Professional Learning

An Insider’s Guide to Edcamps

All you need for an Edcamp is building, classroom, and wi-fi, access — and educators excited about showing up to create their own personal learning agenda.

June 23, 2015
Photo Credit: Julie Szaj

Edcamp, Bar camp, UNconference -- whatever you call it, it's awesome. What is an Edcamp? It's a completely free event designed with the participant in mind. It's vendor-free, organic, and all about learning. No part of the event is predetermined. All attendees are empowered to author their learning for the day. Check out Mary Beth Hertz’s series on Edcamps for a history and overview.

I attended my first edcamp in 2010 in Kansas City (EdcampKC). Kyle Pace and his team put on an amazing display of learning. On the trip back home that November, a colleague and I agreed, "We need one of these events in St. Louis." In that car ride, EdcampSTL was born. We advertised, secured donors/sponsors, and hosted 151 educators in February 2011. Since then, the team and I have put on four EdcampSTL events, one Edcamp leader event, and one in-district Edcamp. I also joined the Edcamp Foundation Partners Program to continue giving back and assisting with the worldwide development of the model.

One attendee described our local Edcamp event as a space that "allows us to have the important conversations in a safe environment," adding, "Thanks for letting us embrace the idealism that brought us into teaching in the first place!" What more could you ask? The awesome thing about an Edcamp is that anybody can organize one. You don't need a special title. An Edcamp can happen anywhere, any time, in any location, for any duration of time. I've attended Edcamps that ended at 11AM or 3:30PM. Timing doesn't matter.

Getting Started

There are a ton of resources available to help you organize an Edcamp. But first, attend an Edcamp to see what it's like. Find one near you using this interactive map and register to attend. Once you understand the experience that you want to create and are ready to organize your first Edcamp, start with this comprehensive checklist. It may seem intimidating, but it worked well for EdcampSTL. Our team plans for over six months to create one of the premier events in the region. Attendees from all over the Midwest come to us -- it's become a big deal, and we're proud of that.

However, the most basic Edcamp checklist is this easy:

  • Building access
  • Classroom access
  • Wi-fi access

That's it! You don't need anything fancy. Breakfast and lunch can be "on your own" for participants, and you can make an Edcamp event as detailed or low-key as you want. To put together your first Edcamp, start a few weeks early inviting people through email, social media, or paper invitations. Get there early, maybe set up a coffee station, and definitely get everyone on the wi-fi as they enter. Explain how the sessions are decided that morning. Collect session ideas by encouraging people to write them directly on a session board or on sticky notes that you can organize. And now comes the most important part: Let the day happen!

EdcampSTL: Our Story

The EdcampSTL team was made of 19 volunteers. Everyone able to join the planning team wanted to be a part of the movement. This idea is still pretty darn innovative. We set goals together and work to achieve them. The beautiful thing about this group is that each of us knows we can't do it without the rest of us. We're all necessary, all of our voices matter, and our ideas, dreams, and passions influence our event and make it special.

Edcamps are special places where the focus is on the attendees and the learning. At EdcampSTL, we not only try to make that focus, but also put together memorable experiences that truly separate us from other education events around the region. This year, for example, we had an ice sculpture that people could take their photos with. The unexpected and unique will increase engagement and help make the attendees feel that they're at a one-of-a-kind event. This year we were also able to reserve a bus in case people wanted to take the learning on the road. Attendees could ride the bus to a location, learn about that place, and come back. On the bus, they talked with one another and focused on making connections. That bus was a huge hit, especially for those from out of town who wanted to see St. Louis.

In past years, we've had an after-lunch activity called "Things you can't do with kids in the building." Our intent is to increase play. When we laugh together, we learn together. So when we do the unique, the "unprofessional," and the informal, we're able to engage the whole adult learner. I'm sure there are many things that make the Edcamps around you unique, but we always try to make our day special.

Educators today have shrinking resources, time, and space to grow and learn. This reality has impacted the ability for education to break through the barriers to success, but we're the group of educators extending our efforts to find excellence.

Let's hear from other attendees. Below are some excerpts of actual feedback given on the evaluation of the most recent event EdcampSTL:

In these descriptions of the authentic, passionate learning that happens, the through line really lies in the idea of honoring the unique interests and needs of those in attendance, the impact of personalization, and the unwavering trust in adults as learners. The Edcamp phenomenon has spread across the country and the world. It's truly a movement. It's gathering dedicated educators together for one-day, participant-driven, completely free conferences to discuss the best ideas and solutions for the future of our kids. Please consider this an invitation to organize an Edcamp in your region today!

Extra Resources

Below are people that you can reach out to at any moment for Edcamp help:

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