An EdCamp Movement is spreading rapidly across the United States and beginning to pop-up in various places in Canada. Since the first EdCamp in Philadelphia in May 2009, a series of one-day unconferences have been held attracting flocks of mostly younger teachers and IT zealots aspiring to be “21st century educators.” So far, over sixty-four such ‘open concept’ gatherings have been held across North America, including events in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec City. http://edcamp.wikispaces.com/ Apostles of the EdCamp Movement see building these constellations of teachers as the gateway to “revolutionary professional learning” and potentially ‘The Next Great Thing’ in education.
What’s inspiring the EdCamp Movement? When asked, Dan Callahan, a recognized Co-Founder and Grade 6 LS /IT teacher, provides a rather blunt answer: “Most PD stinks!” http://dancallahan.net/about-geekteacher Dan (aka The Geek Teacher) is definitely not alone in trashing what North American school districts inflict on teachers as many as 10 days each school year. It’s also a particularly damning criticism, given the millions of dollars poured each year into “in-servicing” the nation’s teachers.
Professional Development (or PD) has long been a dirty word for many regular teachers, essentially something done to them rather than with them. Initiators of EdCamps like Mary Beth Hertz (Philadelphia) and M.E. Steele-Pierce (Cincinnati) seek to create “powerful experiences” that actually meet the needs and interests of classroom teachers. “Unconferences,” Steele-Pierce believes, ” are part of the learning revolution. They’re participant driven professional learning gatherings.” http://plpnetwork.com/2011/03/07/unconference-revolutionary-professional-learning/
Organizers of EdCamps go to great lengths to ensure that, like the British BarCamps, the events provide “an ad hoc gathering born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment.” All EdCamps are free to participants, non-commercial, organized in an initial morning session, and count upon participants to be presenters. They appeal to the tech-savvy because they are created in Wikispace and all feature live blogging and tweeting to spread the word to the wider community.
EdCamps were started initially as teacher-driven, crowd-sourced gatherings, but have now been adopted by new wave “21st century educators” such as Vancouver’s David Wees. Some Canadian EdCamps have become fronts for the rump of the “progressive” movement in public education. In Toronto, the EdCamp held October 15, 2011 at York University was actually conceived and spearheaded by Stephen Hurley, a veteran educator who blogs regularly for the Canadian Education Association. ( http://teachingoutloud.org/)
The Toronto EdCamp was captured on video and posted on the Wikispace site, just like the original EdCamp Philly. http://www.edcampto.org/ While billed as being inclusive, the York University event attracted a crowd of mostly wide-eyed young teachers, education professors, and faculty of education students looking for their first jobs. “Doing your own Thing” at a PD session was something of a revelation to the most zealous participants, far too young to remember Summerhill, the Hall-Dennis Report, or the sixties.
Critics of the EdCamps see the Movement as the progeny of educational idealists and “21st century” IT promoters seeking a kind of escape from the recent era of educational standards, testing, and accountability. Even veteran teacher activists like Doug Little of The Little Education Report remain skeptical of what looked much like a “summer camp” for grown-ups. Most Ontario parents, including Annie Kidder and People for Education, find themselves on the outside looking-in during the camp meetings.
Long-time education reformers like Malkin Dare, founder of the Canadian Society for Quality Education, do not look kindly on the core philosophy and implicit purpose of EdCamps. “My preference would be for teachers who went to conferences to learn how to hone their teaching of basic – and not-so-basic – skills and knowledge,” she recently wrote. ” Personally, I would rather that my children’s teachers didn’t view themselves as change agents, for I see this as an attempt to tamper with the parents’ job, nor do I believe that children should be allowed to determine what they learn – since this approach will inevitably leave random gaps in what should be a solid foundation.” http://www.societyforqualityeducation.org/index.php/blog/read/two-different-schools-of-thought/
Why is the EdCAmp Movement gaining some traction among teachers in the public education system? What are young and enthusiastic teachers really looking for — and what do they need to improve their craft? Why do so many EdCamp participants emerge from the sessions describing it as their “best PD experience ever’? If that is so, are we blowing millions on PD for teachers that has little or no actual impact on the quality of, or passion for, teaching?