Monday, December 6, 2010

EdCamp NYC - What is That All About?

EdCamp NYC

As I sit on the train riding home to Boston, my thoughts spiral as I consider how I landed in New York City this weekend and what my take away is from the experience. I decided to participate in EdCamp NYC because I was certain this free “unconference” being held at The School at Columbia, Columbia University, would draw some of the most interesting educators. As I sat one of theclassrooms of this elementary school in a building on West 110th Street, I couldn’t’ believe I was listening to Tom Whitby speak on such topics as developing a Professional Learning Network (PLN) using social networks and the relevance of technology in our classrooms. Tom is a prevalent leader in the PLN’s in which I participate. It was then that I began to really consider how being a part of the Twitter and Blogging generation of education has propelled my life forward and pushed me to see technology from a whole new view. Less than one year ago I would not have dreamed I would have attended an “unconference” at Columbia University, NYC. I would never have imagined that I would meet folks whose writings I had read by way of the social network of Twitter. I wouldn’t have known them at all but through their blogposts and tweets. And there I was, connecting with those whose Twitter names I recognized. There I was asking others for their Twitter names so I could “follow” them. If not for this PLN, I wouldn’t have been listening to a discussion with someone called the “nerdy teacher” a person I “follow”. I wouldn’t have participated in a Skype discussion with a group of educators simultaneously participating in Ed Camp Citrus Florida, a session led by Dan Callahan. I wouldn’t have conversed with the technology director from Connecticut who recommended several other conferences nor the “Technology Teacher of the Year” from Pennsylvania. These are but a few of my interesting experiences during my Saturday at EdCamp NYC.

How did this all happen? It all began with a conversation I had in the hallway last spring with Patrick Larkin, principal of Burlington High School. He had often spoken of his experiences using Twitter to develop a Professional Learning Network but I really hadn’t understood it. Once he explained that I did not have to receive tweets on my phone and that I didn’t have to send out tweets but that I could just read them on my computer, I became more interested. He encouraged me to sign- up and just try it. He also informed me about an“unconference” in Philadelphia called“Ed Camp Philly” that was being organized by Dan Callahan (now a technology specialist at Pine Glen Elementary School). The “unconference” concept was quite appealing, but I knew I could not attend the weekend it was scheduled for in May. However, the conversation about it remained with me as I was interested in attending one at some point. I went home that night, started a Twitter account, and that’s how this all began.

I want to make it clear, that is was not just Twitter that made the difference. It was Twitter PLUS the person to person contact that made the difference. Many people think that social networking is replacing human contact. I am finding that for many of us it is enhancing human contact and really making the world small… very small. I have the choice to connect with other educators around the world electronically AND connect with them in person just as I did at this “unconference”. I had the opportunity to actually go to a conference to meet every day educators who I had never met, but had read about their thoughts, opinions, and experiences long before this meeting. It felt a little like a reunion of sorts, and yet how could it be a reunion when we had never met? This is a world I absolutely could not have envisioned less than one year ago. Absolutely not! And yet, there I was, in NYC, on a Saturday in December, engrossed in thoughtful conversations about education with others who share my passion. This was powerful! This experience allowed me to see through a window into our students’ future.

That is why I fully understand the paramount importance it is for me as a principal to be vigilant in my efforts to learn about the world of technology. I need to stay current regarding how it is used in the world and how we can use it in the classrooms. I listened to the frustration of the technology directors and specialists as they asked how they could help their principals understand the importance of supporting advances in using technology in the schools. Technology is changing fast and principals have the ability to move the agenda forward by committing to technology as a priority and by supporting technology though every avenue that is within the realm of a building administrator. The question is not whether or not to allow certain components of technology in schools. The question is how are we going to teach our students to use this powerful tool to enhance their learning and their lives. Educators must be deeply involved in this conversation as it is propelling forward with or without us. Our students need it to be “with us”. They will need to understand how to use technology effectively and responsibly to survive in this world.That is why it is our responsibility to lead the way.

Throughtechnology we can design instruction that exemplifies all the “engaging qualities” that we strive to incorporate. There are tremendous opportunities to provide experiences that are authentic and allow for personal response. Students can learn with others; others not in their classroom, their school or their state. They can produce projects that require them to have a “sense of audience”. They will need to evaluate materials they read, view or listen to via the internet. They will also need to be equally critical of their own writing or whatever they create with technology so that it is of the highest quality. There are limitless ways for students to put their “own stamp on things”, “make it their own”, and essentially bring their learning to the highest levels of Blooms Taxonomy. Technology has the potential to enhance creativity. However, the students need us to provide the clear and modeled expectations so that this medium is used for the best learning outcomes.

As the train slows to a halt, I realize it is back to work tomorrow. I am returning with renewed energy and a revitalized commitment towards the work that lies ahead in bringing technology to the students of my school. There is much work to be done and it won’t happen overnight, but effectively using technology in our classrooms is an essential component of educating this 21st Century generation.


  1. Thanks for sharing the thoughtful post. Now you will sit on the other side of the divide, the side where those of us who are "enlightened" about social networking reside. You will walk/talk in the halls or meetings and mention something you saw on Twitter or a blog post you read, and folks will look at you like you're some kind of tech geek. You are speaking a foreign language. Of 30 classrooms at our school, I and one other teacher are on Twitter. A couple more have blogs because the principal insisted on a web presence. Most teachers opted for a static website that isn't updated. Blog posts are not what those sites are about - yet.
    As many folks on Twitter as there are, it still amazes me that it hasn't been embraced by other teachers in the way it should be. We learn SO MUCH from our PLN!

  2. Susan - Thanks for sharing your thoughts from Edcamp NYC. The greatest thing about technology is that we as building leaders are far less isolated. As we build our PLN, we can model and share the impact that technology is having in our buildings and in our professional lives.

    Keep sharing your triumphs and failures. They help us all move our schools forward and help us create the environments that our students deserve.

  3. Great post. I really liked the point that "the students need us to provide the clear and modeled expectations so that this medium is used for the best learning outcomes."

    As such, educators need to do a cost-benefit analysis of which technologies work in life and in school...and then give that over to the students. The only way this will happen is if we get on board with social media and new technologies. Otherwise teachers will be deemed ignorant by their students, as well as miss opportunities to network and learn from peers both online and in-person (like the author of the blog did). Not to mention missing out on many technologies that enhance educational processes and classroom teaching.

    In short, as educators who are teaching the next generation to behooves us to do some learning get online, get plugged in (or unplugged) and get going.

    Zev Schonberg

  4. Susan, I enjoyed reading your blog post about your trip to Ed Camp, sounds like you got a lot out of it. I use Twitter a lot to connect to other early childhood professionals and have found great articles to post on our program blog to share with parents. I have found it to be a very valuable resource.

    Thanks for sharing.

  5. I'm so glad you took the train ride down to NYC. You are is the offline contact that is needed to help others see the potential value in getting online and out to conferences like EdCamp NYC. I enjoyed looking in on ntcamp in your area via the Internet today. I'm looking forward to helping plan the next EdCamp NYC in 2011. Maybe you'll be able to bring along a fellow educator.