I'm shutting down this blog for a while, so bye!
Sometimes, it seemed to me that FlipTech New England was cursed. Jinxed! Doomed to fail! It turned out to be much smaller than last year’s original FlipTech conference in New Jersey, and very different from my initial plan when I signed on as the lead organizer last fall. We actually cancelled the conference several weeks ahead of time, and converted FTNE19 into a free workshop at a different location.
That transition might have been a blessing in disguise, but this experience was truly a roller-coaster ride. I will start with a short version of the story.
At the beginning of May, it seemed clear that FlipTech New England would not get enough registrations and income to cover its own costs: site rental, amenities for the guests like food and coffee, etc. Perhaps there would have been a flood of registrations in June, and FTNE would cover its costs after all. However, I was also struggling to get outside sponsorships, because most edtech-related companies had their eyes and their budgets set for the gargantuan ISTE conference being held that same week. (more on that in the "extended version" below) The possibility of losing money on this event -- and having more presenters than paid attendees -- was terrifying.
We could have just canceled the event completely, but that seemed terribly unfair to the core group of eager attendees. I got an idea for a compromise: downsize the FlipTech conference into a smaller workshop/retreat, attended by as many previously-approved session presenters as possible. There would be no admission fee, since most of these people were already paying airfare and accommodation to travel from afar.
On May 14, the FLN Board met via videoconference and fortunately agreed to try this idea. I cancelled the $2000 rental with Waltham Schools, and refunded the ticket cost for everyone who had registered. (One of them ended up joining us anyway!) A few scheduled presenters declined the invitation, and a couple others originally said yes but had to cancel later. Nevertheless, we ended up with a dedicated group of flippers from a total of five different countries.
However, I needed to find a free site for this event. Ironically, we ended up back in Newton: at my middle school library. For this smaller event, I didn’t need the same level of administrator permission. The only problem is that we had to conclude our meetings at the end of the custodians’ day: usually 3PM in the summer.
Even this smaller event still needed funds for coffee, lunch food, and some amenities. That’s where Screencast-o-Matic came in. Dave Walsh was already arranging for the Flipped Learning Network to partner with the company on a video tutorial project, but how and when would those videos get made? Who would agree to record them?! (Helaine Marshall's article gives a full report how that project worked out.)
The financial arrangements for this project was just about enough to fund the remaining expenses for FTNE19. Those costs included the rental fee for the space we had to use on Saturday June 29, when my middle school was completely unavailable.
Now, the extended version of the story: At the heart of it, this story is about money, so let me start with this fact: conferences are expensive. I already knew that on some level, but I didn’t really know it until starting to plan FlipTech last fall. The biggest conference expenses fit in one of these two categories:
When it became clear in October that Newton would not be a reliable host, I applied to rent a space at my daughter’s middle school in my hometown of Waltham -- just a few hundred yards from my house. I got a much better reception here, earning full approval in less than a week! However, the rental fee was steep: more than $2000 for two days’ use of a cafeteria, auditorium, and several classrooms. That was a hefty overhead cost, in addition to the reasonable sponsorship fee that the FLN was expecting. (“Non-profit” doesn’t mean “non-funded”! The Network’s also gotta get paid to survive.)
I solved the second problem by choosing four keynote panelists who would have shared the stage on Day 1 of the conference.
That decision diffused and reduced the keynote cost, and I believed it would be an interesting way to kick off the event -- a two-for-one deal! I was also quite happy to schedule two female and two male speakers, each with varied experience and different subjects. Problem solved. Now on to the marketing. Let’s sell some tickets!
Looking back, I can clearly see that I made at least 3 fatal mistakes:
If you are disappointed in FlipTech New England, then I’m not going to argue with you. The 2019 event was a practical compromise. Will there be a 2020 edition? At this point I have no idea, but I’ve learned a lot of lessons and I think the Flipped Learning Network has also gained some clues about what does and doesn’t work. All I know is that, for better and worse, this event and experience will never be duplicated. We shall learn from the mistakes, build upon the successes, and keep improving …. just like any teacher!
Who is this flipping guy?!
Andrew Swan has survived 20 full years of teaching middle school (currently grade 8 US Civics/Government in a Boston suburb). Previously he taught 6th, 7th, and 8th grade English, US History, geography, and ancient history in Massachusetts and Maine.