Friday, March 8, 2013

SxSW Edu Recap

I just wrapped up my first trip to SxSW Edu in Austin. This is the 3rd year of Edu's conference with nearly 5000 people in attendance to discuss all things related to Education--a huge growth trend over the prior to two years. The conference was heavy on K-12 topics as one might expect with a smattering of higher ed and general pedagogical themes. It's exciting to see the growth of this topic as well as the eager and engaged audience of teachers, administrators, pedagogical scholars, and those interested in education technology. In fact, the Ed Tech crowd reminded me of the VC crowd that invaded SxSW Interactive in years past. These folks are probably still there at Interactive but have been swallowed by participants there to have a good time, oh yeah, learn some innovative ideas to apply back home.

In any case, here are some themes that I observed at this year's SXSW Edu conference.

  • Personalization was a big theme which is heartening to see. The move toward standardized testing and No-child-left-behind (nearly universally reviled by educators of all stripes) has cemented the one-size-fits-all paradigm of teaching. A number of personalized learning Ed Tech companies were blossoming--among them Dreambox, Edmodo, and InBloom. These companies had lofty hopes of revising century's old teaching approaches in favor of technology-enabled learning paths for each individual. I heard from more than one educator that they were thrilled by this premise but now were stuck with old hardware to host the new software.
  • The STEM movement (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) were well represented with advocates to include Art in there to make STEAM. Some innovative things happening to build STEM skills with Lego having a presence as well as various charter schools. Educators are again eager for innovation here but challenged with shrinking budgets. 
  • MOOCs had several sessions with the heads of Coursera and Ed-X in the Keynote on Tuesday. I'm very intrigued by this model and eager to see how it evolves in the next few years. It was heartening to see that both CEOs were eager to extend altruistic endeavor of extending these subjects and keeping it free. Of course neither needs a way to monetize since they are backed by universities with huge endowments. Neither foresees the inability to get a degree through this means but could see leveraging best lectures at other schools or offering small, private online courses (SPOCs) when requested.
  • Related to MOOCs in the notion of "flipping the classroom" which means to leverage outside of class learning through video and reading information and then coming together in class to discuss, collaborate and dissect. I love this approach and hope that it becomes more widespread.
  • My biggest disappointment was little attention paid to adult or executive education. The Maker/DIY advocates were there but little attention paid to needs of continuous learning after college. Especially since this is a profitable niche, in my opinion. School districts don't have much money to spend and higher ed can get bogged down in bureaucracy and politics before implementing innovative approaches or technology. The well-informed corporation spurs innovation which is all the rage in people strategy circles and collectively have millions of dolllars to put toward professional development. Hopefully this will be addressed at next year's conference.
I'm off to SxSW Interactive now which promises to be bigger and better than year's past. 

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