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5 Questions With... Edcamp Foundation's Dan Callahan

Dan Callahan
November 22, 2013

Dan Callahan, Co-Founder of Edcamps, on EngageDan Callahan currently teaches for Burlington Public Schools as an Instructional Technology Specialist focused on implementing a K-5 1:1 iPad program in a combined Library & Technology program. In 2010, he helped launch the Edcamp movement by organizing Edcamp Philly, an event which has lead to hundreds of unconference events around the world. He currently serves as the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the non-profit Edcamp Foundation. He teaches in the Next Generation Learning Master's Program for Experienced Educators at Antioch University New England. He has presented at many international and regional conferences. In 2013, Dan received an Impact Award from the Association of Education Arts and Sciences for his work on Edcamp.

For the uninitiated, can you give us a nutshell explanation of Edcamps and your role within the movement?

Edcamp is participant-driven professional development following the unconference model. Instead of the traditional top-down model where somebody organizing the PD determines which things people can learn about, the agenda at an Edcamp is designed by the participants at the beginning of the event. Throughout the day, participants are encouraged to engage in meaningful conversations and to move between sessions to find the best fit for them.

I co-founded the Edcamp movement in 2010 by helping to organize the first Edcamp in Philadelphia. Since that time there have been more than 350 Edcamps in countries all around the world. I currently serve as the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Edcamp Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to building and supporting a community of empowered learners.

Much of the conversation around Edcamps focuses on the failures of traditional PD. What are the glaring holes that Edcamps are able to fill?

Teachers traditionally have very limited choice in their in-school professional development. The entire school/department/grade level is all going to learn about something, regardless of whether it has any relevance to your own professional practice.

Edcamp KC. p: LauraGilchrist4 via photopin cc

Edcamps, since their agenda is designed by the participants, is based entirely on their passions, interests, and questions. They make it automatically relevant and useful. Outside of school, teachers have little if any professional development and travel funding that will allow them to attend conferences that might have more relevance. Edcamps are all free to attend, and happening in an increasing number of communities, making it possible for almost anybody to get to one. If your community hasn’t hosted an Edcamp yet, we at the Edcamp Foundation will be glad to help you get started with resources and ideas.

Because teachers don’t have a choice in what professional development they receive, they will often end up in undifferentiated settings. Everybody gets the same lecture on a specific topic, and there’s no distinction made for the person who’s completely new to it, the person who’s tried it out and is looking for more advanced knowledge, and the person who is already an expert.

What do you say to those who are skeptical of Edcamps lack of formal organization and pre-planning?

Why do you assume that formality is a necessity for quality professional development? Even at a conference where I’m allowed to choose where to go, I still find that I get at least as much if not more benefit out of the opportunity to talk to other people in between the sessions than from just the sessions themselves.

Also, don’t mistake a lack of formal agenda for a lack of planning. A lot of effort goes into planning a day that will maximize opportunities for people to have meaningful interactions with each other. Many people come to Edcamp with a very solid idea for what they would like to talk about and how they want to run the session they choose to facilitate.

Theres a video on the Edcamp blog entitled, Dan Callahan is Ruining Professional Development. Want to help? Its obviously a bit tongue in cheek, but whats the story behind that message?

After the very first Edcamp, one of the participants had to go to an in-district professional development the following Monday. He tweeted out that Edcamp had ruined professional development for him, as he now felt trapped in an undifferentiated lecture that had little to do with his classroom.

What advice would you give to a teacher who is attending her/his first Edcamp event?

Come in with lots of ideas and questions. Be prepared to participate, whether that’s facilitating a session or simply engaging in the conversations you go to. If a session isn’t working for you, get up and leave to go to another one. Nobody will be offended. Do your best to maximize your learning throughout the day. Talk to everybody you can. Have fun.

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