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Planning an edcamp Unconference: Taking Care of the "Big Stuff"

| Mary Beth Hertz

This is the second post of a four-part series about planning and running an edcamp unconference. You can read the first post, Introduction to edcamp here.

So you're ready to take the plunge and plan an edcamp unconference? It may seem like an overwhelming task, but as I told M.E. Steel-Pierce, one of the organizers of edcamp Cincy, "If you build it, they will come."

Securing a Venue

The first thing you need to decide is who your target audience is. This could be based simply on geography, or you may want to narrow your focus, as ntcamp (new teacher camp) did. Once you have made that decision, the next step is to begin to seek out a venue. The organizers of edcamp Philly did not secure a venue right away. We started a website, gathered ideas for sponsors and began spreading the word about what we were planning before we had a venue lined up. The reason why a venue is important is because you cannot truly advertise an event without a location. People can't RSVP to attend something new and exciting if they don't know where they'll be going.

We were lucky enough to have Drexel sponsor us with a venue, though we did have to pay for catering and liability insurance. The catering (coffee and donuts) was not essential, but we wanted people to feel comfortable at such an early hour on a Saturday morning. Other edcamps have been held in school buildings, which defers the cost of having to rent out a space. Many schools also have wireless Internet, which is a necessity for a successful unconference.

Venue Must-Haves

When putting together the proposal for Drexel, we had to come up with a list of must-haves for the event. We used a Google Doc to hash out the proposal. Some of our must-haves were:

    • Conference space for approximately 300 people
      • 15 breakout rooms that would hold 20-25 people
        • Registration tables (4-5)
          • General theater style presentation room that will hold 300 people
            • Cafe-style open area for casual or breakout conversations
              • Free Wireless access for all conference participants
                • Your must-haves depend on your audience. We had capped our attendance at 300. Since the BarCamp Philly organizers told us that they had a 20% attrition rate, we figured if we planned for 300 we'd get at least 200. In actuality, about 180 people attended and we ended up cutting the number of rooms in half.

                  Do Some Research

                  A little more than halfway through the planning process a few of use attended BarCamp Harrisburg. We wanted to do some more research and refresh our BarCamp memories. I highly recommend, if you can, seeking out a BarCamp and attending to see how the day goes. We learned a lot from that experience that we could apply to our own event, and we learned that, aside from the basic format and "rules," no two BarCamps are exactly the same.

                  You can also contact members of the edcamp Philly team or other edcamps with your questions and concerns. The BarCamp Philly organizers were unbelievably supportive and helpful during our planning phase.

                  Getting the Word Out

                  While we were working on securing a venue, we also created a press release, which we shared with anyone we knew who worked in the media. We started a Twitter account, and we each blogged about edcamp on our own blogs to spread the word. We also contacted people in NJEA (New Jersey Education Association) and in our schools and districts to garner interest.

                  Teamwork is Key

                  One of the keys to edcamp Philly's success was the team of 11 passionate collaborators who stepped in to take on any responsibility required of them. Often, when were faced with a stumbling block or an important task, someone would jump in and offer to take up the reins.

                  To stay organized, we created a Google Group through which we shared links, posed questions and hashed out ideas. We still use the Google Group to stay connected, and as we begin to plan for edcamp Philly 2011, it has proved once again to be a wonderful tool.

                  Next steps

                  So your team is assembled, you are working toward securing a venue and you've been sending out press releases and spreading the word. Now it's time to think about whether you will need sponsors.

                  Next: Get Funded!

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