This is my (late) follow-up from the recent Edcamp Leadership BC conference I attended with Khanh, Humaira, Aaron, and several others. Khanh already blogged about the conference, as did Aaron, so hopefully my (train-of-thought) post offers something different.
Edcamp Leadership BC took place on Saturday, November 17, 2012 at my high school (Delta Secondary School) in Ladner. Much like the last Edcamp I attended, Edcamp Leadership BC was an unconference with a focus on education.
The first session I attended was called “Change Management”. It was a workshop focusing on how to implement institutional and societal changes, with a focus on educational changes. For example, how to convince parents or schools that there are benefits to not giving letter grades on every assignment and test. The workshop looked through several of the big theories behind change management such as Roger’s Innovation Adoption Curve, which can lead to the suggestion that when trying to disperse new ideas it is better to target innovators and early adopters first. However, I didn’t find there to be anything particularly new that I haven’t seen before. I also wasn’t convinced that methods such as targeting innovators and early adopters first would subsequently lead to a following. Collaborative notes can be found here.
The second session I attended was called “Passion Based Learning (Genius Hour)” which was run by Gallit, who I met at the conference. From my understanding and recollection, in Gallit’s classroom, she offers something called the “Genius Hour”, which is an hour a week that students can work on any project they want to work on. She has students making movies, fixing computers, and building pinhole cameras. These students evaluate themselves and their peers, and give feedback on where to improve. When things don’t work, students explore reasons why they methods didn’t work and look for alternates. I like the idea of genius hour, and giving students the freedom to study and explore something entirely of their choosing. I also like that the projects weren’t assigned a letter grade (at least, not from what I recall), which I feel could decrease the interest students have in their own interests. However, a concern I raised at the session was because the students are being given so much freedom, how can one prevent them from gaming the system? Collaborative notes can be found here.
The third session I attended was called “Facilitating Student Choice, Flexibility and Collaboration”. I was especially intrigued by the title of this session since, having recently read Drive, I thought it would be interesting to see if giving students more autonomy, and perhaps a greater sense of purpose in their education, would give them more motivation to actively engage in their learning. As the session turned out, it was very specifically targeting a specific, unique high school in Vancouver. This school is Thomas Haney Secondary School (THSS), a school which encourages self-directed learning by giving students freedom on when and how fast they study their courses, amongst other differences that make the school unique. The session was examining the introduction of one block per day where students would have significantly more freedom in what and where they studied. Although the session wasn’t the broad topic I had hoped it to be, I thought it was interesting to learn about THSS and its practices in Vancouver. However, similarly to the genius hour session, I voiced concern about how to address the potential for students gaming the system as a result of their freedom during this block. Collaborative notes can be found here.
The last session I attended was called “Things That Suck”. A unique session, here the facilitator took a large open area in the library and asked the ~100 participants to stand in one of three areas of the room (one area representing “I support”, another representing “I’m against”, and the middle area representing “I’m undecided”) with respect to some topic. Afterwards, each side was to present their reasons for being on that particular side, and then people were given an opportunity to switch sides should they have been persuaded out of their current position. Topics included “Grades”, “Schools (the physical buildings)”, “BYOD (Bring Your Own Device”, and “iPads”, though there were many other different topics presented. I thought this session was a neat, interactive way of starting dialogue on various topics. However, I felt that the prompts were unclear and vague, which was evident in the defenses of each side as often it was found that people were separated not by differing opinions but instead by differing interpretations of the prompt. I also felt that the discussions were extremely shallow, and the fast rotating through topics did not allow for true discussion or debate. Collaborative notes can be found here.
Overall, I had a good time at Edcamp Leadership BC. I enjoyed the company present at the conference, the opinions of so many different individuals, and the presence of so many people interested in education. Suggestions I have for future Edcamps (or related unconferences):
- When presenting topics during the voting period, a paragraph or so description describing the intended content of that session would be great. Otherwise, titles alone are often too vague to determine whether there is true interest in the topic at hand.
- In introducing the unconference, I think it would be a good idea to explain to people the nature of the unconference (in that people vote for workshops that anyone can propose to lead, popular workshops are assigned rooms in the school, and then people can split up to go to classrooms where smaller group discussions and presentations can take place). At the beginning, I had several people asking me what was happening as it was their first Edcamp and they didn’t really understand how everything worked.
- To encourage conversations of depth instead of often simply breadth, I might suggest setting aside a couple of rooms for the whole day. Then each of these rooms, each with a specific topic of great interest (eg. Do letter grades belong in schools?), could perhaps have a presentation in the first session slot bringing people up to date on current research and ideas on that specific prompts, and then have the remaining session slots for the rest of the day dedicated to a Think Tank style sessions to research what has been demonstrated about the prompt, and determining a concrete action plan for how to address conclusions whether it be in the education community or the political infrastructure governing schools.
- I think that one of the benefits of this event is the presented capacity to meet new people. As it stands, however, I feel many people ease into their comfort zone and socialize mostly with people they’re already familiar with. Perhaps it would be beneficial to try, during lunch time, to have a brief announcement every 15 minutes, reminding people that this is a great opportunity to make new connections and explore new ideas. Not everyone will move to a different table, but I feel the prompt might provide the opportunity or push for some people to make a few extra connections that day.
- As was often emphasized at Edcamp Leadership BC, everyone present were members of “The Converted” (how’s that for a cult-like group title? Fortunately, it was the only real cult-like reference I experienced at Edcamp ;D). I feel that presented issues were often one-sided, and that the other side of the issue was often un(der)represented. Additionally, I felt that it was “The Un-Converted” that would truly benefit from an event such as Edcamp Leadership BC. I think an effort to encourage “The Un-Converted” to attend Edcamp would greatly benefit the event.