SXSWedu 2012 vs. SXSWedu 2013

I did a lot of listening and not as much writing this time around at SXSWedu. In revisiting my notes and thoughts, I realize the most valuable way to reflect is to compare to my notes from last years conference. As a firm believer in the growth model vs. the mastery model of assessment, I’ve decided to evaluate the growth of the conference in comparison to itself one year ago.

SXSWedu 2012

SXSWedu 2013

SessionsLast year, Tia Lendos’ session: Using Free Google Tools to Make Learning Magical used video-conferencing to let us hear opinions of teachers and students who are using Google tools for teaching and learning. I craved more sessions that took on a creative approach to teaching and learning, rather than a dry dissemination of information.Girls Rule, Boys DroolLast year I found myself seeking out the company of intelligent and engaging females in the field like Amy Lin of EdCanvas and Valerie Sakemura of NSVF. It is not often that females are the minority in education but as tech and finance have come to play a larger role, these conferences often feel male dominated. At the end of last year’s conference I found myself hoping for an increasing female presence in the industry and at the conference.



Perspectives that Matter

This was the peak of my frustration at SXSWedu 2012 (and at most conferences I attend.) The lack of teacher, student and parent perspectives boggles my mind. Last year every teacher I met was from Austin and they were few and far between. I am sick and tired of the excuse “teachers are in classes this week.” In other industries, people take time off to attend conferences and work events constantly and teachers should be allowed the same opportunities for professional development. Until we find ways to engage the people who matter, we are going to find it quite challenging to make real and impactful change.


Technology in Special Education

At last year’s conference, I attended one session on technology being used to support the needs of students with special needs. The session had compiled video footage of a few students using tools in the classroom but overall, did not divulge any of the intricacies of working with students of various abilities and using technology to support them along the way.

SessionsPerhaps it was the presence of the Maker Movement, but this year there were definitely some sessions that took the route of hands-on learning. Although I wasn’t there, other attendees were buzzing about Hack Class: Shape Your Ecology, Empower Learning, which chunked the learning into sections, keeping engagement at the core of the session.Girls Rule, Boys DroolNot only did I meet more females at this year’s conference, but this year’s conference even brought about the emergence of a group called “EdTech Women,” who had their inaugural meeting at the “Edtech Women Dine” event in Austin. There were awe-inspiring women paving the way at SXSWedu2013. Betsy Corcoran (EdSurge) led the Launch event with grace and humor, Eileen Murphy (ThinkCerca) was a finalist in the Launch event, Heather Gilchrist brought the teams from her new EdTech Accelerator Socratic Labs and Pamela Inbasekaran and Lawrie Peck of Relay Graduate School engaged us in conversations around teacher education.

Perspectives that Matter

I could feel very early seeds of change in this area but there is a lot of work to be done. Nikhil Goyal brought a student’s perspective to the table, though I would venture to say he’s not the typical student. One of the sessions by Lego Education featured a high school student from a local robotics team. Though we’re making these strides, I still crave a hearty teacher panel or a parent-led session. Hopefully next year!




Technology in Special Education

I was over the moon to see a session with Daniel Yoo of Goalbook, an app to support teachers through the IEP process. It was a solid session but one is not enough. There is incredible research around the impact of ipads on students with Autism. There are Assistive Technology tools out there that allow non-verbal students to communicate through eye-gaze, and communication devices that support social growth. I know because I’ve used these tools in the classroom. Some tools help teachers differentiate content to reach their lowest and highest functioning students simultaneously. Yes the field is still emerging, but I want SXSWedu to be a place where that type of innovation is celebrated.

At the end of my reflections last year, I wrote “SxSWedu is still in its infancy and is trying to find itself. The feedback we are able to give via survey and email will be crucial for its growth in the coming years.” This remains true. We have made great strides and as a person who always takes the feedback form seriously, I did see some concrete change occur this year. That being said there is always more… Here are my hopes and dreams for SXSWedu2014.

Increased teacher, student and parent presence

In order for this to become a reality, we need some kind of funding model. Teachers, students and parents should not pay what the general attendee pays. Perhaps every entrepreneur must bring along one teacher, student or parent:) We also need to build a few teacher panels – for sessions, feedback during the Launch competition or for Q&A from entrepreneurs. It would be great to have a Betaroom where teachers can test out some tools and offer real time feedback.

Creativity of presentation style for sessions

I would love to find a way to measure the creativity level of the presentation style. It is exhausting to attend an entire day of sessions where people are speaking at you…kind of like being in school. SXSWedu can be the conference for education innovation but in order to do that, the session leaders must model innovation of teaching practices in their own work.

Technology in Special Education

We have made some strides but have further to go. Hopefully SXSWedu2014 and will have Daniel back and will welcome some practitioners using assistive technology in their classrooms to share best practices.


At the EdGrowth Summit this year, there were a series of mini-debates. This could be a useful model for SXSWedu Keynotes. I measure the impact of a session by how much it makes me think and how close it comes to making me change my mind about something. I would love to see a series of debates about controversial issues in education by some of the heavyweights in our industry.

Day 1 SXSWedu 2012

Days 2 & 3 SXSWedu 2012

Reflections SXSWedu 2012

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