My Experience in a New Learning Environment
By: Glen S. McKay, Principal
As a school leader, I have learned that principals set the tone and vision for their schools. Furthermore, a principal’s ability to lead responsive professional development is becoming more paramount toward creating a 21st century learning environment. Principals’ technology leadership cannot be measured solely by the resources and budget allocated to educational technology; technology vision and a commitment to professional development play an important role. In an era of rapid educational technology advances, principals must support a culture of collaboration, innovation, and meaningful technology integration for pedagogical changes to take place on a broad and sustainable scale. As a leader I came across a new professional development model titled EdCamp that intrigued me as a scholar and showed promise as a means to improve my professional practice.
I recently attended my first EdCamp “unconference.” As a learner, I was not sure what to expect from an event with no agenda or planned breakout sessions, but I was excited to hear from various educators about what is important to them right now. EdCamp is an "unconference", also commonly called "Open Spaces." It is professional development for teachers, by teachers. The expertise in the room fuels the conversation. The EdCamp model is based on the international unconference model, BarCamp. Despite its name, BarCamps have little or nothing to do with alcohol. Rather, computer hackers conceived them as a way to come together to share ideas. According to the BarCamp wiki, a BarCamp: “BarCamp is an ad-hoc gathering born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment. BarCamp is an intense event with discussions, demos and interaction from participants who are the main actors of the event.”
In order to begin to develop a greater understanding of the innovation, one must realize that the purpose of EdCamp is to “empower educators to honor their own expertise. It is designed in a way that encourages peer learning, sharing, and collaboration.” EdCamps are organic, participant-driven professional development experiences created by teachers, for teachers. They invite and encourage personalized conversations and spirited debates. They emphasize internal motivation, choice, and interactivity. Based on the tenets of open space technology, EdCamps are derived from the belief that a group of people, given a purpose and freedom, have the ability to self-organize, self-govern, and produce results. Conversations, not presentations, dominate the learning at an EdCamp. Every participant has an equal voice and personal expertise is honored.
Based on my observations, some of EdCamp’s major strengths are that the participants, in this case mostly principals and teachers, set the agenda and provide the content. They come up with the ideas for sessions based on what they want to hear about right now. Then it is up to participants to take charge and facilitate each session. Anyone can be a presenter. Teachers who have never met before may end up leading a session together. Principals from schools in opposite ends of the state may be facing the same challenges and can develop their own session. Each participant is able to choose sessions that meet their individual needs. EdCamps derive their value from what every participant brings to the table on that day, and these thoughts and experiences can be much more useful than any handout or planned presentation. This was a highly engaging experience for me and I hope that everyone has the opportunity to participate a learning experience similar to this one.