The Unconference Unyelp Review #edcampdetroit

So, this blog post has been running through my head for a few weeks now, ever since I attended my very first EdCamp in Detroit. I tweeted a little bit about it, but I felt I needed to put my thoughts in writing. Sometimes I am not exactly sure how I feel about something until I have written about it!

I was really excited about this “unconference” experience. I am generally a person who really loves conferences, and since this was billed as even better, I was pumped! Plus I looked at it as a way to connect more with some local teachers.

I’d like to just list some of my impressions…

The whole thing was free, including parking! Excellent!

Bathrooms were not functioning on our floor. Signage needed!

Very awesome spread of Panera bagels and Starbucks coffee. Nice!

I wish I had known that the first 2 hours were simply waiting for people to sign up for presentation slots and milling around. I would have slept in! Newbies!

As my colleague and I sat waiting for the unconference to begin, two different people approached us, told us a little about what was going on, and generally made sure we felt comfortable and included. That was really nice!

Many of the session slots filled up quite quickly. They added another room. I like the flexibility in that.

For supposedly being an “unconference” it seemed strangely a lot like a conference.

Many presenters clearly had their presentations all mapped out. They had catchy titles for their sessions. I even saw a couple of powerpoints. I mean, I don’t care, but then don’t act like this is a revolutionary conference.

Although everyone was very nice, a few people seemed to be a little overbearing in their domination of the conversations. I get it, you are a good teacher. But how about you be quiet and listen for a few minutes? Stop trying to formulate your next point while the other person is speaking. It is a conversation, not a debate.

People here seemed very clique-y. There was definitely an “in crowd.” Maybe I am just jealous. And if you are going to sit in a session and have a running conversation with your friends, how about you take it to the café across the street? That behavior is rude, even at an unconference.

Vote with your feet wasn’t working. Most people were NOT voting with their feet. And I looked around and I could see that people WANTED to but were holding back. In one session, the presenter (and I definitely DO mean presenter–straight-up lecture format) spent quite a lengthy time standing right next to the door on the side of the room. I felt trapped! In 2 other sessions the furniture was packed in the room and there were a lot of people, meaning it would have been completely awkward/impossible to get up and leave.

There seemed to be a lot of “yay us!” cheerleading. Repeated accolades about how wonderful we all are for giving up our Saturday, and how revolutionary we are. Ok, I like myself too. Now let’s stop talking about it.

There seemed to be a lot of “conventional wisdom” here. “Hand raising? Psht! That’s so old school. What kind of Nazi makes kids raise hands?”  “Using the same lesson plans again? Whatevs. My kids explore organically.” “Teacher talk is so 1960s. My kids have no idea what my voice sounds like. If I need to speak, my Voki does it for me!” Ok, I am being a little snotty, but seriously some people seemed a little dismissive of those who weren’t teched-out flippers with free-range students!

Basically, I think EdCamp is a step in the right direction, but could be better. I was not blown away by it, and I do not think it is vastly superior to the experiences I’ve had at “regular” conferences. In fact, I have had many much better experiences at regular conferences.

I’d like to thank @michellek107 for sharing some great reading with me on this subject!


  1. Kristi, kudos to you for going and for the honest critique later. I loved this post! I think that you were spot on about so many things that happen in professional learning environments all over the place. Just because something is a legacy practice doesn’t mean it is bad. Just because something is new doesn’t mean it is good either. Rude is rude no matter where you go, and while engagement is always the goal to shoot for, the price shouldn’t be making someone (student or professional) feel awkward about doing or not doing it. The most important part of a learning experience is the conversation that comes out of it. Thanks so much for sharing this, the good points and the not so good. I find it valuable information for any presenter or organizer of PD to take in that feedback and learn from it. Great job!

  2. Lol this post cracked me up, especially this line: “Ok, I am being a little snotty, but seriously some people seemed a little dismissive of those who weren’t teched-out flippers with free-range students!” – too true! I believe in technology and innovation but there is always a sort of “in” crowd at these gatherings that can be a turn off 🙂

  3. Thanks for your honest review of your edcamp experience. The edcamp foundation is always looking for honest reviews and hoping that edcamps stay true to the model. We have noticed that many edcamps have some sit and get presentations. Sometimes they are purposely done that way, but sometimes they are just presenters who are not used to the free form conversations. Edcamps are really about the teachers in attendance. No one should feel uncomfortable about leaving any session. Sometimes they are just not the right session for you. The only way to get away from the canned presentations is for folks to just leave. That too is something we as educators are not used to, but here’s the thing-it is your day off, your Saturday, so we encourage you to make the most of it, no matter what. I hope that you have a chance for a better edcamp experience and don’t hesitate to post about it, no matter what.

  4. I’m glad you posted this, Kristy. We need to share the positive things we experience, as well as the “not so positive” things. Dan Callahan recently wrote about how some “edcamps” are not really doing a good job of following the edcamp model. The prepared slides make me uncomfortable and shouldn’t be a part of it at all.

    I hope you have a chance to attend another edcamp somewhere, so that you can make comparisons. I’ve been involved in three separate edcamp locations, and I think it’s really important to stay true to the original model. My two cents. 🙂

    1. Hello from one Kristy to another 🙂 I arrived here from a comment you left on my blog. I’m the author of You left some very frank and honest feedback from your experience. Congrats! I know first hand how difficult that is and some of the comments you may receive as a result.
      EdCamps were designed to give the voice you mentioned. Honestly, when I go I don’t want to hear my friends. I love them and all but I get that opportunity at every other conference we attend. I want to hear from the teacher too terrified to present to 50 or so adults. I want to have a conversation with teachers who have amazing ideas but would never leave their classroom for a weekday conference. I want those who normally never speak up to be given a mic and a chance.
      Some other comments, tweets, and blogs have pointed to people needing to be at least a little prepared to present. I disagree. When you are talking about your passion, your experience is your preparation. I don’t need fifteen slides to talk about Google in Education. Just ask the poor people who get on an elevator with me. I don’t need twenty bulleted points to discuss the benefits of twitter for professional growth. I’ve shared that more than once in the grocery store checkout. I don’t need the presenter tools and tricks because I’m not presenting. I’m having a discussion.
      Some really creative presenter stars will include talking points in their prepared conversations and believe that somehow that translates into an edcamp experience. Others hold to the idea that obviously they are the expert. I guess whatever helps you sleep at night. Give another edcamp a try. Pull together some friends and pull off one of your own. The main site has some great resources. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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