November 21st, 2011 by USC Rossier Online Staff
When I got the e-mail from USC about the EdCamp unconference, I was tempted to delete it unread. After all, nothing ever happens in Harrisburg and I wasn’t sure I wanted to visit Philadelphia or Washington for an “unconference”.
But, I did read it, and I was pleasantly surprised that there would be one in Harrisburg. After checking my calendar, I immediately registered for the event. I’m very interested in instructional technology, so the opportunity to learn about ways to incorporate it in the classroom was too great to pass up.
An unconference is almost the exact opposite of a conference. A conference is a teacher-driven instruction. There is a fixed agenda and the sessions are led by teachers who lecture. If there is time, there might be a question-and-answer period, but you’re there to learn what the teacher has to say.
An unconference, on the other hand, is a learner-driven instruction. Participants themselves decide what they’re willing to speak on and session attendees drive the discussion; anyone can offer their experiences and everyone has the ability to add something.
As a pre-service teacher, I was more apt to observe the discussion since I don’t feel there is much I can add to the table yet, I don’t have the experience of a classroom teacher. At one session about online learning, I found that I actually had a lot to contribute because of my experiences as a student in the MAT@USC program.
I may never have taught an online class, but I was still able to talk about my perception of what makes a good online teacher… because I’ve had good online teachers. I was also able to speak to some of my frustrations because I’ve also had teachers who may not have been as suited for the virtual classroom. My experiences with both types of teachers helped add some perspective to other attendees who may be tasked with implementing online classes, but who may not have had the experience of being a student in such a class.
Due to the fact that the session facilitators were also working professionals, I found a lot of inspiration! They shared the tools they are using in their own classrooms for learning and gave insight on what works and what doesn’t. I learned several ways that students can interact with their classmates and me outside of school to work on projects and to ask questions. For example, my favorite communications tool is now Twitter!
Twitter is what we used during EdCamp to post questions, share information, and stay in touch. In fact, since EdCamp, I’ve been able to network with other teachers and have even participated in a Twitter chat for social studies teachers (#SSChat). What better way to improve one’s own practice than to learn from other teachers? Thanks to EdCamp, I’ve found a very useful tool that I can incorporate into my lesson planning and Twitter is just one of many!
The final wrap-up was a Tech Smackdown. Attendees who wished to do so had 60 seconds to share their favorite websites. These websites are now available online. After the Smackdown, there was a raffle for door prizes that EdCamp’s generous sponsors donated.
I had such a great experience with EdCamp Harrisburg that I am already looking forward to next year’s. If you have the opportunity to go to one, I strongly suggest that you do; it will not be a wasted day. If you don’t, start one! Check out the website and contact the organizers of the Harrisburg EdCamp to find out how.
Robin Cartwright is a member of the September 2009 Cohort and is pursuing her teaching degree with a concentration in Social Science. She recently attended the EdCamp Harrisburg Unconference!