Friday, May 9, 2014

Rethinking PD: a Post #Edcamp Reflection

For those who are unaware of Edcamp, it is an "unconference." Unconferences are in contrast to highly formal, commercialized and planned conferences. The specific agenda is not planned ahead. The agenda is dictated by the attendees in real time. A board with a grid showing times and classrooms is posted and teachers who want to offer a workshop or discussion write down a title or brief description into one of the unclaimed spots. A copy of the board is updated online as well. 

A teacher adding a workshop option to the board
When I first read about it, I couldn't believe this idea worked. What if most people just showed up to attend and not lead? What if there were blank spots? My tendency toward foreseeing flaws kicked into over gear. Alas, Edcamp NYC was successful. All of the slots were eventually filled and I even recognized some of the workshop leaders. Rashan, developer of Explain Everything, led a workshop on Screencasting that turned into a nice discussion of sharing best practices. A few of us even shared student work. Andrew Stillman, Google Script developer extraordinaire, led a workshop or two about some of his scripts. This recent nontraditional professional development, led me to reflect on what I would like to see in professional development. 
  1. Practical research-based ideas:  I don't just want theory but I want tangible strategies that are known to be effective.
  2. Individualized: my needs are different than others, therefore, my professional development ought to reflect my unique combination of skills and deficiencies. It also ought to capture what I see as important and is relevant to my practice. It should also be on-demand and driven by my schedule. I should be able to learn on my own time, not necessarily when others are available.
  3. On-going and transformational: I've found continuous pd about a topic is more transformational than a workshop or two about a topic. 
  4. Varied: I prefer to learn from different modalities - books, videos, chats, courses, lectures, etc.
  5. Responsive: I should be able to make adjustments midstream based on feedback and self reflection. 
While Edcamps may not meet all of these requirements, I see a role for them in my professional development plan. Edcamp is the wildcard, sometimes you don't know what you don't know. Edcamp can introduce me to current ideas that are not even on my radar. 

It's almost ironic that the features I want as part of my pd plan mirror many of the characteristics I try to instill in my class. I'm moving toward a more responsive class with varied learning opportunities that individuals can choose from. My students already enjoy an on-demand culture where they learn at their own pace, which is supported by research. The similar desires for my pd and my courses should not be a surprise; at the end of the day, they are both about learning.