George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Why Edcamp?

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During the past six years, hundreds of Edcamp events have popped up worldwide. Teachers from every corner of the globe have been organizing open opportunities for educators to collaborate and solve problems.

In spite of this growth and energy, there are still many educators who are either uninformed or skeptical of the Edcamp model for teacher professional development. Given the plethora of "silver bullets" and magical cures in education, some skepticism is healthy. It ensures that we refine and revise our beliefs through meaningful investigation.

What's an Edcamp?

Let’s begin with a definition. In short, Edcamps are:

  • Free: Edcamps should be free to all attendees. This helps ensure that all different types of teachers and educational stakeholders can attend.
  • Non-commercial and with a vendor-free presence: Edcamps should be about learning, not selling. Educators should feel free to express their ideas without being swayed or influenced by sales pitches for educational books or technology.
  • Hosted by any organization or individual: Anyone should be able to host an Edcamp. School districts, educational stakeholders and teams of teachers can host Edcamps.
  • Made up of sessions that are determined on the day of the event: Edcamps should not have pre-scheduled presentations. During the morning of the event, the schedule should be created in conjunction with everyone there. Sessions will be spontaneous, interactive and responsive to participants' needs.
  • Events where anyone who attends can be a presenter: Anyone who attends an Edcamp should be eligible to present. All teachers and educational stakeholders are professionals worthy of sharing their expertise in a collaborative setting.
  • Reliant on the "law of two feet" which encourages participants to find a session that meets their needs: As anyone can host a session, it is critical that participants are encouraged to actively self-select the best content and sessions. Edcampers should leave sessions that do not meet their needs. This provides a uniquely effective way of "weeding out" sessions that are not based on appropriate research or not delivered in an engaging format.

Despite the concrete definition, it can be difficult to truly capture the Edcamp experience. That's because a "typical" day of learning at an Edcamp doesn't really exist. Each Edcamp is unique and based on the needs of the participants. When you arrive at the location (usually a school or university) on the day of the event, there is no pre-set schedule of sessions or presenters. Instead, there's just a blank sheet of big paper with a grid on it.

A session grid set up next to steps
Edcamp session grid.

From that blank slate, everyone builds the session schedule together. As people mingle and chat over free coffee and donuts, they put up potential discussion topics on a board. Since it's my job to build the schedule at the Edcamp events I organize, I can truly attest that the entire process is positive and organic. Occasionally, people who don't even know each other realize that they have similar interests and end up running a session together. Other folks come with an idea, throw it out to the group, revise it, and end up posting it with a refined focus. Since anyone who attends an Edcamp event can be a presenter at the event, it's a very empowering experience for everyone involved.

The skeptics are likely wondering, "What do you do if no ones signs up?" (I get that question a lot.) And while there are certainly specific strategies you can use to ease your anxiety (building an idea board on the event page, having conversations with amazing educators who are planning to attend, etc.), they usually aren't needed. I've never attended or heard of an Edcamp where the schedule board didn't fill. It just doesn't happen.

What Happens in a Session?

Given the spontaneity of the schedule creation, you may be curious about the content of the sessions that are typically shared at an Edcamp. Well, it's certainly hard to generalize, but here is a sampling of sessions from recent Edcamp events:

  • Edcamp SF Bay
    • Fostering Student Learning Networks
    • How to Run Your School from Your iPhone
  • Edcamp Omaha
    • The Global Read Aloud and Reading in the 21st Century
    • Badges, Levels, Games, and Learning
  • Edcamp Atlanta
    • Twitter Newbies
    • Collaborative Classrooms, a New Physical Environment

Educators often have very specific, concrete takeaways from sessions like these all over the country. Consider these positive personal outcomes:

  • "I learned ways to flip my faculty meeting, spending less time on announcements and more time on PD, relationship building and modeling a maximization of time with my staff." - Joe Mazza
  • "I absolutely loved hearing about Lauren's experience with a school-wide topic of study, and would love to bring this practice to our school. She described a school whose study topic was 'India,' and every grade level, across all content areas, sought to plan experiences that helped students engage with that topic in some way." - Lyn Hilt
  • "In one Edcamp I learned about all the cool things you can do with Evernote and how you can save everything there!" - Joy Kirr

These aren't merely fluffy concepts. They are specific, practical strategies and ideas that educators are sharing and investigating at Edcamps all over the nation.

Beyond the Takeaway

Further, the social, interactive, recursive nature of an Edcamp is directly aligned to adult learning theories. In a whitepaper I wrote in 2011, blog posts about Edcamp were qualitatively analyzed to determine common themes. The most popular ideas were:

  • Collaboration and connections
  • Group expertise
  • Tech tools
  • Instructional design
  • Surprise (at the number of educators dedicated to their craft)

These themes are directly correlated to the tenets of effective adult learning as stated in the meta-analysis by National Academies Press entitled How People Learn: Brain, Mind Experience, and School. And further peer-reviewed research in 2016 has corroborated these findings and added greater understanding about the efficacy of the model.

The Edcamp model provides educators with a sustainable model for learning, growing, connecting, and sharing. Everyone's expertise is honored, and specific, concrete strategies are exchanged. When professional development is created "for teachers by teachers," everyone wins.

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Kristen Swanson's picture
Kristen Swanson
Teacher, Leader, Edcamper, Learner

This question came to me via private message, but I wanted to share and respond to it here:
Hi, I wanted to post this as a public question but, for some reason-even though I am an edutopia member, it won't let me. How can I fund an edcamp? As in, if they are free, and they should be imho, then how do I get spaces and food and equipment for presenters? Are there grants I can write that would support this? Thank you, Please feel free to repost this question. The intent
was to go public for discussion. Theresa Desaulniers

Hi Theresa, thank you for your good question! Most Edcamps are held in schools and the schools provide the space and wifi. Then, other local or smaller sponsors tend to provide the rest.

Here is a recent Edcamp Organizer Panel focused on sponsors and finances: Check it out for some good tips for funding!


Louise Morgan's picture
Louise Morgan
2nd grade teacher - Fort Worth, Texas

Thanks for this explanation of Edcamp. I am attending my first one in Fort Worth this month and had no idea what to expect.

Brian Kulak's picture
Brian Kulak
Stay relevant. Stay engaged. Stay positive.

Thanks for sharing, Kristen. We're hosting our inaugural Edcamp here in Collingswood (NJ) on April 30th and couldn't be more excited. I'll share this out so our newbies have a better idea of what to expect. Bravo! #edcampgs

Medhat Mohsen's picture

So wonderful idea. On the narrow level, I will try to make a one with my colleagues in Qena, Egypt. Thanks for emailing me these wonderful stuff.

Valentin Voroshilov's picture
Valentin Voroshilov

Everyone who finds Edcamp useful also might find useful such new and non-traditional form of professional development as Professional Designing.
"Professional designing" means intellectual activity resulting in: (a) constructing an image of the ideal/perfect professional situation (whatever it might mean for a given person), and (b) planning activities aimed to transform the present professional situation by making it closer to the ideal one. In order to transform his or her professional situation, teachers (a) must be willing to change their own practices, and (b) must be able to make the change. This means that professional skills, abilities, competencies of a teacher should include not only specific subject-related skills or teaching-related personal qualities, but also "meta-skills", allowing to manage processes of idealization (i.e. drawing mental images), reflection, goal-setting, action scheduling, and so on, which are required for transforming a human practice. A combination of such skills forms the ability for designing the own teaching practice.
Please, follow to and for more inforamtion.

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