Musings from Austin - SXSW EDU 2018 Recap


SXSW EDU holds a special place in our calendar, as I outlined on their blog a few months ago, “Quality Time Takes Quantity Time.” It serves as:

  1. A useful touchpoint on the high water challenges of the education innovation space;

  2. An opportunity to connect with old and new friends to share our work and theirs; and  

  3. An anniversary for us to reflect on progress on our mission to expand equitable access for all students to the tools and teaching that drives the best outcomes for them.  

Lea(R)n at SXSW EDU in 2015

Lea(R)n at SXSW EDU in 2015

Just three years ago, we were one of 10 global finalists in the LaunchEDU competition. It’s a joy to see just how far we have come and how much has changed — not just in our organization, but at SXSW EDU as a whole.

A week after the close of the conference, I’ve had 17 seconds to decompress and reflect on what we saw, heard and thought while in Tejas…

  • More Educators: After speaking with the legendary Ron Reed, the chief instigator and architect of SXSW EDU, and his team, I learned registrations were up over last year, as they continue to grow. From my eye — and many I spoke to — the noticeable difference was that there were fewer companies and investors, and more teachers and administrators. For many — including me — that’s a move in the right direction. I was energized to hear from so many who were doing the innovating, not just those cheering, investing in or studying the innovation.
  • More Diversity: Reflecting what we can all see as the current (and needed!) zeitgeist, the presenters, participants and topics were more noticeably diverse than in past years.  While always a focus for this inclusive festival, specific sessions addressing the topic like: 

Just walking the halls/streets, one felt it… in short, there were fewer dudes, and it was a positive move.

  • More Connections Across Organizations to Solve the Tactical Challenges: the education market is known to be inefficient. That’s previously led to balkanization, kill-or-be-killed mentalities and not-built-here-don’t-care-then responses. However, we saw a lot more effort highlighted and gaining traction that require true engagement and collective effort:

    • Interoperability: Project Unicorn held a breakfast last year to introduce the idea of making interoperability a tangible, measurable requirement for tools and partners. One year later, hundreds of districts, multiple standards and support organizations, and a lot of companies are starting to walk the walk. Expect more on this, especially as thought leader Bill Fitzgerald (who previously led Common Sense Education’s privacy evaluation efforts) takes a leadership role in the next phase of Project Unicorn’s work. The Ed-Fi Alliance, IMS Global and others led and listened in useful sessions to improve how things work.

    • Student Data Privacy and Cyber Security: When you connect all kids, there are some brier patches to keeping kids secure and safe. A full-day bootcamp with the Future of Privacy Forum, and state and district leaders like Dr. Whitney Phillips from the Utah State Board of Education, Dr. Kim Nesmith from the Louisiana Department of Education and Jim Siegel of Fairfax County Public Schools are addressing the real challenges of personalizing learning at scale. Common Sense Education is also continuing to expand its efforts and partnerships to help districts.

    • Procurement: ISTE led a member engagement session to highlight the challenges of procurement. While procurement sessions have dotted the agenda previous years, the session also included a focus group for some specific solutions to support both educators and product companies.  



My quick take, there are more diverse groups actually doing more together. It gives me hope and energy.

Further reading:

Education ‘Moonshot’ on Horizon From Chan Zuckerberg Initiative - EdWeek

States Issue Privacy Ultimatums to Education Technology Vendors - EdSurge

Should Teachers Take Cash from Edtech Companies? - EdSurge

We Are Here. - Ed-Fi Alliance

Karl Rectanus