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Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Changing Face of PD: Edcamps and The Art of Good Conversation

In just a few short days I will be attending my very first Edcamp!  I have been lucky to have had the opportunity to participate as a lifelong learner and presenter in some great professional development activities over the years ranging from one-on-one to global connections, face to face to webinars, real time to asychronous.  Free and cheap global conference rooms like Google hangouts, twitter and other social networks are changing the face of professional development, moving us from presentations to conversations.

Edcamps are part of that movement.  The role of presenter has changed to one of facilitator as you can see by two of these Edcamp 101 Guidelines shared by Damian Bariexca one of Edcampnj’s primary organizers.
  • You Are Not The Expert - And that's okay!  The point of this experience is not to be another "sit and git" PD experience.  It is an opportunity for educators to come together, discuss, ask questions, brainstorm, and problem solve.  Your role is not necessarily to have all the answers, but rather to facilitate discussion.  The idea is to draw upon the collective wisdom of the group as much as possible.
  • Talk About What You Know - As a facilitator, you may wish to bring in 2-3 central questions of overarching importance to your topic.  You may also wish to share personal success (and failure) stories with the group, and elicit similar stories from them.
The Questions are Key!
Just like in the classroom, in order to have a high quality conversation, you need to ask the right questions.  In the book Academic Conversations by Jeff Zwiers and Marie Crawford, there are lots of great ways to use classroom conversations to foster critical thinking.  As the authors state, “When two or more people converse, their ideas mix and interact to create new knowledge.”  Conversations help students (and here we are all students) to develop their own thoughts and create a synergy of learning.  

So what should those questions be?
According to the authors, there are 5 Core Skills of Academic Conversations:
·         Elaborate and clarify- What do you mean by…?  Can you tell me more about….?
I wonder if….?  How does that connect to….?
·         Support ideas with examples:  Can you give us an example from the classroom?  Example from the real world?  Example from your life?
·         Build on and/or challenge a person’s ideas – What might be other points of view?  Do you agree?
·         Paraphrase – What do we know so far?  What is your opinion on what has been said?     
·         Synthesize conversation points- What main points can we share?  What key idea can we take away?
Armed with these questions, I am all set to share my experiences of using online conversations to foster critical thinking.  Do you have other techniques, questions or suggestions to get the conversation started and keep it going?

Zwiers, J., and M. Crawford. 2011. Academic Conversations-Classroom Talk that Fosters Critical Thinking and Content Understandings.  Maine:  Stenhouse Publishers.

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