On Saturday Avery & I drove down to San Mateo for the SFBay Ed Camp “un-conference” where we met up with Jason and met some other cool people who are motivated enough to get up early on a summer weekend day to go talk about random educational topics. I’ve heard a lot about edcamps over the past year or two, but this was the first one I attended.
So, I know I was supposed to fall head-over-heels for the whole un-conference ed camp ju-ju, but I must confess that I came away from the experience feeling a little meh.
However, for full context, I should probably make crystal clear the fact that I’ve been feeling this way more and more about pretty much every conference I’ve been to over the past several years. When I first started out teaching–lo, so many years ago–I loved going to conferences. I found them exciting and energizing and inspiring and awesomely wonderful. But lately, I think the whole thing is just getting a little old–a tiny bit stale. I still enjoy attending conferences, but the big draw for me now is reconnecting with former colleagues and going to tweet-ups. Oh, and giving the occasional talk myself–that is certainly exciting…in a “I want to puke all over my fancy teacher shoes” kind of way.
I joked with Avery on the drive down that I had low expectations, so I wouldn’t be disappointed if things weren’t great, but I think I lied. I guess I had a deep-down secret wish that the edcamp model would knock my socks off for being so cutting-edge and grass-roots and innovative and I don’t know what else… and I didn’t find my experience to be all that different from an un-un-conference (a.k.a. a normal conference).
From my exhaustive one-day experience I’ve concluded that edcamp is basically a good forum for talking with other teachers about interesting ideas that you want to start exploring. If you want to talk about something you’ve been thinking about for a while, you will very possibly be the most experienced/opinionated/knowledgeable person in the room about that topic. I don’t know if there are some topics that might be more “edcamp friendly” than others…but the conversations I participated in seemed more like we were developing a list of online resources than hashing out a big idea. In some conversations I feel that was intentional, in others it seemed more like the underlying culture of people wanting to share “here’s something I did in my classroom” bubbling to the forefront. Not that sharing isn’t a great and meaningful activity, but sometimes it can come across as sounding overly dogmatic. “I did it this way, and so should you.” And, y’know, sometimes your cool idea just doesn’t do it for me.
Also, another layer to the edcamp being so tech-focused and virtually everyone being on twitter was that in every session I went to between 80 and 90% of the attendees were on some sort of device. And while I know that tweeps were likely just tweeting out the conversation, or were scoping for a different conversation that better suited their needs, I found it irritating. I think that the format of edcamp is actually one that doesn’t work for simultaneous tweet streams. Since the purpose of the sessions is to join into a conversation with other educators, your presence in the room should ideally be an active one. If you are listening to a speaker give her speech and are tweeting out the best bits, that is very different from trying to do the same *and* also participate in a conversation with the other people in the room. In this context it doesn’t work so well…
Upshot: I certainly don’t feel like I wasted my time by going to edcamp, and I’m glad I got to see what the fuss was all about. Though I do feel that with maybe a bit more structure I could get more out of the experience. Maybe have the session board online for the week leading up to the un-conference, and then people would have a bit more time to think about things before discussing them. That could also lead to developing those lists of resources ahead of time, and then you could do something with them the day-of in order to deepen the discussion.
So, would I go to another edcamp? Maybe. But probably the reason I would go is because there were other people going that I wanted to connect or re-connect with and/or it was taking place closer to home.