Reflections on EdCamp Boston 2013

Eric Braun Blog 0 Comments

EdCamp is an exploratory adventure. It behaves like a start-up company and turns attendees into ad-hoc entrepreneurs. This is what I love about it, because I firmly believe that teachers should act like entrepreneurs in the classroom. If this is true, classroom innovation will occur with much greater frequency. But learning to be an entrepreneur is not easy, just like learning to be a teacher is not easy. Each learns a series of skills and competencies, and each finds the real world very different from what has been learning in preparation.

And what is this beast called EdCamp?
From an entrepreneurial perspective, it is an Unconference.
From a business perspective, it is Conference Gone Wrong.
From the uninitiated, it may look like Chaos and Confusion.
(Queue up the background flames and squeaky, mechanical music noise here).

It starts with a bunch of people (usually teachers) with similar interests (usually students and learning). They all get together in a space that seems pretty big but then very quickly seems pretty small. They hover around a big hand-made Excel spreadsheet on the wall and peer intently at the words in the table cells. Some reach for pieces of cardboard and markers, where they write down ideas that relate to something they just read on the board or something that is burning within their minds and souls. Some drop the pens and fall to their knees. Others climb over their colleagues in order to read better, in order to overcome the glare in their glasses or maybe just to see if the spreadsheet is real. 


And suddenly, a few T-shirt coordinated teachers (aka “Staff”) call a stop to the activity before it becomes a mosh pit. It is now time to commence. During these introductory remarks, all the teachers are thinking about what they read and what they wrote on the giant spreadsheet. They contemplate how they will spend their day. Worker bees diligently type the words in the table cells into a Google Spreadsheet, so everyone can access this newly created ad-hoc schedule anytime, anywhere and on any device throughout the day. It turns out the giant spreadsheet on the wall is just a draft. 

The beginning of EdCamp is not really chaos and confusion but rather an organizational activity that gets people from point A to Z in bullet train speed. There are many noteworthy points about the train ride:

  • Each person organizes a unique path, an individualized journey through a day of discussions.
  • Each person experiences something different and follows a unique learning path.
  • As much as the topics focus on Technology, the sessions utilize very little Technology. 
  • Even though a single person puts the topic of a session on the spreadsheet, there is no presenter or teacher, only a facilitator.
  • The learning of the day is based on discussion. It is collaborative.
  • There is no assessment.

If there is no assessment, does that mean there is no learning?

Perhaps, the learning comes from the reflection that follows the event. This blog post is part of my learning experience from the event. It is a time for me to think about what we discussed, review notes, relish the people I met and had conversations with, and contemplate how I can incorporate nuggets of what I learned into my own classes and workshops and even into other areas of my life.

Wisdom learned does not need to remain within the silo of the context in which it was learned.

My own journey took the following route:

  1. Collaborating with Technology Tools
  2. Getting Faculty to Innovate
  3. PBL in the Classroom (Project-based AND Problem-based)
  4. Digital Storytelling
  5. Designing Curriculum
  6. Creativity

The underlying messages that kept coming out were that everyone loved this forum for getting together and sharing ideas, experiences and knowledge about innovative topics. All wanted to make the classroom experience the best of all possible classroom experiences. All wanted to collaborate more. 

For all the creativity that went into EdCamp Boston and the creativity that came out of it, it was a great venue for the stimulation of ideas, and I hope it was an instigator of innovation in the classroom. Sometimes, when we leave an event, no matter how great it is, we are left floundering a bit. We swim among the ideas and realize we have drifted away from shore. In our effort to find out way back to shore, we leave many (maybe most?) of the great ideas behind, floating in the bay. Still, the process of innovating has made us better people and better teachers.

Check out the Steve Guditus “Creativity Chart” below. It’s a work of art that you can spend hours contemplating.

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