Top Ten Reasons You Should Attend a Barcamp (especially edcamp PHILLY!) by Kevin Jarrett

Top Ten Reasons You Should Attend a Barcamp (especially edcamp PHILLY!) by Kevin Jarrett

{Cross posted on TechLearning Advisor Blog}

Barcamp? Eh? It's got nothing to do with alcohol or the great outdoors - but it has everything to do with community, teaching and learning. A 'barcamp' is an informal, user-driven conference. They are happening all over the world. Yes, right now! I had my first-ever barcamp experience back in November 2009. Philadelphia's second annual "Barcamp Philly" was fantastic; I have the photos to prove it. The most amazing part: a group of like-minded teachers magically came together that day and envisioned hosting an event of our own - a barcamp just for K-12 educators ... and lo, edcamp PHILLY was born:

Yep! On May 22nd at Drexel University, hundreds of educators (we hope!) will gather to meet each other, discuss issues, trade tips, ask questions and get answers ... while we recharge, regroup and refresh our minds. Everyone's welcome, but if you're nearby and available, please register now, we expect the event to sell out well in advance! Ok, but what exactly is a "barcamp," and why would you want to go to one? According to Wikipedia, Barcamp is “is an international network of user generated conferences (or unconferences) - open, participatory workshop-events, whose content is provided by participants.” Well, ok - but don't participants provide content at ordinary conferences? That's true, but it's probably the only thing a "regular" conference has in common with an unconference. Allow me to explain, and in so doing, help convince you why should you attend a "Barcamp" (especially edcamp PHILLY): photo credit: Tracy O

Reason #10: It's free

In case you haven't noticed, school districts everywhere in this country are in the midst of a paralyzing financial crisis. Jobs are getting cut, budgets are being slashed, expenditures in every area are being scrutinized. Thinking about asking your district to send you to a conference? Good luck with that. As a dedicated lifelong learner yourself (I bet you're reading this blog outside of normal school hours), you are already accustomed to learning on "your dime, your time." No one expects this sort of learning to replace district-sponsored professional development, but, taking advantage of high-quality, FREE learning opportunities when they present themselves seems to make more sense than ever. photo credit: urbanwoodswalker

Reason #9: It's (often) local

Barcamps spring up all over the place on a regular basis. Chances are you won't have to drive far to attend one. (Better still, you could follow your lead and organize your own...) Local gatherings give you the opportunity to connect with other educators who are dealing with the same local and regional challenges - chances are, they have some ideas that work, and that could work for you, too. photo credit: robert_hornung

Reason #8: No "Boat Show"

Not to take anything away from huge national mega-conferences (it's an unfair comparison really) but personally, I'm appalled by the wretched excess often displayed at these events in exhibit halls by the educational-industrial complex. Sorry. Just had to get that out there. I know this is America and capitalism drives our democracy, but, there's something to be said for a conference experience that's not defined by huge-dollar displays of the latest classroom technology. Howsabout we focus instead on real people solving real problems in real classrooms every day? There. That's better. photo credit: sfllaw

Reason #7: There's food

An army moves on its stomach, and the same could be said for any large group. Barcamp organizers know this. While you should expect to get lunch on your own, Barcamp organizers work hard to ensure there will be breakfast (and usually snacks throughout the day) to keep you recharged and focused. photo credit: vanz

Reason #6: Interesting, creative, hardworking people - like you

Okokok, so these people go to "regular" conferences too ... but there's something different about your typical Barcamp attendee. First, see Reason #10. Barcampers come because they want to learn and have something to share in return, not because someone's paying their way. "Self-selection" means that a typical Barcamper is likely to be driven by their quest for knowledge and self-improvement - they are giving up their own time, after all - and in my experience, these folks are the most fun to have in an audience! photo credit: Travis Isaacs

Reason #5: Barcamps are edgy

Ohhhhh, yesssss ... geek chic all the way, baby! No seriously, as a card-carrying middle-aged member of the wanna-be-cool-as-a-college-kid set, I admit it, I enjoy surrounding myself with people whose opinions and attitudes make me think critically about my methods, approaches, and results. If you're looking for conformity and groupthink, a Barcamp isn't for you. If new ideas and approaches get your juices flowing, you'll be right at home. photo credit: calu777

Reason #4: Connect in person with people you know online

The "personal" in "personal learning network" can be interpreted to mean "I know this individual in real life." A Barcamp is a great way to get to know someone you've been learning with online! Since the atmosphere is relaxed and conversational, there are plenty of opportunities to get to know other folks. You just don't get the "rushed" feeling you do at a large conference.

Reason #3: Conference participants determine the schedule - that day

Sounds nutty, I know. (Go ahead, tilt your head sideways like a puppy trying to understand.) Picture a big room with a board in it. People walk up, grab a 3x5 notecard, and write the name of the topic they want to talk about on the board. This information is put online, and the schedule for the day is set. Other people check this online list, make their choices, then scamper off to their assigned meeting location. Learning commences. photo credit: thomascrenshaw

Reason #2: The Rule of Two Feet

Have you ever been to a conference presentation, seated amidst a sea of closely-arranged chairs, only to discover the topic (or presenter, or something else) is not to your liking, but you are TRAPPED for the balance of the meeting time? Yeah, been there, done that. As someone who presents a lot, I admit, it's hard when someone gets up in the middle of your talk and walks out. It's just something that people don't do usually. Here's the thing: BARCAMPS ARE DIFFERENT! It's EXPECTED and ENCOURAGED that you move in and out of sessions WHILE THEY ARE HAPPENING. Think about it. How can you possibly decide which session to attend, in a matter of minutes, and based on a cryptic (and probably esoteric) title? Barcampers know this. So people who need to leave do so, and no one thinks anything less of the speaker, or the attendee. Trust me! It's true!

Reason #1: Relaxed, informal learning at its best

I dunno, doesn't the picture above look like a bunch of people having fun learning? When is the last time you were able to do that at a national conference? (What, sitting on the floor bothers you? It's okay. We've got chairs too.) Photos don't do it justice. You have to experience a Barcamp to see what I mean! Wow, this post turned out way longer than I intended - so let's wrap it up here. If you have a chance to attend a Barcamp, particularly an education-focused event like edcamp PHILLY - you owe it to yourself to see what the hubbub is all about. In exchange for a little bit of your time, you can expect a rate of return far in excess of your investment! Hope to see you at Drexel University on May 22nd for edcamp PHILLY! -kj-