SXSW Offshoot Explores Intersection of Education and Technology



Austin, Texas, and the SXSW Interactive festival have long been an important annual pilgrimage for the technology community. A recent offshoot, SXSWedu, is growing to occupy a similar place in the education technology community. Mobility Labs joined thousands of teachers, education leaders, entrepreneurs, and others in Austin last week for this year’s event. The education expo is known for having greater educator representation than your average industry conference. We saw three themes emerge in the sessions we attended: creative ways to engage learners, innovation within systems, and new ways to connect ed & tech.

Creative ways to engage learners

We were excited to see a number of sessions on ways to develop students’ noncognitive and 21st century skills. The Stanford Project for Education Research That Scales (PERTS) shared how they have applied neuroscience research to virtual learning. Through a partnership with Khan Academy, they found that users who saw messages encouraging a growth mindset were motivated to tackle and master more lessons. We also heard how Utica Community Schools is bringing growth mindset to life in the classroom as early as kindergarten by encouraging students to set their own goals and monitor progress toward achieving them.

We also met many makers, storytellers, and artists working to unleash student creativity. is guiding students in Brazil and Colombia to develop apps that solve real problems in their communities. Urban Arts Partnership presented on a number of their programs serving low-income schools in NYC and LA, including hip-hop pedagogy through Fresh Prep and arts integration through Everyday Arts for Special Education.

Another highlight was the Global Nomads Group virtual storytelling session we exchanged stories with other participants to foster empathy development across borders and within classrooms.


Innovation within systems

Through our work on PDredesign, we’ve heard many stories from district leaders, principals, and teachers motivated to change complex district systems from within to support great education.

We were inspired by the School District of Philadelphia’s call to educators to redesign schools to catalyze the achievement of students in underserved areas. Superintendent William Hite noted that past reforms had been structural when they needed to be instructional, paving the way for student-centered, inquiry-based, and experiential school models.

In the Future 15 talks, we heard two more models for what district leadership could look like. Kimberly Moritz, superintendent of Randolph Central Schools in NY, talked about the need to develop the pipeline from teaching to instructional leadership to superintendency to ensure district leaders understand real educator needs.

Meanwhile, Education Cities proposed a different model for reducing bureaucratic inefficiency at the district level: relocate decision-making authority over most aspects of learning to teachers and schools.


Connecting Ed & Tech in the Shark Tank

Putting entrepreneurs in a shark tank sounded fun to us, so we attended SharkTankEDU hosted by Innovate NYC Schools and the EdSurge Teacher Tank. They put entrepreneurs in the hotseat as a diverse panel of teachers critiqued their products. We were struck by one question that emerged across multiple products: does a top-down purchasing model by a school or district ensure enough teachers use the product to make it valuable, or does it ward off teachers looking for a safe space for collaboration?

In other sessions, we heard questions raised about how to engage parents and communities in these conversations. We got to know Educacion Disruptiva, an online community for educators, entrepreneurs, parents, and community members to discuss disruptive education in Colombia online and in meetups. Sehreen NoorAli highlighted the need for theSkimm for education — easy-to-comprehend, reliable news and ideas on learning. We saw some powerful, necessary conversations about diversity and inclusion in edtech, both at companies and in considering the students using the products.

We left Austin energized by the ways creativity, system change, and inclusion will transform education in 2015. We’ll see you at SXSWedu next year!



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