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What Did We Learn from This Year’s SxSWEdu Conference?
posted by: Melissa | March 24, 2015, 06:53 PM   


March saw the return of South by Southwest (SxSW), the yearly conference that has people from all over the globe travelling to Austin, Texas to listen to the best new music, experience the best new tech, and learn about the trends facing our society.  SxSW has a sub-conference that deals exclusively with the issue of education.  Since SxSW has a reputation for spotting trends before the rest of the country, it’s worth looking at what was discussed at this year’s conference.


The conference had three keynotes, the contents of which are outlined below:


  • Charles Best, the founder of, spoke about the power of crowdsourcing in education.  Obviously, he focused on and the various ways that they use crowdsourcing.  Most importantly, he pointed out that education was slow to innovate because of the large education bureaucracy that kept teachers from adopting new technologies and ideas. He believes crowdsourcing is a way around that bureaucracy and gives power back to the teachers.  He also showed how attaching funding to certain initiatives can encourage teachers to pursue programs that they might not have done otherwise.

  • Elizabeth Green of Chalkbeat and David Epstein from ProPublica debated whether good teaching is a skill that is taught or one that teachers must be born with.  Ms. Green argued that teaching can be taught.  Mr. Epstein acknowledged that while some teaching skill could be taught, a basic innate ability to teach is critical.  Mr. Epstein’s arguments were interesting, because instead of pointing to a special ”teaching skill,”  he ended up pointing out that teaching skill was tied to the teacher’s cognitive ability.  Ms. Green countered this by pointing out that even TFA, who recruits from the best and brightest needed to invest in training their potential teachers.  This debate mirrors the policy debates between whether we should be reinventing teacher education to focus more on training, or whether we should be focusing on recruiting teachers with higher SAT scores.

  • Emily Pilloton, the founder of Project H Design, talked about the impact that building and design can have on the educational process.  Ms. Pilloton’s background is in architecture, but her path took her to a school district in North Carolina where she brought design and construction into the schools as part of a turn-around effort and later to a charter school in Berkeley, CA, and then a camp for girls.  Her comments focused on how creating and building can result in student empowerment and authentic learning, echoing many common sentiments of the maker movement as it begins to infiltrate schools.


The keynotes reflect some major trends that have permeated education in the past few years, crowdsourcing, making, and teacher preparation.  If past performance is an indication of the future, we can expect all of these topics to continue to make headlines in the upcoming year.


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