Archive for August, 2012

Unconferencing the University

Last week saw my second of two Edcamp/unconference events in as many months: first was Edcamp Leadership at the end of July, then came WilmU LeaderCamp on August 11.  WULC was hosted by the university at which I am a doctoral student, Wilmington University, and organized by four doctoral students: Chrissi Miles, Todd Hackett-Slimm (both also on the ECL team), Bill Marble, and my good self.

Organizing this experience for graduate (doctoral/Masters) students, alumni, and faculty presented some unique challenges.  Unlike the Edcamp model, which has spread by word of mouth across social networks over the last two years, this was a fairly new format to most of our attendees.  Although I had hyped up the event for weeks to my doctoral cohort’s Facebook group, they only represented 1/3 to 1/2 of the attendees (strong showing, Cohort 21!!).  That’s still quite a few folks who came not really knowing much about the unconference framework.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to being quite nervous when, half an hour after people started arriving, there was only one session posted on the session board (mine!).  I knew that the organizers and maybe one or two attendees could be counted on to run sessions, but what about the rest?  We initially had four rooms and four time periods, so 16 possible slots for sessions – we (the organizers) couldn’t fill those by ourselves.

Fortunately, people started to gravitate toward the session board after we made an announcement, and soon people were debating what topics they wanted to discuss and signing up for sessions.  We had so many folks want to facilitate conversations that we ended up adding two more rooms to create 24 topic opportunities – by the end, only one slot was left unfilled!

There were so many sessions I wanted to attend, but with only so many sessions and hours in a day, I had to be very selective.  My day started off with a discussion of achievement gaps in all forms with Lanette, Robert, and Dr. Whitlock.  While we were a small group, it was probably one of the deepest and most powerful discussions I had all day.  From there, I ran a session on managing digital identity.  At lunch (which was graciously provided by the university, as was breakfast), Dr. Mike brought us all up to speed on some current events in the Ed.D. program, including its recent FULL accreditation by NCATE!  After raffling off some WilmU swag, I headed off to a session by Reshid on Digital PLCs using Yahoo Groups, and then did a rerun of my Edcamp Leadership session on flipping the faculty meeting, which took on a slightly different form in discussing with folks both involved and not involved in K-12 schools.

It was a whirlwind day, and 24 hours later I’m still reeling a bit from it all.  That said, here are my primary takeaways from the day:

  • We got over 60 students, faculty, and alumni to come out on a Saturday in mid-August – that’s pretty damn good!  I think we’d get more if we did it during the school year, and of course, the promise of internship hours for attending (and more for facilitating!) certainly didn’t hurt.  I’d like to do this in March or April next year, before the end of the school year.
  • Along those lines, we should also start advertising earlier in relation to the event date.  I’m actually a little surprised we got as many folks as we did; if we gave people some more advance notice, could we have broken 100?  Maybe that can be a goal for next year.
  • Chrissi set up a PollEverywhere poll to collect some exit data; 97% of respondents rated the day a 4 or 5 on a scale of 1-5.  That tells me that they see value in the format, even if it was a little foreign to begin with, and we should do this again.
  • I think the session signup should go a little more smoothly next year, now that folks have gone through the process once.  I posted a makeshift Wordle with topics people indicated they wanted to discuss in a pre-conference survey.  The purpose was just to prime the mental pump, so to speak, and get people thinking about what they wanted to discuss, but most folks took it literally and started writing down topics verbatim off my poster instead of more focused titles.  I probably didn’t communicate my intention clearly enough, so I’ll make sure to do that better next time.
  • I am grateful to the university for their donation of food and facilities (which were excellent and gorgeous, respectively), but all our sessions were on the third floor, where heat rises (especially in August) and the temperature was a bit uncomfortable.  Hopefully, holding the event in the spring will alleviate that problem altogether.
  • The tech worked flawlessly – participants at WilmU LeaderCamp were a little less digitally connected throughout the day than folks at other Edcamps tend to be, but we experienced zero problems with Wi-Fi, projectors, audio, at least that I was aware of.
  • Rather than setting up a complete website with multiple pages based on WordPress or some similar platform, we used Smore to put together a brief, one-page online presence with the who, what, when, where, and why of the day (see link above).  This suited our purposes much better, and forced us to trim extraneous info to just focus on the important stuff.
  • Speaking of which, I heard some feedback to the effect that our registration link was a little buried on our Smore site, so some folks came without registering.  We’ll have to do a better job of making that link explicitly clear for next year.
It was an exhilarating day of learning, and I think (hope?) we laid the groundwork for an event that will continue in the coming years, even after Bill, Todd, Chrissi, and I have all graduated.


