Edcamp Gets $2M to Spread the Unconference Movement

column | Financing

Edcamp Gets $2M to Spread the Unconference Movement

By Mary Jo Madda (Columnist)     Aug 17, 2015

Edcamp Gets $2M to Spread the Unconference Movement
Participants decide the schedule at EdCamp STEAM at Linwood Middle School in North Brunswick, NJ.

Edcamps, or “unconferences” that bring together teachers, tech experts, entrepreneurs, and anyone else interested in the education landscape, have become a viral movement since the very first gathering back in May 2010. In fact, there were 225 Edcamps in the last year alone.

The Edcamp Foundation, led by Executive Director and former educator Hadley Ferguson, has been working to streamline that process, originally receiving $100,000 in seed funding from NewSchools Venture Seed Fund to maintain an online community and provide more financial support to Edcamp organizers, who do the work for free as volunteers.

But now, Edcamp is getting a much bigger boost. On August 17, Ferguson announced that the Edcamp Foundation has received a $2 million grant from the Gates Foundation.

Having worked with Gates on acquiring this grant for the last six months, Ferguson says this money comes out of the foundation’s interest to bring focus back to the teachers, as Ferguson feels that “they’re trying to recover from this belief that ‘Gates is about teacher bashing,’ and instead make it about teacher empowerment.”

“They're aware of the fact that [EdCamps] leave a great footprint behind,” she told EdSurge in an interview last Friday.

So, where will this money go?

Ferguson says that some of the money, which was technically received back in July, has already gone towards funding an operations manager and an office for the Edcamp Foundation. But the bulk of the money will go towards a couple of different programs, after Ferguson spent six months prototyping her ideas.

Regional organizer summits: After doing a number of interviews with organizers and participants, Ferguson recognized the need to provide them with an in-person event where they can talk shop and exchange ideas. This year, Edcamp will have five regional summits for organizers. At this point, California, Texas, Florida, and Massachusetts have the most EdCamps, and will likely be four of the five locations for these summits. “My goal is to really do programming that will build community, so that what you get from EdCamp isn't just an annual event,” Ferguson says.

More funding for “Edcamp in a Box”: The Edcamp Foundation provides several “Edcamp-in-a-Box” kits each year, which provides essentials for anyone to painlessly host an Edcamp. Boxes typically take about $300 for the Foundation to put together, so some of the Gates money will go towards pumping out more of these kits.

Discovery grants: Ferguson reports that some of the money will go towards funding “discovery grants,” which are essentially $500 to $1000 grants that teachers can apply for to develop an idea that they heard about at an Edcamp. This, in Ferguson’s eyes, both ensures that the movement has impact outside of the event and offers the Foundation a way to track that impact. “Maybe you hear about a Makerspace, and you want to make one! The teacher gets the grant, and then they report back to us, and we know our impact,” she says.

Data collection: Though no concrete plans exist yet, Ferguson says that collecting data on various forms of Edcamp impact in the classroom is a focus. First focus: getting more exact attendee numbers--potentially through one registration portal. “Gates asked me how many teachers have been impacted in the last year. And yes, people register for Edcamps, but the numbers of people that show up is large, and variable,” she says. “There's no master mailing list, or data, to see our impact, because there hasn't been a central hub before.”

Though the EdCamp Foundation is a nonprofit, Ferguson does think about how she and her team can make money to keep the organization afloat without relying on external funding sources. She mentions selling Edcamp swag or hosting Edcamp-style professional development days for districts as two potential opportunities for generating some cash. But at least for now, her attention is squarely pinpointed on continuing to grow and preserve the Edcamp brand.

“We’re incredibly excited,” Ferguson says. “We’re going to use the money to spread fertilizer on a grassroots movement.”

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