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6 ways to design an edcamp for all learners

By Julie Randles 2/24/2017 Professional learning

Rhianon Gutierrez knows what it’s like to be asked to deliver traditional professional development for her education colleagues. It’s a request many technology specialists are familiar with. Can you give a lecture on this topic or that?

Gutierrez, a digital learning specialist for Boston Public Schools and a member of the ISTE Inclusive Learning Network, knew she could have a bigger impact on teachers if she came up with something more exciting, more interactive and more personalized than a sit-and-get lecture. That’s when she turned her requested day-long PD on technology into an edcamp – an educator-driven, educator-led gathering where participants share ideas, practices and strategies.

The BPS Inclusion Edcamp was a collaborative effort among departments and community partners. It brought over 80 Boston Public Schools educators together to design their own professional learning focused on practices, strategies and questions around inclusion for all learners. Most participants were first-time edcampers.

“I focused on taking a request for something traditional and used it as an opportunity,” Gutierrez says. “The primary audience was inclusion specialists, but my colleagues and I decided to open it to inclusion teachers and those interested in inclusion.” Gutierrez attributes the success of the edcamp to the enthusiasm, risk-taking and ease of collaboration with community partners, teachers and her colleagues in the technology and special education departments.

Educators inspired by Gutierrez’s moxie can learn from her tips on how to scale an edcamp:

Consider your resources. Do you have a colleague with edcamp experience or with an interest in hosting one? Ask them if they would like to be involved as a collaborator or if they are interested in giving constructive feedback. Then, make a list of the free resources available to you such as locations with strong Wi-Fi where the event can be held, free tech tools you can use to design and share promotional materials, and teaching supplies for use as door prizes.

Think UDL. Gutierrez kept Universal Design for Learning (UDL) front and center by giving participants several ways to engage with all that was happening at the edcamp and to ensure there were access points for all participants. A website was created to provide background information on edcamps; critical communications were both printed and shared electronically; and participants took interactive notes in Google Docs. If you’re offering professional development points or credit for attending, make your assignments UDL by giving teachers options to demonstrate their learning.  

Serve all kinds of learners. Just like students, adults are variable learners. Address their needs by providing audio, visual, tactile and kinesthetic options for engagement. For example, consider using flexible seating with moving tables and various sized chairs to enable participants to stand, move around or sit in positions that are comfortable for them. Provide participants seated at tables with note-taking items, candies and fidget toys such as clay, shakers and fuzzy items.

Seek partners. Businesses and other education organizations are often willing to help. Consider how they can be learning co-designers and help promote your event. They may also be able to provide meeting space, food, supplies, flexible seating options and door prizes.

Create a feedback loop. Establish ways for participants to provide feedback on the event so you can improve it next time. Gutierrez and her colleagues use a “3,2,1 structure” — three things I learned, two things I am still wondering and one question or comment I have.

Make your work accessible. Successful edcamps beget more successful edcamps. Be sure to establish ways to share your planning so others can replicate it. “Who says an edcamp can only be once a year?” Gutierrez points out. “It can happen as many times as you want.” 

Educators who would like to learn more about hosting an edcamp can watch a recording of the ISTE Professional Learning Series webinar “Why Not an Edcamp? Interdepartmental Collaboration Done Well.” Viewers will:

  • Learn about the interdepartmental collaboration needed to host a successful edcamp.
  • Find out how to scale an edcamp and keep it manageable.
  • Get tips for making edcamp-related work accessible.
  • Find out how to connect with community partners to support your edcamp.

ISTE members can sign up now for the ISTE Professional Learning Series, which includes a recording of the webinar “Why Not an Edcamp? Interdepartmental Collaboration Done Well.” Not a member? Join ISTE today.

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