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Edcamp Continues Expansion With $2 Million From Gates Foundation

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By guest blogger Sara Gilgore

The Edcamp Foundation, which supports self-directed professional learning for educators, announced this week it has received a $2 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Edcamps are teacher gatherings, or "un-conferences," that facilitate personalized professional development through voluntary, participant-driven sessions set up by "organizers." The model relies on educators offering input for agenda topics and learning from each other, while also engaging remote participants through social media.

The grant, which was awarded last month, will help the nonprofit to "operate and scale as an organization," and provide backing to more than 1,000 field organizers, according to a statement from the foundation.

"It means that we are going to be able to support all of these volunteer organizers around the country and around the world," said Hadley Ferguson, executive director of Edcamp. "What I want us to be able to do as a foundation is come up with programs that will honor them, exalt their work, and build the community."

Building teacher-to-teacher networks is among the organization's goals, which, Ferguson said, aligns with those of the Gates Foundation; the "development of innovative solutions in education" is one of the Gates Foundation's areas of focus, according to its website.

Until now, most of Edcamp's money has come from a seed fund established by the NewSchools Venture Fund, which provided $100,000 in initial support to create an executive director position at the organization and helped cover startup costs. In addition, Edcamp has received smaller donations from organizations that have "really stood alongside the grassroots movement," Ferguson said. The NewSchools Venture Fund, based in Oakland, Calif., is an nonprofit that raises philnathropic capital and invests it in education.

The Gates grant will enable the foundation to focus on three main areas: holding summits for organizers, which affords them opportunities to meet and discuss best practices for running Edcamps; helping finance the Edcamp-in-a-Box program, which gives organizers the materials and supplies they need to host the conferences; and establishing the Discover Grant program, which gives awards of up to $1,000 to teachers interested in developing projects that emerge from Edcamp sessions.

The new funding will allow the foundation "to make the impact of Edcamp last beyond the day," Ferguson said, so that it focuses on helping organizers and "building the community for participants," Ferguson said.

Since the first meeting was held in Philadelphia in 2010, more than 700 Edcamps have been held internationally, in 25 different countries and 140 cities. Two-hundred and twenty-five camps were held last year at different sites, including the Science Leadership Academy, which was the subject of a series of stories by my colleague, Benjamin Herold.

The model continues to gain recognition among educators who have never heard of it, Ferguson said.

The movement is "beginning to build more leadership opportunities and [other] opportunities for our organizers so that they can continue in their own professional development."

Photo: Edcamp Philly participants write topics they're interested in exploring on a "session board" at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, May 17, 2014. (Courtesy of Edcamp)


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