds,” she says. “If you look on Twitter, people continue to connect over the topics they talked about for six months after the event.”

Edcamp topics are ahead of the curve compared to other PD offerings because teachers drive the sessions, says Kristina Peters, a Nebraska Department of Education e-learning specialist and former elementary school teacher who organizes Edcamp OmahaÑwhich is holding its fifth event this spring.

New teaching ideas are emerging all the time, and Edcamp sessions are flexible enough to focus on the latest innovations, Peters says. One new idea that has been a popular Edcamp topic is the Google-inspired “20 percent time” or “genius hour,” in which students are given time to pursue personal interests, such as learning to play the ukulele, creating stop-motion videos, writing poetry and cookbooks, and making a trap to relocate squirrels.

“Edcamp is about a different way of doing PD,” she says. “When teachers and educators are trusted enough to drive their own learning, it makes a huge difference compared to traditional PD.”