Here’s what I noticed first during my four days at SxSWedu in Austin:
- Attendees this year referred to it as ‘south by’
- It was again a very mixed crowd of young entrepreneurs, educators, and company execs who wore very skinny jeans and tee shirts, or informal slack and tops, or casual business attire
- Everyone complained about the very cold weather, except the Canadians and attendees from Wisconsin.
- The organizers did a better job of mixing events and sessions so that there was more movement between the Hilton and Convention center by both educators and industry folk.
- There was a huge number of sessions and events so I constantly prioritized meetings with members or potential members over sessions that sounded interesting.
Speaking of interesting sessions:
- Diane Ravitch, in the opening keynote on the Dangers of Privatizing Schools , was very direct in her criticism of the role of for-profit companies in education. Thanks to SIIA member Idit Harel Caperton, who spoke up eloquently about the reason her company focuses on education and the work they do in that space.
- I learned the most in an interesting session called Hardwiring the Brain. Anna Kamenetz, a blogger at the Hechinger Report, chaired a panel of researchers and entrepreneurs looking at how the brain functions and how it can become more focused to learn more efficiently and effectively. New learning systems will not just measure outcomes and what a student knows, but the effort and processes involved.
- I enjoyed listening to Deborah Quazzo, Jessie Woolley-Wilson, and Lynda Weinman, who spoke about the challenges they faced as leaders in a session called: Women: Disrupters of Education. It brought back my own memories of being the lone female in mathematics and computer science classes, of 10 years later teaching those same classes, still with a equally-low female/male ratio, and 20 years later being in the minority at investment-focused conferences.
I moderated a session for SIIA’s Mark Schneiderman about Building a Personalized Learning Engine. Panelists were from Rocketship Education, Michigan Education Achievement Authority, and Itslearning and they described their work in dynamically aligning students with resources from multiple providers based on timely and robust student data. We also highlighted findings from two personalized learning summits where SIIA was instrumental in driving a national conversation on the topic. This session was extremely well attended by both educators and industry reps, including SIIA education members.
I did listen to the Launchedu where education early-stage companies presented their innovations. The judging panels selected three start-ups as finalists: admittedly, proctor.io, and RobotsLAB. I invited them, of course, to apply to SIIA’s Education Division Innovation Incubator Program that closes on March 14.
Like last year, there were a lot of parties, a technology playground, a film series, and sponsored events. The lounges, where attendees could get refreshments, were very popular. I found a surprising number of key execs, as opposed to regional sales reps in the rooms I visited, which were hosted by SIIA members: McGraw-Hill Education, Google, and Pearson. There were meet-ups sponsored by Cengage Learning, and Adobe, and parties sponsored by Amplify, Pearson, and College Board.
I didn’t get to all of the sessions or parties I wanted to attend, especially those that started at 10 pm! But it was a productive and great four days in Austin.
Hats off to Ron Reed and his staff for another great event!
Karen Billings is Vice President for the Education Division at SIIA. Follow the SIIA Education Team on Twitter at @SIIAEducation