Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Edcamp Vancouver: Power of the unconference

@gmbondi said "Edcamp - best pro-d I've been a part of"

@SheilaSpeaking said "Hope that #edcampvan has been the start of something huge!"

@Stephen_Hurley said "There was something very cool about meeting PLN and others at #edcampvan Conversations longer and richer" and "One of the impressive things about #edcampvan was the fact that participants seemed to arrive and depart energized"

@teachingtammy said "I have never been so engaged with a PD session as I am today"

@tangomanfromqc said "Had a great time at #edcampvan! Dreamed about AFL, Social Media, Web 2.0 tools and alternative ed all last night!"

@thornquill said "You know it was a good day when the ideas are still spurring discussion hours after the unconference"

This past Saturday, over 80 people, including students, parents, teachers and administrators gathered at John Oliver Secondary School in Vancouver for the first-ever Edcamp Vancouver.  Edcamp Vancouver followed the 'unconference' format that has been growing in popularity throughout North America.

Unlike traditional conferences, there were no advertised keynote speakers who were known to be 'experts' in their particular field.  Rather, participants elected to attend Edcamp Vancouver in anticipation of engaging in rich and meaningful discussion about topics of their choosing.

The morning began with individuals proposing potential session topics to a bulletin board.  Participants indicated their interest in topics by writing their names on sticky notes and posting them to proposed topics.  During this process, participants mingled and engaged in conversations that ultimately led to additional topics being proposed.  As a greater number of participants demonstrated their interest in a topic, the topic was shifted to the main schedule board. After 45 minutes of mingling, informal conversations, session proposals and voting, 16 session topics were identified. Four sessions took place during each of four-45 minute sessions. Topics included Social Media 101, Assessment for Learning, What Professional Development should look like, Communication between Stakeholders, Bringing TED Talks to Schools, Envisioning New Models, Motivating Students from a Distance, Creating Online Learning Communities, Beginning Teacher Support, Inquiry-Based Learning, Creating eBooks, Moving away from Letter Grades, Awards Ceremonies, Differentiated Instruction, Moving English and Language Arts into the 21st Century and Math Collaborators.

Sessions started with a mini-presentation, a question, a problem, a solution or discussion topic and were designed to initiate deep, rich discussion between participants. Participants were highly engaged and most participants contributed during each session. In many cases, sessions continued beyond the scheduled time and smaller conversations were struck between participants during the breaks. Hierarchical relationships were not present at all.  Participants of all ranges of experience and backgrounds shared freely and openly with one another.  Although each person's perspectives and ideas were respected and embraced, the conversations that ensued were not examples of 'groupthink'. Ideas, opinions and perspectives were challenged by others, but done so in a manner that encouraged deeper reflection.  All the while, there was an active Twitter backchannel occurring, with many participants (myself included) contributing their thoughts and ideas using the hashtag #edccampvan.

In each of the sessions that I facilitated and participated in, I took away important questions to reflect on, ideas to think about and initiatives that I'd like to develop more fully at a school level. The sessions are proving to be a catalyst to ensuing conversations that I will have with my immediate colleagues and with my PLN.

What was different about the day? One difference was obvious from the instant the doors opened and the first person walked in. Participants began the day with enthusiasm and energy. Everyone appeared genuinely excited to connect with each other. In many cases, the event provided the opportunity for people to meet face-to-face for the first time with many of the individuals they knew previously only in a virtual world through Twitter.

Another difference is that because lengthy presentations were discouraged and discussion was encouraged, a much higher level of interest and engagement was evident than I have typically seen from people during 'stand and deliver' presentations.  Further evidence of the new connections that people established and the high level of engagement was that at lunch time many individuals sat with people they did not know before the day began.  I am a great example of this, as I ate with and talked with a small group of educators who I had met during the previous session on Supporting New Teachers.

Despite all of the positives I have noted I believe there is still a place for traditional professional learning models.  We can all benefit from hearing 'experts' speak from time to time.  The value of the unconference comes when we have the opportunity to share with one another what we have learned from the 'experts' and how we have attempted to apply what we have learned.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Julia Clark (@learnbyliving), Bernie Soong (@bsoong), Blair Miller (@millerblair), Darren Yung (@penphoe), Kate Henderson (@ScienceWorldTr), Heidi Hass Gable (@hhg), Grant Frend (@grantfrend), Peter Newbury (@polarisdotca), Elsbeth Wissink (@elswis) and David Wees (@davidwees) for making it such an enjoyable experience to organize the event with them.  Thanks also to hosts Gino Bondi (@gmbondi), Dustin Keller (@solitaryvox) and Zhi Su (@zzsu). Based on the positive feedback and the conversations about possible future unconferences that have been taking place days after the event, it's clear that Edcamp Vancouver was a successful experiment.  I look forward to participating in future 'unconference' events and being involved in the planning for Edcamp Vancouver 2012!


  1. I'm looking forward to Edcamp Vancouver 2012 as well! Thanks for sharing this reflection.

    I agree with you that Edcamp isn't a complete replacement for traditional PD, but I do see it as a viable option & complementary portion of a regular conference.

  2. On behalf of those of us who could not come but wanted to ... thanks for posting this.

  3. Thanks for inviting me! It was worth taking a day off of studying for finals ;)