Those Walking, Not Just Talking: Reflections on SXSWedu 2017

SXSWedu holds a special place, both for me personally and in the history of Lea(R)n. Not only for the friends and mentors (and barbecue and music!), but as an annual touchstone to reflect on our team’s professional growth and the evolution of the education innovation landscape.

Just two years ago, we were one of 10 global finalists in the LaunchEDU competition. During that week, the meetings, conversations and competition helped us realize the problems we were solving were much bigger than we realized, and germinated our need to grow from LearnTrials to LearnPlatform. That trajectory defined our next year of growth.

Last year, after expanding to LearnPlatform, we presented with leaders espousing the power of networks of districts working together, which led to a game-changing approach to pricing transparency in edtech and analyzing edtech impact across K12 and Higher Ed.

This year, the LearnPlatform network has grown to be the largest, most diverse group of schools, districts, higher education institutions and state agencies finding, buying, measuring and sharing the impact of their edtech — LearnCommunity now includes more than 100,000 educators who reach more than 2 million students, are responsible for more than $350 million in edtech purchasing and contribute millions of data points analyzed every day. The learning, findings and details are shared in trustworthy ways to inform instructional and budget decisions across the country.  (Heck, this year, SXSWedu attendees could even share their experience with product companies using the LearnPlatform!)

That’s a credit to the collective ingenuity of forward-thinking educators at every level… Those are the types of people walking the walk, not just talking about what would be nice, at SXSWedu every year.  

This year, while there are always the sizzle-without-much-steak marketing claims and some panels high on egos and low on real-world solutions, I sought out and was glad to find educators and leaders doing game-changing work worth highlighting:  

  • June Marcel, iLearn Collaborative - their efforts on professional learning for educators in blended environments in Colorado (and beyond) is the hand-to-hand engagement districts need to personalize learning at scale.

  • Andy Marcinek, Worcester Academy - formerly a fellow at U.S. Department of Education, currently an expert on OER and leading tech-enabled instruction and support for an independent school, Andy highlighted how “knowing thyself” is the first step. Our free Google Chrome extensions for teachers and free monthly analytics reports are part of his recipe, too!

  • Muhammed Chaudhry, Silicon Valley Education Foundation  - highlighted how educators like Blanca Herrera in Saratoga are putting the “plumbing” in place to grow personalized learning. Might be less “sexy” than VR and makerspaces, but hugely impactful.

  • Leona Christy, educator and leader of Catalyst:ED - focusing on helping educators from any organization find truly consultative support for their real challenges.

  • Jeff Borden, faculty member and CIO at St. Leo University - put his 24 years of teaching public speaking to work while running an engaging panel on scaling digital courseware to make it clear how the research-based CWiC framework can address the challenges of differentiating and evaluating courseware products. I think this was the only panel that started with a sobriety test!!!

Our team also met with plenty of education technology company leaders, as we beta test a new service to help ensure their tools and technologies drive the outcomes they intend … I’m glad to report that the overwhelming feedback was positive from both educators and companies. Stay tuned for more on that!

Another SXSWedu in the books, and that special place in my heart is secure and re-energized by those innovators walking the talk!

Karl Rectanus