Monday, April 15, 2013

Edcamp Do's & Don'ts for Organizers

It can’t be that hard, right? I knew that wasn’t going to be the case, but I was still amazed at how much time all the details took. In retrospect, these are a few things that I loved, and wasn’t so in love with, about the route we took to arrive at Edcamp Phoenix 2013. 


  • Sponsors that contacted US! (Thanks to the page!) Make sure you make a page on the wiki for your Edcamp, since this is Grand Central Station for all things Edcamp.  Many sponsors look through these pages looking for Edcamps to sponsor (6 groups contacted us) as well as potential attendees looking to see if there is an upcoming edcamp in the area.
  • Using Google for planning. We used Google’s FREE services for everything.
    • Google+ Hangouts for meetings at home
    • Google Drive for TONS of shared documents and collaboration (specifically one massive spreadsheet with a bunch of tabs covering every aspect of Edcamp)
    • Google Docs for note-taking in sessions on the day of Edcamp. They were open for anyone to contribute. Here’s one great example. Go to for Google Doc notes, under the session tabs.
    • Google Sites for our website,
  • Having multiple intelligences on the planning team. By including people in different fields, locations, and with different skills, we were all able to focus on areas of specialty. One person used his technical skills to create and maintain our fantastic website, develop a cool logo, and a pretty spectacular promo video called The Most Interesting Teacher in the World. Another member, a retired principal, was able to call on many of her professional contacts to help us promote the event, as well as keeping an eye toward the details of the event. A third person made it his mission to get a bank account set up, which meant setting up a non-profit. And another person ran clean up, filling in many other gaps, always volunteering for all the little things that needed doing: posters that needed to be made, organizing the registration table, etc.
  • Picking the brains of other Edcamp organizers. Twitter was a lifesaver as we debated many Edcamp issues, particularly how to go about doing the session suggestion time. When we had questions about contacting sponsors, @dancallahan was immensely helpful. Many other organizers were quick to jump in with suggestions as well, since many follow the hashtag #edcamp. (Hence, definitely tag any Edcamp twitter posts with that tag.) Blog posts about organizing the event were also immensely helpful, such as this one that nearly gave me a heartattack with all the things I needed to be doing when I found it 3 weeks before the day!
  • Unexpected sponsors. Do not assume that certain groups will sponsor and certain ones won’t. Assume nothing. The ones that seemed like a perfect fit for sponsorship, I never heard back from. The ones that seemed like a total shot in the dark, ended up being very committed sponsors, and can lead to lasting connections. My best sponsors were the ones I could explain how I used their product in my classroom or in the district, education-related or not. So contact anyone you can think of. You’ll be surprised who says yes!

Did NOT love:

  • Not enough organizers: The 5ish people who worked on our team were amazing, but we could only do so much. Next time, I’ll aim for about 8 people, who can focus on specific tasks and run with them.
  • Attrition Rate: My initial goal was 150-200 people. (I always aim high :-)) That was a bit much for the first time around, but I had no idea what to estimate, and am generally a terrible estimator. We ended up having about 125 people register, which I felt pretty good about. Either way, as I did my research, I read in multiple places to anticipate an attrition rate of 40-50%. This was very true. We ended up having about 75 attendees, which equals exactly 40% attrition. I just don’t understand how people can plan to attend something and not go. I know a few people will have things come up, but the number always boggles my mind. One tip I read online suggested emailing attendees 1-2 weeks in advance asking for any advance cancellations. This did help, as I had about 10 people cancel in advance, which helped me to give better projections for the food.
  • Session Creation time: Since I was apparently not crystal clear enough in my description of the session creation time, our people that helped consolidate session ideas into the allotted slots had a difficult time. We had a number of suggestions of things like, “Virtual classrooms” or “Retirement” that were 1) unclear/vague, and 2) had no name attached so we couldn’t ask the person what they were referring to. In retrospect, we definitely want to make 100% sure names are listed, as well as encourage people to write a 1 sentence explanation of their topic.
  • Participant misunderstanding of the purpose of Edcamp: Upon reading the evaluations, I was disappointed to see a number of people comment on the fact that there wasn’t necessarily an expert in the room on every topic. I can see how this might be frustrating, but that’s also part of the purpose of Edcamp, is that everyone can choose topics on that day, anyone can lead a session on anything, and anyone can suggest a session. Part of me wanted to respond with, “Then try a regular conference,” but at the same time, there may be ways to massage the system to help make sure the purpose is well-understood, and provide for ideas in this case. As we talked through some of this as a planning team afterwards, we decided that these were some possible suggestions for that situation:
    • Make a major point of encouraging teachers to come prepared to share on a topic
    • Use the registration form to indicate interest in topics and presenting
      Make the registration form public on website, which allows other participants to see who’s coming and what topics are of interest to people
    • Use the session time to do research together and report back your findings in 30 minutes (become experts!)
    • Have a number of people on hand who might be able to share on a wide variety of topics (specialists, etc.) who you can send out to sessions that may be big (Common Core, iPad use, etc.)

Overall though, Edcamp Phoenix was a fantastic experience. Now that it’s over, I realize how much time it was taking up, but it was 100% worth it. The enthusiasm that people had for the event was stunning to me :-) I have no doubt that next year will be even better! 

[The posters were made by our awesome, slightly bored during sessions, student volunteers :-)]

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