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Developing a Successful EdCamp for Intensive English Programs

Photo taken by Mohammedreza Jalaeian


On Friday, February 19th, 2016, I, with the help of many colleagues and partners, successfully ran my first and maybe the first EdCamp for intensive English programs (IEPs).  I was so overjoyed with how smoothly it ran and,even more so, how many of my colleagues considered it an enriching and engaging experience.  I have been a fan and an advocate of EdCamps ever since my first experience at the Chicago EdCamp in October 2013.

What's an EdCamp?

An EdCamp is a type of "unconference," which is participant-driven and inquiry-driven.  There are no plenary, keynote, or other types of speakers.  Every session is a discussion on a topic decided upon by the attendees, which in this case were IEP faculty and staff.  EdCamps were originally designed for and by K-12 educators in the United States.
I have attended three EdCamps, mainly designed for K-12 educators, in Illinois and Iowa.  These EdCamps helped me design an institutional EdCamp with my colleagues at Kirkwood Community College. Although that was successful, I believe that networking with others outside your own institution is what makes EdCamps valuable.  This opportunity allowed me to combine my two passions of participant-drive professional learning and English language teaching.

Designing an IEP Camp

The great thing about EdCamps is that it's almost always about sharing and open access, so designing one is no secret and it's mostly free.  The two sites that helped me the most were as follows:
The EdCamp Wiki has is probably the best open access site as it has lots and lots of ideas, advice,and suggestions not to mention a map and schedule of nearly all the EdCamps going on.

Modifications for the IEP faculty and staff participants

#1 - Sponsors


Many of the sponsors for the traditional EdCamps are education technology companies and non-profit organizations. This is most likely because many participants at these EdCamps bring many questions and ideas regarding technology. I'm not sure how many education technology companies specifically target IEP faculty and staff, but I discovered that it wasn't many.

So instead of using what works with most traditional EdCamps, I relied on my experience and observations with most traditional English language teaching/applied linguistics conferences.  What are the biggest brand names there?  Publishers, such as Pearson and Oxford University Press, and testing and assessment organizations, such as ETS.  We didn't have much luck with the testing and assessment organizations, but we did with publishers.  However, I found out too late that it is better to contact your local representative by phone than via email.

Another good tip that worked for us was personal contacts with companies interested in sponsoring. Our interim director had some personal and professional connections to two sponsors that I would not normally consider asking.

#2 - Networking


Many participants at traditional EdCamps have the convenience of being connected already through their schools, districts, and professional learning communities.  IEPs are a bit different, but fortunately networking started right away when our previous IEP director introduced me and our current interim director (at CESL, Southern Illinois University Carbondale) to our colleagues at the University of Southern Indiana with this EdCamp in mind.  Our program also had close ties to Southeastern Missouri State University's IEP and sought a partnership with them for this project.

We had the opportunity to share this with our regional TESOL affiliates, but we wanted to keep the first IEP camp smaller because it was a pilot project.  We were not sure if it would be successful at all.  If it were a disaster, at least it would be among friends who are usually more forgiving than strangers.  Also, it would have been bad publicity among the TESOL community.  Fortunately for us, it was very successful.  And I feel we can start reaching out to the regional TESOL affiliates next year.

An even more unique opportunity was that we had English language teachers from Panama at CESL in Carbondale. Although not IEP teachers, they brought new insights in the forms of both questions and answers. Many of us American teachers finally had the chance to learn more about the English language teaching and learning contexts in Panama. I was very happy to hear of their more progressive language policies that included adopting the communicative language teaching approach for both pedagogy and assessment. I'm sure the Panamanians appreciated learning about this "unconference" approach to professional development.

#3 - Low-tech

Because many traditional EdCampers bring a lot of questions and ideas regarding technology, they are a higher proportion of tech-savvy teachers and instructional designers in attendance.  I anticipated that this would not be the case based on my experience with Kirkwood's institutional EdCamp (KCamp) and my experience with English language teachers. I'm not saying English language teachers are not tech-savvy, I'm saying they have other interests that are equally if not more important to them.

The 3 K-12 EdCamps I attended were heavy with usage on Twitter and Google Drive. A lot of promotion and sharing was done through Twitter, but I learned that the large majority of our participants did not have or do not regularly use Twitter.  We could still use Google Drive as a resource, but I did not expect our participants to take notes on Google documents to upload to our website, which itself was a Google document. I let the note-takers take notes in any form they chose and they could email or hand me their notes that I would post myself later.  This was a smaller unconference, so I could spare some time to upload a maximum of 28 sets of notes.

The Shawnee Hills IEP Camp

Faculty and staff from the IEPs of Southern Illinois University Carbondale and the University of Southern Illinois voted on Shawnee Hills as the name of the IEP Camp because it represents the area of Southern Illinois, and the Shawnee Native Americans once lived in the greater region.  (We were targeting the five-state area of Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Kentucky, and Tennessee.)

The best way to show you how the IEP was designed and implemented is to share our official website at http://bit.ly/ShawneeIEP.  Looking at the website will show you how we organized the following:
  • Parking and directions for guests to the Southern Illinois University campus
  • The role of our sponsors
  • The schedule and proceedings of the IEP Camp
  • Some of the notes from our sessions
  • Catered and mostly sponsored breakfast and lunch
  • Feedback and raffle prizes during the closing session
Also, I'd like to recommend Eventbrite, which handled our registration process without a fee.  Their service as easy and more convenient than I expected for a free service. I was very happy that the Eventbrite provided us a checklist of the participants in alphabetical order once registration closed.  That saved me a lot of work that I intended on doing.  Great job, Eventbrite!

Measuring Success

Almost everyone in education now knows about the pressures to measure success for accreditation and accountability purposes.  With that mindset, how do I know that our IEP Camp was successful?  Although I haven't distributed a formal feedback survey yet, I received many compliments from my CESL colleagues and from the leaders from the other IEPs.  One of the most convincing compliments was that I made a lot of believers out of the skeptics.

I would be skeptical too without the experience.  Without a call for papers and a list of invited speakers/experts, the EdCamp seemed to lack rigor or a purpose.  There was no theme, no PowerPoint presentations, and no registration fee.  Despite the absence of these traditional conference elements, many of our participants left the IEP Camp with many ideas and an urgency to put them into practice.

I plan to share the formal measurements of success when I collect them, but what matters most is that the participants found it worth their time.  This was a low-cost event, so there is little to lose regardless if was successful or not.  The best measurement of success, I believe, is the same people coming back next year with even more new participants--growth!

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