Friday, April 26, 2013

The Jedcamp Model - A Disruptive Innovation?

One of the interesting aftershocks of this past Sunday's JedcampNJNY has been how much people have been talking the event, specifically people who did NOT attend.  I  have heard that many teachers who were unable to attend have been speaking with those who did make it, and they wish that they could have cleared their schedules.  Those who attended left the conference so energized from their experience that they have shared accounts of their day with colleagues and hopefully future local Jedcamps will benefit from an expand pool of participants.

Beyond that, there has been much talk in other communities about planning future Jedcamps.  One outgrowth of keeping an active Twitter feed (#jedcampnjny) running throughout the conference was that educators from California to Israel were able to follow what was happening in Paramus, NJ, and we were able to follow their plans to create Jedcamps in their local areas.  I had a late night (for me) web conference the other night with several fantastic educators from up and down the west coast, sharing my experiences as a conference organizer and helping them to crystallize in their minds what it would take to have a Jedcamp out there.  A similar chat is being planned over the next few days with educators in the Baltimore area.  Clearly, the idea of an unconference - the ease of planning, the minimal expenses, the absence of paid "experts", and the freedom for any stakeholder of education to play a leading role or at least a significant role in an important discussion - is a powerful idea and one that people want to replicate.

Perhaps most eye-opening to me has been the reaction from people and organizations who are often the ones planning more traditional conferences.  Ken Gordon, the social media point man for PEJE (Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education) posted on his Facebook feed this morning a link to a recent article about JedcampNJNY, accompanied by the question "Could the unconference be the future of the conference?"  I have received emails in the past few days from other individuals from several organizations who want to know more about our experiences in planning and pulling off Jedcamp, perhaps with an eye towards replicating the model to supplement or to begin to replace the traditional, more expensive, more labor-intensive approach to professional conferences.

This has caused me to reflect a bit about two aspects of Jedcamp that differ from traditional conferences.  The first is the local versus national aspect.  In this regard, I think that there is still a place for larger conferences.  Whether it is ISTE or ASCD or NAJDS, there is no question that national or international conferences provide the opportunity for people from vastly separated regions to come together for several days to meet, brainstorm, and engage one another in a manner that even the best webconferencing tools cannot match.  I have written before about how I effectively see my online networks as a basis for forming real, face-to-face networks with people, and live conferences provide the opportunities to do just that.  While many people in my networks are local and will turn up at a local event, I am blessed to have formed strong connections with people across the country and I rely on the national conferences to provide me with the chance to see and speak with them in more than 140 characters at a time.

The second aspect is the lack of experts.  True, some traditional conferences are stacked with genuine experts, by which I mean the people who have written the books and done the research and tested and refined the various methods for teaching or supervising or leading.  The ASCD conference is fairly good at this, as their program consistently reads like their book catalogue.  However, many other conferences offer a combination of famous keynote speakers combined with a lot of "local talent".  By local talent I am referring to wonderful educators who have been asked to present a session about something that they are doing in their classroom or their school.  Obviously, these individuals (and I have been one of them) are happy to present for free (exposure!), but they are also clearly the undercard to the few big names who attend the conference.

The Edcamp/Jedcamp model flips this approach.  While I have heard many wonderful keynote speakers, I note two things about them: (1) While their words are inspiring, their speeches do not offer that many concrete suggestions (see this post from Richard Byrne on this point) and (2) they have generally written their main ideas in a book or have shared them in a TED talk or have somehow made their inspiration available in a way that I do not have to spend an hour of a professional development day listening to them.  Not that I do not enjoy being entertained, but how much does that entertainment cost?

Instead, the Jedcamp model elevates the "local talent", but it makes everyone the local talent.  No longer is there a collection of teachers and administrators who have been selected to make a presentation, thus resulting in them having to spend untold hours perfecting their slideshows and delivery.  Instead, every camp attendee can appoint him or herself to get the conversation started, with the understanding that everyone who attends a session can have something to contribute to the discussion, and that that might produce a much richer experience than a slick (or not-so-slick) powerpoint presentation.

Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen has written extensively about what he calls "disruptive innovations", those innovations to a field that shake the very model of how business is done, ultimately changing the field and leaving behind those who still try to work the old approach (think about the decline of the video rental store in the face of Netflix).  While a Jedcamp still maintains many of the trappings of the traditional conference model, it possesses enough inherent innovations to possibly provide a new and more effective and  - dare I suggest? - more enjoyable way to provide professional development.

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