#edcamp is turning 3: a shared responsibility

Posted by on Apr 28, 2013 in Mixes | 7 comments

previous post: Upper Darby High School wins gold at Indoor Drumline next post: #edcampBOS: An embarrassment of riches #edcamp

We’re in the thick of the spring Edcamp season right now, and just weeks away from Edcamp’s big third birthday. Next weekend I’m thrilled to be a part of the organizing committee yet again for Edcamp Boston. But something’s been brewing in my mind for some time, and this post here definitely helped crystallize my thoughts and spurred me to writing.

Here’s the deal: people all over the place have been saying they love Edcamp. Lots of people are looking for support in rolling their own in their neck of the woods. Which is awesome, and why we created the Edcamp Foundation.

But Edcamp itself is bigger than the Foundation. It’s all of us, here and now, who believe in participatory learning. We’re all responsible for Edcamp. Edcamp wouldn’t happen without all of us working together the past three years to make it happen.

And sometimes, we’re botching it.

We’re messing up when we take the Edcamp name and turn it into something it’s not. I’ve had to chase after people who want to charge money for Edcamps. I’ve had to chase after people running Edcamps exclusively for a select group. I’ve had to chase after people calling an event with a predetermined schedule an Edcamp.

And that’s fine. That’s big picture stuff. I can handle that. It’s my voluntary job, and I do it because I believe in this thing.

But I can’t, nor I should I, be the police at every Edcamp around the world. Again, that’s all of us.

How are you helping to make your Edcamp a success?


Organizers, it’s got to start with you. You are amazing, and have contributed to the nearly 250 events since we started this thing three years ago. Edcamp wouldn’t happen without a group of local educators willing to say, “Hey, it would be awesome if we got a bunch of people to talk about education.”

Thank you.

For the love of God and all that is holy, you need to make sure that people know what Edcamp is about. You need to help your participants see that bigger picture. You need to let them know what a good session should look like and what a terrible session should look like. A great session at traditional conference is quite likely a terrible session at an unconference. Your experienced presenters? That’s going to be weird to them. Let them know that if they’re going to be presenting, they’re doing it wrong. They should be facilitating discussions. They should be working together to figure out new tools.

I am ashamed to admit that I have failed at this at times. I’m working on it.


Thinking of running a session? Awesome. Fantastic. Edcamp doesn’t go without people willing to take the lead and say “Hey, it would be great if a bunch of people got together to talk about this.”

Thank you.

For the love of God and all that is holy, remember this if nothing else: it’s not about you. If you’re preparing a slide deck, or have a bunch of speaking points, just stop. It’s not about you. It’s about the group of people in the room who want to share with and learn from each other. If one person is doing almost all of the talking, something is not right. If the participants in the room are passive, something is not right. I don’t care how great that presentation was at your state technology convention, that’s not right for Edcamp. this is not to say that a person can’t come in with a definitive plan for a session. Practice what you preach! My session at Edcamp Maine was all about problem-based learning, so guess what? People in the session did Problem-Based Learning! I was mostly sitting with one guy who didn’t want to try the problem and just asked me a lot of questions for 40 minutes while everybody else in the session was out of the room running around the building grabbing video. It was awesome. If you’re running a session where you think you have a lot to share because it’s something totally amazing and new (I’m looking at you, 3D Printing!), let the questions of the people in the room guide what you share, not your slide deck. If you’re not sure of where to start when designing a session built around discussion, may I suggest this helpful list of conversation protocols? It’s a phenomenal resource!

I am ashamed to admit that I have failed at this at times. I’m working on it.


Participants who choose not to run a session, it’s totally cool. Edcamp doesn’t happen without you to be there and help grow the knowledge pool of everybody present, moving around the building to different sessions and saying, “Hey, I want to learn about that.”

Thank you.

