I was the first camper through the door. I entered to cheers and raised arms by the wonderful edcamp team. My initial thought, “I’m never early. I’m always late and hardly ever on time.” I met everyone – some for the second or third time – and received the inaugural t-shirt from Hadley Ferguson (@hadleyjf). I was set.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from an “unconference”. It was my first time attending one and I was anxious to experience the forum. I decided to sign up and lead a session. I had something in mind that I had been discussing with Mary Beth (@mbteach) for some time. I never led a session, but felt that I really wanted to start a conversation. Recently, I had been hired as the Instructional Technology Specialist (ITS) at the Boys’ Latin Charter School of Philadelphia. I proposed the idea for this position in October of 2009 and had seen the proposal all the way through to my new position. Now I am stuck. I’m not clueless, but I want to do this job well. I am the pilot of this position. No one came before me. There is no precedent.
What does an Instructional Technology Specialist look like? This is what I called my session. I fixed my index card to the bright, yellow board and worked my way into the main conference room. I met with a few old friends and some new ones at a round table. I met up with Yoon (@doremigirl), Rich (@rkiker), and David (@DrTimony) for some coffee and discussion. Rich and I traded small talk and soon found out he had my position for three years. He offered to co-present and I gladly accepted. Our session would RULE! We began tweeting our session around edcamp and offered door prizes. But before we get to the door prizes, let me reflect on my first two sessions at edcamp.
The first session I attended featured Joyce V. (@joycevalenza) and David J. (@djakes) I worked with Joyce at Springfield Township and she turned me on to many new trends in education. One of our first assignments together was visualizing vocabulary. Students took pictures of their vocab words, uploaded them to flickr, and suddenly senior vocabulary was cool again. Joyce and David led a session on “The Future of Student Research”. This session was not only informative, but presented many great questions and hurdles that we all face in conducting student research in schools, restricting access being the most common.
More and more, IT and Administrators are filtering the internet and restricting access to what students can see while on the school’s server. I still don’t understand how we expect our students to seek out information when half of the pages of the book are torn out. Didn’t Ray Bradbury warn us against this once? Didn’t George Orwell live this nightmare? The consensus in the room was that there are a lot of good resources out there for our kids to access information. On the same token, there are a lot of “crappy” resources out there that kids are actually using for research and getting good marks for it. We need to teach our kids to filter through the jungle of information on the internet. They have access to more information than any generation in history. Our responsibility, as teachers, is to give them the tools to get to the most credible and legitimate information out there. Moreover, IT and Administrators cannot limit that scope. They need to ensure our students are browsing and searching responsibly, but on the same hand, having access to all available sources.
My next session talked about two sites that I plan on incorporating into the Boys’ Latin project based learning units next fall. The session was delivered by Mike (@mritzius) and Nicolae (@nborota). They shared their experiences as classroom teachers using Project Foundry and Moodle. I left this session and edcamp very impressed with the comprehensive nature of Project Foundry. Until today, I had never really heard much about it, but I found myself modeling a similar, free application in my own classroom: A wikispace. However, the one element that I really enjoyed about Project Foundry is its ability to catalogue everything a student does throughout the course of high school, and at the end of their senior year, they have a digital portfolio to take with them on a DVD. Plus, this program puts the student in the driver seat and places the onus on the student to get their work done in a timely manner. I plan on looking into this program further and hopefully integrating it into our PBL units next year.
And now, back to door prizes.
After lunch and a brief stroll in the rain, Rich and I entered our classroom for our unconference session on what an Instructional Technology Specialist looks like. We entered the dated classroom and noticed desks in rows, a chalkboard, and an overhead projector. Somewhere the gods of Irony were laughing out loud. Rich found a lost expo marker and a CFF keychain light. We decided to give them away as door prizes and began tweeting to the masses to promote our wonderful session:
“#EDCAMP giving away a sweet CFF pocket flashlight in our session. You want to be in 305 at 1:30.”
“#edcamp Also if no one shows up at 1:30 in 305 I’ll cut the power. Just kidding. No but seriously…”
Our session started with my plans and fears as I move into this new position. I started by giving my background and my visions for the position. I relayed my plan to start with a survey monkey. Not actually a monkey that goes around soliciting answers for coins (although this would be awesome), but an actual website that is great for free surveys. I expressed my idea of wanting the faculty to tell me what they wanted to do with technology rather than telling them they have to use a wiki or have to use Google Docs. I’ve seen this before and it never takes off. Plus, one will always encounter uncooperative faculty when it comes to trying anything new. They have been doing it the same way for years and there is no way they will be changing now. And that is fine. Be an Edu-saur. Enjoy it.
We discussed many great ideas in our session, from Acceptable Use Policies (AUP) to unblocking websites, and finishing with some great insights on Google Apps from Michelle (@michelleleandra). I provided many questions about starting out as an ITS and Rich provided clarity and experience to what he has been doing as an ITS for the past three years. In the end, we could have spent days talking in our session. We left fulfilled and we were still talking as we went through the hallways towards our next session. This got me thinking
The final session I attended focused on the wonderful world of Google Apps. Again, this was another lively session that could have lasted for days, if not weeks. This session was led by Rita (@rchuchran) Frank (@Fronk2000), Karen (@SpecialKRB), and Kristen (@kristenswanson). This session involved a lot of collaboration and sharing of ideas. We all spoke up and disclosed our best use of Google Apps. Everyone said something completely different and we all agreed that Google Forms rule.
This was a fulfilling day in many ways. I left wanting more. I wanted edcamp to last for a week, maybe more. The conversations were rich and thought provoking. I left better than when I entered as the first camper that morning. I think I speak for all attendants when I say this is the model we want all of our schools to emulate. These conversations need to fill our halls and trickle down to our students. I want my students to leave my classroom like I left an edcamp session; I want them continuing the dialogue far beyond the parameters of school. Edcamp provided all of this along with a really cool t-shirt. Thank you edcamp. I plan on being first every year.