Something new at Edcamp Branford

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of having a conversation with Art LaFlamme (@artlaflamme) and Samantha Bates (@sjsbates) concerning edcamps. Knowing that Edcamp Branford was just around the corner, I was in a unique position to try out what we were discussing.

We were talking about the need for prolonged, targeted conversation on topics that often lead educators in a circular path but never truly accomplishing anything. It was suggested by Art, that edcamp leaders could easily set aside the time for people to come together and work through the different stages necessary to create a solution. We all agreed we had never seen this done at an edcamp. Generally, the topics on the session board are given about an hour and then dismissed to move to another topic. No one was arguing that the entire edcamp model was faulty, merely that a tweak could make it so much better.

Knowing the educational community that would be attending Edcamp Branford, I knew one such topic was blended learning. There is such a wide variety of information on the topic that when educators get together too much time can be wasted complaining about the ill conceived attempts at blended learning. Often we get so lost in the argument that we forget that we have all these great minds in a room that could actually devise a solution. I decided that at Edcamp Branford, I would provide the time necessary to go beyond what blended learning is and into what blended learning actually looked like.

As we began Edcamp Branford, the board clearly reflected the needs of the participants. I decided to set the blended learning topic for after lunch. That way, if the need was there, it could continue after “edcamp hours”. Now all we had to do was wait to see if anyone would attend a two hour edcamp session.

We started with six participants but a seventh soon joined us. We started with the question, “What is blended learning?”. It was clear that some of us had been studying the topic. It was also clear that some of us had a “mushy” definition that we really couldn’t define well. As we talked, it was clear that one member of our group was having trouble getting students to value the resources he found on YouTube. The group jumped in and helped him find a usable method for verifying that the students not only watched the videos, but also so he could determine if the students gained the information he was hoping to impart by showing the videos.

As the first hour was coming to a close, he also expressed concern with the students having their personal devices, mainly cell phones, out in class. He was frustrated by the amount of time he had to spend telling them to put them away or to stop texting. We began encouraging him to ask the students to start using the devices as research tools.  It was at this point that I had to step away. (I was the edcamp leader and had to attend to other tasks.)

Later it was reported to me that this educator indicated that he needed “to see it in action”. The entire group agreed to go to his classroom so he would be in his element. They proceeded to be his students and demonstrate how personal devices could encourage deeper understanding of The Cold War. This apparently encouraged him to decide to step out of his current routines and try to incorporate what he had witnessed into his teaching practices.

Every person in that session left with an excitement, and a concrete example of how they could utilize students’ personal devices in the classroom on Monday. For me, this was an amazing break through. We’ve created a private Google+ community so they can keep the conversation going. Hopefully, this will be the start of some amazing collaboration.

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