Edcamp Leadership: Nuts & Bolts

Previously, I wrote about my first experience running a session at Edcamp Leadership.  I wasn’t just a participant, however; I was also on the organizational team.  This post will focus more on my reflections from the standpoint of an event organizer.


We were doubtlessly helped by the fact that about half the organizational team had been through this routine before with previous Edcamps, including the original event in Philadelphia last spring.  We used Google tools for our communication and organization during the planning stage, most specifically Google Groups (for mass email communication with group-accessible archive), Google Docs (for drafting agendas, correspondence, and even the day’s session board collaboratively and electronically), and Google+ Hangouts (for video conference calls).  We very easily delegated responsibilities and at no time did personality clashes or egos enter into the equation, at least not from my perspective.  We worked well as a team, both synchronously and asynchronously.

We also had fantastic logistical support from our hosts for the day (and co-sponsor), the NJ Principals & Supervisors Association.  Their FEA Conference Center provided a beautiful location for the day’s discussions.  I would also be remiss if I did not also thank all our sponsors for their contributions of time, funds, and raffle prizes.

I can’t impress enough how easy this job was thanks to NJPSA’s involvement.  Finding a facility to host an Edcamp is one of the biggest challenges in the process, and the fact that they were involved from the get-go removed a huge burden early on and allowed us to focus our attention on more minute, but no less significant, issues.  The facility is gorgeous, it was big enough to accommodate about 200 participants (we had about that many sign up; final confirmed attendance was somewhere around 105), and the staff on hand that day was extremely gracious and helpful.

Location was another consideration.  NJPSA/FEA is located about as centrally as you’re going to get in NJ.  We were about 5 minutes – if that – off the New Jersey Turnpike, making it easy for both local attendees to drive and attendees from farther flung regions (including Canada!) to access easily from Newark Airport.

General Reflections on the Day

All in all, I have very few complaints about the day.  There will always be little glitches along the way when putting together an event like this, so if a few minor inconveniences are all we had to deal with, we’re in very good shape.  Here are my takeaways from the day, both positives and areas to improve for next time:


  • Our conference hashtag, #edcampldr, trended on Twitter’s front page!
  • The quality of conversations, from my perspective, ran deeper than just “apps apps apps”.  People wanted to talk about issues of pedagogy and practice, which at times involved technology, but just as often, did not.
  • Our Wi-Fi access successfully supported 100+ people all trying to access the Internet more or less simultaneously (too bad the same couldn’t be said for Twitter that day!).
  • As with the organizers, there were no issues of ego or pulling rank, at least not that I witnessed.  We flattened the traditional K-12 hierarchy for a few hours to have frank discussions about leadership practice, hearing from teachers, principals, supervisors from both public and private schools, union and non-union folks, and even some folks in higher ed.  The multiplicity of perspectives made the discussions all the richer.
  • It was just FUN!  Strip away the name tags, the food (which was awesome), the raffle prizes, and you had educators coming together to talk about how to make it all better for kids.  Furthermore, we did it all without our benevolent corporate overlords trying to sell us the programs, products, and packages to “fix” what’s wrong.  It doesn’t get much better than that.

Areas for Improvement

  • We definitely should have done an audio check prior to Patrick‘s opening remarks.  We couldn’t get the mic working, and so Kevin and Patrick had to fiddle with it while 100+ educators sat politely and quietly and watched. It was probably only a minute, but it felt like an hour, and I wasn’t even up there.
  • One of the rooms was missing a projector, and nobody noticed until the presenter walked in for her session and didn’t have one.  Luckily Mike had a spare, but going forward I’m going to have a checklist (mental or otherwise) as we do a pre-conference sweep of all rooms.
  • Maybe it’s just me, but I did not like having two different sessions held in one big room.  I found paying attention to my session very challenging as I kept picking up bits and pieces of the conversation at the other end of the room.  I’m going to advocate for single rooms per session unless folks are informally meeting in a hallway, atrium, etc.
  • I held my session in a room that was designed to hold 16; we ended up shoe-horning 30 in.  Everyone was a good sport about it, sitting on floors, tables, standing, etc., but in the future I think I will suggest that all meeting spaces be able to accommodate 25-30.  Better to have too much room than too little.

My participation in Edcamp Leadership, both as organizer and participant, has prepared me well for similar roles in the upcoming WilmU LeaderCamp and EdcampNJ.  Although I can’t invite you to the WilmU event (unless you are a current M.Ed./Ed.D. student, faculty member, or alumnus!), I hope that you will consider joining us at EdcampNJ on Saturday, December 1st at Linwood Middle School in North Brunswick, NJ.

Did you attend Edcamp Leadership?  What were your takeaways from the day?  How will you use what you learned this year?