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EdCamp: How to run yours virtually

Michael Gaskell
January 12, 2021

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There are more engaging ways to motivate teachers, with topics selected by and presented by them. One way are Edcamps, participant-driven conferences -- often called "unconferences” --  that offer engaging paths to invigorate teachers because they are designed around community participation and coordination. They allow faculty members to drop in and out of themed presentations and to join, or just listen in to, the innovative ideas shared by their colleagues. These fluid, informal events are energizing, get faculty moving and often contain highly relevant topic areas of interest to teachers.

But right now EdCamps in their original format cannot take place in person in most school communities nationwide. That doesn’t mean they cannot happen -- and my school figured out how to run them virtually. Here are the steps we took to make them happen.

Provide choice

The facilitator should set up the event by developing themes and gaining information from an interest survey of participants, resulting in a choice menu. Volunteers can share their ideas for which choices should be given. Examples of choices can be both technologically and instructionally beneficial. Teachers are recruited to share their idea, either because they have something they would like to share, or because they are encouraged by colleagues, or the principal. 

For instance, one teacher showed how she used a tool called Class Kick, which lets teachers create and share assignments, monitor student engagement, and give feedback in real time as students work from their device. Another shared something she called “shout outs,” where students surprised their peers by commending them for something positive they noticed their peers contributed, or showed improvement in. The excitement and energy were priceless.  Still another showed how to use Pear Deck, an interactive presentation tool to actively engage students in learning. Teachers use google slides and can actively manage and monitor students' participation.

Use breakout rooms

Since participants cannot visit the schedule of classrooms where presenters are sharing, bring the classroom to them! Breakout rooms enable the facilitator to set up the event, and then allow participants to pick where they want to go for a deeper Q&A experience, like a true EdCamp experience. Breakout rooms can operate in zoom, google meet, or Teams, pretty much whatever platform you use. Think of sending kids, or in this case teachers to small group areas, like stations around your classroom, where you focus on a  particular topic, only it’s virtual! Just like the in-person EdCamp, participants can stay in virtual rooms as long as they wish, and depart when they decide they want to visit another room.

Evolve

Remember that professional development needs to be adapted, improved and adjusted to continue to evolve for the needs of the participants. Be prepared to survey your faculty about what they liked and what they didn’t, accept recommendations and make course corrections. Do not view their constructive criticism as anything more than ways to improve the experience.

Pay it forward

Many teachers experiencing an Edcamp conducted digitally were so enthusiastic that they decided to run an EdCamp event of their own in their classrooms, something called Kidcamps, based on theme, and student choice. This is more viable digitally. Students are digital natives, capable of facilitating more quickly after some brief instruction. Imagine their excitement after their own Kidcamp!

Involving educators offers them a chance to do something bigger than themselves, and teachers reported great satisfaction in doing so. They are empowered, are awarded professional development certificates and credit, and create enriching collaborative experiences with cross-departmental colleagues. As one experienced administrator notes, he has witnessed truly innovative ideas, from corners of the school. The tragedy is letting those innovations die in that corner, left unshared with so many others, at the sacrifice of students who could have benefited. That’s what EdCamps are all about -- idea sharing to enrich the education of all learners.

Dr. Michael Gaskell is principal at Hammarskjold Middle School in East Brunswick and author of Microstrategy Magic.  Follow him on Twitter @GaskellMGaskell.

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