The SXSWedu conference took place in Austin, Texas over three days in March. Here are some of the key takeaways:
Diversity, inclusion and opportunity are on everyone’s mind.
Speakers and panels repeatedly hammered home the idea that educational planning must push harder to be more inclusive, particularly to women and underrepresented communities. One representative session spent considerable energy discussing potential new best practices for educating ELL students, who are ESL students who are retained in mainstream classrooms and tracks rather than being separated out. Additionally, keynote speaker Temple Grandin, a researcher who identifies herself as autistic, gave a very popular opening talk on inclusion titled “Helping Different Kinds of Minds Solve Problems.”
The new federal law spurred quite a bit of talk on policy.
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), last fall’s sweeping legislation in response to No Child Left Behind, was the centerpiece of a far-ranging policy session. ESSA will largely disconnect federal legislators from local school districts and hand more power back locally. Essentially, it reverses the 2002 No Child law that forced local districts to be accountable nationally and turned out to be widely unpopular because it was deemed too autocratic.
This new landscape of increased local control sparked discussion among panelists on the rise of personalized learning and equality of access in classrooms.
STEAM is gaining steam.
The integration of the sciences with the arts is beginning to pick up. It was clear during the conference that educators are grasping how the well-rounded, ethical student and future technologist must gain a firm grounding in both arts and science in order to add value today.
Luckily, there are ways to encourage both halves of the creative mind in concert. The conference’s Expo day showcased numerous innovations that brought together art and science, including the requisite cool 3-D printing demos, as well as applications integrating art, poetry and music.
Technology is king: the Internet of Things, maker communities and the rise of programming and developing.
Education has largely caught up to the rest of the world in recognizing the importance and impact of technology, and these days K-12 and university students alike are heading to maker fairs, code workshops and demo days.
Now K-12 students are doing high-level research projects, connecting their brilliant ideas to hospitals, documentary filmmakers and other professional organizations. This is thanks both to better curricula and far more sophisticated technology now available to students. Think plasma screens, apps, video equipment, labs, etc. As one panelist said, “School is not preparation for the real world—it is the real world.”
In creating these curricula, sessions explored the use of evidence-based learning, meaning the retooling of teaching methods based on data, research, and metrics rather than philosophy or legacy thinking.
Privacy was flagged as a real concern by both parents and experts. Our digital lives live on in spite of our efforts to expunge them, and this is of heightened concern for young children. The creation of strong filters and blocks for particularly young (K-5) learners was considered essential.
Schools are being rethought from the ground up—sometimes with help from the crowd.
Both school system leaders and external experts are pitching in to rethink high school, universities and K-8. They are thinking about how to think about K-12 education in a different way. Administrators, teachers and consultants are beginning to think more like an Elon Musk or a Steve Jobs when designing a high school than, say, an English aristocrat.
XQ America is one entity working hard on this, and it is taking these questions to the streets with its Rethink High School and Super School Project initiatives. This philosophical shift is significant, as high school education hasn’t changed much in a half-century. The fact that it’s being moved to change now means something major is happening.
Student input is also being taken very seriously during the redesign of these structures. “At one time in our history, it made sense that education should match the rote repetition of the factory, but that is no longer what we need,” noted Harvard Graduate School of Education professor and thought leader Paul Reville on the conference’s final day. “In the fast-paced, digital 21st century, it’s time to put students in charge of their learning and measure them not against some sort of unreasonable ‘average’ but in terms of their personal success.”
This year’s SXSWedu conference demonstrated that innovation is very clearly in the wind across K-12, preK and university levels, and technology is more often than not at the center of it all.
1. “Sessions and Workshops” SXSWedu. 2016.
2. “Sharing our Key Takeaways” Edmentum. March 14, 2016.
3. “From Research to Recess: Recapping SXSWedu” Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. March 24, 2016.
4. “SXSWedu: Day 2 Recap with our Compass Learning Student Bloggers” Navigator by Compass Learning. March 10, 2016.
5. “SXSWedu Recap: Depth and Breadth” Learning Sciences International. March 18, 2016.
6. #sxswedu Twitter. 2016.