Sunday, July 31, 2016

Reflections from EdCamp Global (#ECG2016)

So yeah. That was pretty much the best conference I have ever attended.

After it's third year, EdCamp Global has established a standard for what online professional development should look like. The model is as brilliant as it is simple: let life-long learners figure out what they need to learn.

It all started with a Google Calendar, which linked to sessions that usually took one of six forms: Voxer, Periscope, Google Hangout,, Twitter, or Blab. Then the EdCamp magic happens: teachers learn (and teach) about subjects they care about the most as they fully participate in the sessions. And here's the kicker: the sessions are saved forever and can be referenced later by simply going back to the schedule and clicking on the session that you missed. The entire conference is documented without an ounce of extra work. If there is a better model for online PD, please share it!

The event was exquisitely planned to the last detail. The team that facilitated (Team Texas?) created hourly challenges on Periscope, such as starting your own Voxer or video chat. These challenges served to bring the community together every hour (which is brilliant because it's hard to build community online), expanded attendee's skill sets, and most of all were addicting and fun. I hesitate to think how much time the organizers poured into their labor of love. 100 hours each? 200? Lots!

I think my favorite moment was the very first session on "global classrooms," when the facilitator was unable to attend. We sat there for a few minutes, and then drew upon our collective EdCamp experience and made it happen. Special thanks to @AllisonHoganEDU@DrBrianCook, @SheilaHill and @sconlineteacher for their expert improv skills.  Again, if there is another conference that works just fine when the presenters can't attend, please share it!

Then came my session on edtech tools, which was basically a standard EdCamp share-out slam. It had a rocky start as I hosted my first Google Hangout OnAir... GHO is a pain in the ass (There. I said it.)  Thanks to @PaigeDobbertin for hanging in for 15 minutes as technical difficulties were worked out, and to all attendees @EdTEchTinker, @Mr_Hayes, @Jumaryteacher, Andy, Kim, Susan, Brian, Denise, and @Danazacharko.

Then came @braveneutrino's presentation on AR/VR. Stacy is a maven and was so well organized; it's worth a look. Then @Msdayvt again pulled off something that would rarely happen at a traditional PD: she livestreamed from an actual maker faire! Then @TheEdsaneT and I had a lovely conversation about "fun in the classroom," and even with only three of us in the room, EdCamp magic happened: my big takeaway was Amanda explaining the ins and outs of my first Then @dkreiness did another truly EdCamp-style slam, only this time on Voxer and Padlet.

This leads me to my only VERY minor concern: less than half of the sessions were truly EdCamp-style i.e. egalitarian discussions. The majority of the sessions featured some kind of central speaker who controlled the conversation. But frankly there were so many people new to the EdCamp format, mixing in more traditional PD was actually a good thing, because it's still quality PD, it's what people know, and there's always a backchannel to participate.

I was super impressed with @CrystalGermond's presentation on PenPalSchools. At first I was like, "this is kind of breaking EdCamp norms, as vendor influence needs to be minimized" (Crystal is employed by PenPalSchools). But she was so respectful of the EdCamp format as she engaged with the audience; it was win-win (and her product is free, which helps). Everyone should be using PenPalSchools because there's authentic writing, cultural sensitivity, and global collaboration. Seriously, I swear I'm gonna do it this year.

And finally, the low point... which I think could have a silver lining. I facilitated two more sessions: one entitled "Fearless Conversation about Race in Schools" and the other "Is There a Place for Activism in Schools?" Two people showed up for the first one (thank you @mostats_mrmfl) and after 15 minutes we ended early. Only one person showed up for the second session (full disclosure: it was my wife... thank you @BethFratt).  This was actually the second time that my sessions did not succeed during the 21 EdCamps I have attended, so I should know not take it personally, yet inevitably I do a little. But suddenly, more EdCamp magic happened...

So I wondered why they didn't succeed, and the answer was obvious: the EdCamp was not marketed for these topics, and Law of Two Feet applied. So what now? It's time to explore an EdCamp with a social justice theme, and I have set my intention to do so. And of course #ECG2016 concluded with a session to help inspire this: a final twitter chat entitled #edcampstartup led by @sarahdateechur to encourage attendees to do just that. I tweeted some feelers, and already there is some interest in forming an #EdCampSJ exploratory team.

So yeah. It was pretty awesome.

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