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EdCamp: Participant Driven Professional Development

May 21, 2015

An early morning drive. Starbucks. Sunshine and a breeze in Omaha. Beautiful new building at UNO. Registration and donuts. 160 eager educators gathered together for a day of professional development....on a Saturday?

The fifth EdCamp Omaha took place on March 21, 2015 at a new location at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. The Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center was the perfect setting as the day did not fall short in engaging the participants who gave up the first Saturday in spring to attend this free opportunity. Free is one of the requirements of an EdCamp, but in this case, “you get what you pay for” does NOT apply!

EdCamps are a unique type of conference sometimes called an “unconference.” A typical day of learning doesn’t exist, because the learning opportunities are based on the needs of its participants and are not determined until that day. Starting with a blank session board, participants build the schedule together as they socialize over donuts. The result is a board of 20 sessions based on the passion and interest of the people in attendance.

The EdCamp movement started in Philadelphia in 2010 when a group of educators gathered together to discuss promising practices and technology integration. As those first edcampers shared their experience on social media over the next year, EdCamps started to pop up all over the country. They are powerful because they honor the expertise of teachers rather than bringing in expensive outside experts. Today there are over 600 EdCamps each year around the world.

Kristen Swanson, one of the EdCamp Movement founders wrote, “For me, attending an Edcamp reminds me that I’m part of something bigger. Education is greater than my classroom, school, or district. It’s a powerful force that can bring equity and empowerment to our world.” Betty Ray, Director of Programming and Innovation for Edutopia, had this to say about an EdCamp. “Again, something shifts when a group of motivated people get in the same room and direct their own experience: They share what’s working and what isn’t. They support each other.”

Sessions at EdCamp Omaha 2015 included Creativity and Innovation in the Classroom, Formative Assessment. The Maker Fair, Creating Classroom Culture and Environment for 1:1, Empowering Teachers in Professional Development and many more. In every session that I attended, the facilitator started the conversation, but then involved the rest of us in the dialogue. I was required to think, discuss, listen and communicate all day long, while never being forced to just listen to a “presenter” lecture. Of course the learning continued over our pizza lunch, in between sessions in the halls and on the Twitter feed #edcampomaha all day and through the weekend.

So who gives up a sunny Saturday in spring, often traveling hundreds of miles to get to an EdCamp? Experienced teachers, first-year teachers, pre-service teachers, social workers, technology coordinators, integration specialists, principals, superintendents, university professors, and staff development coordinators to name a few! Many of them were from the Omaha-Lincoln area, but ESU 10 schools had quite a few faculty make the trip. While there were some edcampers from South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri, the farthest distance traveled that day was from Chadron! No matter where they were from or what their role in education was, the attendees at EdCamp Omaha all exemplified professionalism, dedication and passion for student learning.

-by Peg Coover, Teaching and Learning EdTech Coordinator

“Educational Leadership:Professional Learning: Reimagined ...” 1 Apr. 2015 <http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/may14/vol71/num08/Edcamp@-Teachers-Take-Back-Professional-Development.aspx>
“Empowering Teachers with DIY | Edutopia.” 2011. 1 Apr. 2015 <http://www.edutopia.org/blog/diy-edcamps-makerfaires-tedx>