A Picture Perfect Journey to Our Baltimore Summit

A Picture Perfect Journey to Our Baltimore Summit

Behind the scenes at the EdSurge Summit

By Tony Wan     Feb 26, 2014

A Picture Perfect Journey to Our Baltimore Summit

The results of our Baltimore Summit were jaw dropping:

  • 650+ teachers and administrators
  • 34 companies
  • 3,364 pieces of product feedback (more than double the number from our last Summit!)
  • 3 state Senators (Bill Ferguson, Jim Rosapepe, Christopher Shank)

The best part, of course, was interacting with the teachers and entrepreneurs. That said, it takes not quite a village but certainly an energetic tribe to hold a conference. Here's a peek behind the scenes at what it took to make the Baltimore Summit work like a, ahem, Baltimore Charm.

Getting Ready

First things first: before we left the Burlingame, CA home front, we had to pack all things non-digital. The office had a lot of this action going on.

Director of Growth, Tyler McNally, playing real-life Tetris.

We arrived late at night in Baltimore and spent Friday morning unpacking and rehearsing. Practice makes perfect!

Our CEO / stage director Betsy Corcoran prepares emcee Mary Jo Madda for the spotlight.

That afternoon, we launched into a special session with school administrators and Baltimore area folks devoted to edtech. The group has been building great momentum and had a number of announcements:

  • An edtech mentor network, organized by Frank Bonsal III, director of entrepreneurship at Towson University, to support all accelerators and incubators in Maryland;
  • A $1- to $3-million edtech fund;
  • The Baltimore Education Innovation Consortium to foster early stage product feedback and to support innovation in the region’s schools;
  • An annual technology education conference with a focus on students as creators of tech; and
  • A new website, www.edtech.md, that will serve as a one-stop shop for local events, educators, companies, press and everything edtech in Maryland.

Katrina Stevens announces the initiatives at the Friday pre-Summit reception

After a cocktail mixer, it was back to the setup. Here’s what our our registration table looked like on Friday night.

Punched out and individualized with a personal touch

The Big Day

Suffice to say that all the hustling paid off. Time is a rare commodity, and no one knows that better than teachers. Asking overworked teachers to take off a precious (and sunny) Saturday is no easy task.

But the Baltimore educators were up bright and early, eager to learn--and innovate. The morning keynote from Jim Shelton, Acting Deputy Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education, set the perfect tone for the day of learning that followed:

The one and only keynote, Jim Shelton

“Today, we want to think about how does innovation fit into day to day life; the life we’re actually leading. Think about how new ideas will fit into schools day in and day out. If it does not get used, it is not innovation, it is just invention. Teachers, you came to do the work of innovation today.”

The emphasis on dialogue--and not monologue--was noted by those in attendance. Jenna Shaw, a volunteer and language arts teacher, was pleased to see none of the buyer-seller attitude that pervades other edtech conferences. “There was no set agenda. No formal sessions...This encouraged conversations [and] enabled teachers to sit and talk and share,” she wrote. In fact, teachers pitched more questions at entrepreneurs than they received sales pitches.

Teachers sharing their feedback over at "EdSurge Island"

Lunch was a delight--both tasty sandwiches and clever kids. Attendees got a chance to hear insights from four thoughtful students (L to R in below picture) led by moderator Jan Baum:

  • Sierra Seabrease, Digital Harbor High School, 9th grade
  • Keimmie Booth, University of Baltimore, 1st year
  • Collin Sullivan, Long Reach High School, 11th grade
  • Julian Wigfall, Liberty Elementary School, 5th grade

The most consistent advice from the students? Teach the teachers. Teachers have to know how to use technology, advised Collin, if they’re going to wield it effectively. (That won a lot of head nodding from the teachers!) And panelist Julian stole the hearts of everyone with his confident declaration: "I want everybody to be up to par because when you're not, you make the school look bad."

Kids saying the darndest things.

Throughout the day, teachers were rewarded for posing thoughtful, hard questions as well in two ways. First, by filling out a survey that asked for their feedback on products they saw, they received tickets for a raffle giveaway of 15 iPad minis, Chromebooks and Surfaces.

Material rewards are nice, but getting recognized for learning and sharing is more important. To this end we partnered with Sanderling to design a process through which teachers could earn professional development credits from the Maryland State Department of Education by writing critical reflections of the products and the event. Seeing their reactions here, we’re blown away by their valuable feedback on not just the products, but even the event itself.

A Breath of Fresh Air

This is what all learning should be.

As educators buzzed about the presentation stage and vendor hall, they saw what companies had to offer, asked questions, took copious notes and offered feedback to entrepreneurs on how to better refine their products. Conversation between entrepreneurs and educators flowed like wine. Good thing, too, that the caterers kept the water jars filled all the time. Otherwise, there might have been many parched throats and lost voices.

Adam Bellow, founder of eduClipper and a former teacher, remarked that the Summit was “an extremely successful day that allowed for cross pollination of ideas, the provision of meaning and actionable feedback and advice, and the formation of partnerships for many educators and these new and emerging companies' products.”

eduClipper founder, Adam Bellow, drawing a crowd

Katie Palenscar, founder of Unbound Concepts and a former teacher, brought five prototypes for feedback and was thrilled with the feedback she received: “Our conversations with teachers at EdSurge re-energized us. Their ideas were both validation and inspiration for our next steps.”

Amber Oliver, VP of Partnerships and Operations at Globaloria, has participated in all three Summits--a distinction shared with only one other startup, Ponder. “They are getting better every time,” says Amber Oliver. “The energy and enthusiasm in the room on Saturday was palpable. Looking forward to many more.”

Those with conference badges from decades of education conferences around the world also agreed. Arjan Khalsa, CEO of Conceptua Math, had this to offer:

“I've been involved with conferences, professional meetings, and trade shows for 30 years. This event ranked right at the top! ...The EdSurge Summit was designed to reward educators for providing instant feedback and advice to those of us presenting our technologies. It was fabulous to see educators moving from vendor to vendor, actively engaged, intently taking notes on their own devices, and coming back to me with more and more questions and comments. I was jamming all day long!”

Device raffle winners!

Next Stop: Nashville

The edtech ecosystem brewing in Baltimore is certainly one to watch. Startups are moving here, supported by a growing community of thoughtful investors and energetic educators.

At the end of the day, teachers jokingly asked if we would be back next weekend. We’ve love to return, but first we have some plans to bring this extravaganza to your colleagues in other parts of the country!

Next stop: We’ll be taking the show to Nashville on April 14-15 as part of the Tennessee Education Technology Conference!

We can't thank our volunteers enough. You made this happen!

Learn more about EdSurge operations, ethics and policies here. Learn more about EdSurge supporters here.

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