Sunday, February 28, 2016

EdcampWR - An Organizer's (worries and) Opinions

I'm coming down off an Edcamp high.   I'm a horrible blogger (my posts are very few and far between) but after hosting the third #edcampWR yesterday, I'm compelled to write. Those that know me, know that I enjoy event planning.  I love bringing people together.  And I'm passionate about education and promoting the culture of sharing. So it seems like a natural fit to organize an event such as Edcamp Waterloo Region.

When I started planning #edcampWR in 2012, Edcamps were relatively new.  The movement was beginning to grow in the United States in 2010. Kent Manning (retired teacher who was a very active member of my PLN and a big influence on me) sent a tweet over the Christmas holidays wondering if there would be any interest in hosting one in Canada, more specifically, near Belleville.  Around the same time Vancouver was also starting get on board and planning an event for April 16th.  Edcamp Quinte had three events in 2011, the first on March 5, making it the first official edcamp in Canada!  There were only about a dozen of us in attendance that day but it was such a great experience.  There was so much sharing, learning, connecting occurring.  Being there in the moment, face to face with passionate educators, while still connecting with virtual attendees on Twitter and Adobe Connect was amazing and I was hooked instantly.  By the fall of 2011, Toronto hosted their first event bringing in a much larger crowd and establishing "Edcamp" as movement to watch in Ontario.  So, in my opinion, this was the time to showcase what was happening in Waterloo region.  I had just been part of opening a newly rebuilt technology focused school and though it would be a great venue for such an event.  And it was!  We had 130 attendees from 11 different school boards represented at our first event on March 31, 2012.  People came all the way from Windsor, Ottawa, Belleville, and every district in between.  I'd like to think that our event, combined with Toronto's, inspired others because shortly after Edcamps were being planned in Ottawa and Hamilton.  Our next event in February of 2014 had similar numbers of participants and most seemed to come from neighboring and local school boards. Edcamps were now being planned in other areas such as London, Sault St. Marie, Manitoulin Island, Barrie, Peterborough and Windsor!  Fast forward to our event in 2016, although we did have people travel from Orangeville, Toronto, and London, most of our participants we from local school boards.  It seems that educators are not having to travel great distances to participate in Edcamp events as more and more are happening across the province.

When edcamps started in 2010, there were 8 events across the U.S.  That grew to over 50 in 2011, 6 of those taking place in Canada. That rose to 125 events the year we hosted our first event - 7 of those took place in Canada.  I remember the stress of trying to find sponsors for our first event and second events.  It really was the biggest task in EdcampWR planning.  In the beginning, we approached so many tech and educational companies for financial support or donations of products and services.  Most did not even reply to our requests and the others declined.  It was such a challenge to find support for our event.   In the following 2 years, the Edcamp movement has exploded with over 300 events held world wide.  Businesses are starting to take notice and are reaching out to Edcamps to promote their products and services.  When it came time to begin planning our 2016 event, sponsorship woes significantly changed.  Tech companies were contacting us and offering support!  Almost all of our sponsors for EdcampWR 2016 approached us wanting to get involved. WOW! As an organizer, that was impressive. We had twice the number of business partnerships and the best prizes to date. It certainly took some of the pressure off of event preparations but, more importantly, it shows the the increasing support and value of events such as these where people are in charge of their learning. 

Although sponsorship was up, the number of participants for our event this year was significantly lower, about half of what we've seen in the past.  In the week leading up to EdcampWR I received more than 30 cancellations from registrants expressing regret due to illness, death in the family, and conflicting plans. With a free event, it's always guaranteed that there will be 10-20 no shows. I worried that we wouldn't have many participants. I worried that our event this year would not have the impact that it's had in the past.  I worried that eliminating our unique Student Technology Showcase part of our last two events would be missed.  I worried that Edcamps are losing momentum and that people were no longer interested in our event.  I even stayed up the night before worrying about the the mistakes I made on photo booth I created!  I worry a lot....
Most of the time, I worry for nothing... Despite the lower numbers, EdcampWR DID have an impact, there WAS interest, and the educators were the ones naturally showcasing technology.  I feel like the smaller group made this event a little more intimate.  Roughly 1/4 of participants were first time edcampers and I think that's amazing!  I had been worrying that EdcampWR would be mostly made up of the usual know, the ones you see at every tech conference, the ones that are already actively involved in your PLN.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's always nice to see familiar faces, but I couldn't help but worry about the echo chamber.  I, personally, love the echo chamber on Twitter because it's where I go for sharing, support, and motivation.  However, I am also aware that different opinions, values, beliefs, and ideas are essential to push your thinking and grow.  I've always struggled with this balance of needing affirmation and challenge.

Being on the organization side of things, you tend to get around to see little snapshots of what's happening at the event.  I tried to capture and share as much as I could on Twitter (check out #edcampwr to see the stream from the day). As I went from room to room to check in, I could hear amazing stories being told, resources being shared, and supportive teachers providing encouragement and motivation to each other.  I heard little snippets that I thought "oooohh, wish I was here for the rest of this conversation" or "I'll have to get someone to fill me in on that discussion".  Although I enjoy being the host, I feel like I missed a lot of the learning that occurred and selfishly hope that others will share their resources and reflections as well.

My favourite tweet leading up to the event:

I am very lucky that my family supports me in these endeavors as well. My mom, a.k.a. the most incredible woman on the planet, always rises to the challenge when I ask "Hey Mom, can you make me a cake for _______?"  Not only does she drive an hour and a half to deliver the goods, she always goes beyond expectations.  This time around there were 6 cupcake packages for prizes and an awesome Instagram cake (pictured below in a tweet from Scott McKenzie) for a lucky winner.  And this I firmly believe!

Thanks to all who came out to make it a great day.  It's tweets like these that make all the planning and preparations worthwhile:

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