For the love of God and all that is holy, remember the probably single most important tool in your toolbelt during an Edcamp is the rule of two feet! I alternately heard somebody once more inclusively call this the rule of momentum: if it doesn’t move you, get moving. Is the session not what you thought it would be about? Totally cool, happens to all of us. Vote with your feet. Is somebody completely dominating the discussion in a room? Try to break their domination! If not, vote with your feet. Does the way the discussion move make it less relevant to your work? See if you can pull it back! If not, vote with your feet. Is somebody breaking out a slide deck they painstakingly put together for another conference? Vote with your feet immediately. The whole point of the rule of two feet is that you need to take responsibility for maximizing your own learning during the day. If no sessions during a time period interest you, hang out in a common area and just talk with other people who are around. The hallway session is one of the most insanely powerful and profound thing that you can have at any conference, it’s the real model for why we believe discussion is so important at an Edcamp, and it still works great at an Edcamp! So if something’s not working for you, please remember to vote with your feet!

I am ashamed to admit that I have failed at this at times. I’m working on it.

To go back to Kristy’s post which started all of this off, I do have to point something out: her concerns are not new. We had these very same concerns at the very first Edcamp! They are also not problems that are going to go away any time soon. There will always be people who try to take advantage of an Edcamp and twist it into something it shouldn’t be.

We’re all responsible for stopping them, and if not possible to stop them, to work around them.

I am ashamed to admit that I have failed at this at times. I’m working on it.

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previous post: Upper Darby High School wins gold at Indoor Drumline next post: #edcampBOS: An embarrassment of riches #edcamp


  1. Nice post. I got here from Kristy’s blog. Thanks for your viewpoint. As educators & hopefully lifelong learners, we can put into practice with our peers what we’re hopefully doing with our students-guiding learning not dominating through lecture. We all learn when questions are asked and answers discussed.

    • That’s exactly the point of why Edcamp is the way it is. Thanks, Shari.

  2. Hi Dan. Thanks for writing this post and reminding us about all that is wonderful about edcamp. I’m so happy that I read this before next week’s edcamp Boston. I’ve been thinking a lot about the event and the many questions on my mind related to tech-ed and education in general right now. I’ve been wondering about who’s using Tynker and STEAM labs and what they think. I’ve been wondering about the continuing challenge of introducing new systems, tools and processes in traditional schools? I’ve also been wondering about the kinds of questions, conversations and sessions that will pop up during day. Thanks for all that you and the edcamp team do–edcamps keep education fresh and people-centered. I appreciate that and both educators and students profit from that approach.

  3. Great post, Dan. I am still waiting for my Wikipedia entry as the first ever EdCamp attendee. I think David Jakes was second.

    It’s been an amazing run and I am grateful for this format and the connections it has created in my career. I look forward to the growth of this event.

    • You’ll always be listed as first Edcamp participant in the wikipedia in my heart.

  4. Hi Dan,

    I know the unconference thing is big and the walk with your feet is big, but for me the big sell on an edcamp is that it’s local/accessible; it’s on a Saturday so I don’t have to miss class; and it’s FREE. That last idea is huge for me. I won’t be at ISTE 13 because I can’t afford to fly to Atlanta, stay at Atlanta, and pay close to 300$ for the conference.

    When I went to my first edcamp I was bummed later that I had lead a session while Bill Selak and Dave Burgess had led their sessions. I really don’t care about the present vs. conversation model (both have their strengths) I was just excited to learn from these people w/o having to pay for it.

    I do have a problem with sessions being basically a shill for a particular product or even being hosted by someone who works for or is sponsored by a company. You can read more about that here: http://mrtheriaultfvhs.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/edcampla-a-hip-hop-reflection-2013/

    Let’s face it the real power in an Edcamp is that you are participating in PD with people who all WANT to be there, there is a ton of choice each session and if your needs aren’t being met it’s okay to vote with your feet.

    It’s great to have these philosophical conversations and to remind everyone what they are supposed to look like, but even if they aren’t 100% pure I’ll keep going because they are the best deal in the world.


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