Saturday, October 17, 2015

EdCamp Relationship Status: It's Complicated

Just about a year ago, before I attended my first EdCamp, I wrote this post expressing my fears that, despite all the championing it gets on Twitter, my preferred PD source, it would simply not be the right PD environment for me.

This is not the post where I say "Then I went to one and it was so awesome, it totally changed my perspective!" (You can find that post all over the web - EdCamps are, for many people, an amazing life/PD changing experience.)

I've been to several now. I'm even considering going back to one or two of them next year. But next year, I'll have a better understanding of how EdCamps do and do not work for me, and hopefully I'll be able to get more out of them next time. I'm not anti-EdCamp, they're just hard for me in a way that I'm not sure is worth it.

The challenges:

  • Folks in your PLN update their avatars to make themselves easier to spot/connect with. I'm face-blind and a verbal learner. I never look at people's avatars, and even if I did, they wouldn't help me.
  • Even if I can find folks to connect with, I, quite plainly, suck at small talk. I have no idea how to get in or out of a conversation (and forget knowing what to say when I'm in it.)
  • Which leads to my next point: the unstructured conversation of an EdCamp. I have no idea when to talk, if I'm talking too long, if what I'm saying is appropriate to the topic (or if my minority perspective is actually unhelpful and I should just shut up and listen.)
  • I communicate best when I'm talking about my special interests: inclusion for students with severe special needs, and disability rights advocacy. Even at EdCamps, I don't find anyone who wants to talk about those topics, and when I try to post a session that relates my interest to general education or moderate needs teachers, I completely fail. People will show up and then walk out almost immediately. Among the people who stay, there is never any discussion, and I have no idea how to facilitate making it happen.
Why I get more out of Twitter:
  • I can recognize people by name/twitter handle. And if I don't recognize the name, I can use my research skills on my own Twitter account to find out if they're someone I've interacted with before.
  • No small talk! (or very structured small talk as part of the "introduce yourself" section of a twitter chat - I know how to do that!)
  • There are no conversational turns on twitter, so there's no risk of talking out of turn. If someone isn't interested in your tweet or post, they'll skip it. I can feel safe contributing my perspective without accidentally trampling on people who have ideas more relevant to everyone else.
  • Side conversations are probably one of the best parts of twitter chats. I can engage with people who are interested in thinking about my ideas and interests and how they relate to the topic at hand while we both keep up with the main chat as well.
And that doesn't even begin to take into account the social energy expended. Passing as NT is hard work, especially when my social interaction skills are being taxed. I run out of spoons long before the day ends, especially if I try to engage in connecting (socially or professionally) with the other people there. I leave feeling exhausted rather than invigorated. (Though usually with several new ideas running through my head "for when I have the energy.")

Interacting via text is easier than talking. I can't explain why, but it is. And the social connecting part of twitter is much more formulaic (favoriting tweets, following people) - I know how to apply those rules. With only 140 characters, much of the social conventions of interpersonal interaction are skipped. That gives me an "in" to connecting with people, joining conversations and making connections, that I just don't have in the face-to-face world of body language and non-verbal cues. I leave most twitter chats buzzing with ideas: and go and check them out right away, because I actually still have the energy to do something other than sleep.

I still feel a pang of jealousy every time I see posts on my timeline from people I follow who are connecting with others in their (our) PLN at EdCamps. I try to remind myself that even if I was there, I wouldn't be making those connections either. It's a social interaction thing that I Just. Don't. Get. The same thing happens when I see posts from far-away conferences that I would love to attend. My reality is that I can't travel more than a day trip unless it's to or with family or friends who can provide me with the support I need to manage the travel. I'd love to go to one of those out-of-state conferences; my administration will even approve it if I ask. But it's just Not. Going. To. Happen.

The beauty of connecting globally, for me, is the combination of synchronous and asynchronous communication. It's the ability to connect with and learn from amazing people without the baggage of face-to-face social interaction. At EdCamps, the interesting things always seem to be happening next door. 

So I'm going to try again, to see if I can make this PD method work for me. Because there is something to be said about getting your PD from multiple sources - and when all your sources are online or books.... But I'm going to try and do it with the following insights/suggestions in mind:
  • use the twitter back channel to connect and comment - done right that can be a springboard for face-to-face interaction with others who are also back-channelling.
  • try to use the google docs notes better as a resource during and after the EdCamp
  • session-hop more. sessions I don't participate in are emotionally draining, and those are spoons I don't have to spare. Try to find sessions where I'm at least excited to listen. Which brings me to my last point:
  • don't post a session unless there is absolutely nothing that interests me on the board in that time slot. expending social energy facilitating a discussion is not worth the limited reward.
I don't know if that will be sufficient accommodation to make EdCamps work for me. I really do want to like the model. I'm going to try. Ask me again in a year, and maybe I'll have a better idea of how to handle being a Connected Autistic Educator. For now, the short answer is: it's complicated.

1 comment:

  1. Glad I read this. We have more similarities than one might guess at first.
    I too am not a fan of EdCamps (ssh -- it's a dirty secret to be of this opinion).
    I too am exhausted by small talk. Over the past 10 years, I've been learning and doing a pretty passable job.

    I'm not saying we're the same, of course. But our flavors sound as if they will complement more than clash.