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SXSWedu: Keeping it Weird

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By Caroline Vander Ark & Carri Schneider

Much like Austin, SXSWedu kept it weird for the third annual conference. Weird in a good way. Suits traded in for boots and jeans. Typical presentations traded in for interactive discussions. It's one of the few conferences that skips the exhibit hall and puts more emphasis on networking time. SXSWedu also features the best music of any education conference. From music before each session starts to live performances by Wheeler Brothers and Alpha Rev we felt the Austin music spirit. For more on the first part of the week check out our halftime report.


Plan Ahead. In what would have been an exhibit hall at most conferences, there was a showcase of options for Austin students to be college and career ready. The Future Plans College & Career Fair was free and open to the public aimed at Central Texas high school students and their families. SXSWedu has made a commitment to being a global conference that also supports the Austin community and schools.

Prepare for Launch. This year's LAUNCHedu was bigger and better. During the conference entrepreneurs are given the chance to pitch their ideas to a panel of education leaders and a live audience. This year 24 organizations were chosen from K-12 and Higher Ed markets to compete. Clever, which syncs student information across multiple education programs to create a single sign on, took the honors in the K-12 category. Taking the honors in the higher ed category was Speakingpal, which teaches English speaking skills right from your smartphone.

Inspiring Acton. Acton Academy founded by Jeff and Laura Sandefer is a great blended mashup of Montessori and Socratic method where students move at their own pace in a classroom of 36 students. No grade levels, no grades, no teaching, just a powerful culture of discovery and learning. Guides help facilitate learning by challenging students to set learning goals and ensure they have the tools necessary during their core learning time. At Acton they use a mix of online solutions that allow students to choose which one works best for them. Sandefer suggested the best way to create a model like his, is to truly believe that every child is a genius and build up from there. "When you believe children will change the world, they believe it too," said Sandefer.

EduGals. Our team was pleased to participate in several events at SXSWedu that brought together female education leaders. The first annual EdTech Woman Dine event was a hit with over 100 attendees. Plans to create a network where women can share what's happening in their organizations and reach out for mentoring and support were impressive. We also noticed a large number of women presenting and on panels at this conference, which rocks! For more on women in technology see Google's post today and celebrate International Women's Day tomorrow!

Make Something. A handful of talented organizations were featured in this year's makerspace, including Digital Harbor Foundation that we highlighted in our Smart Cities: Baltimore blog. Its great to see a renewed focus on the maker movement that includes an engaging and practical approach to learning. The maker sessions throughout the conference also gave educators great implementation advice for including maker time as part of a students school experience.

Edu Film Fest. Inspired by the SXSW Film Festival, this year's edu conference partnered with Alamo Drafthouse to showcase a great list of education films. You can truly have your cake and a milkshake too from Alamo's full service kitchen that brings food right to your seats. For more information on the films showcased see eduFILM.

Not all Data are Created Equally. While there was a lot of talk about the potential of eddata and learning analytics, we were excited to hear the important distinction drawn between data that is easy to capture and analyze versus the deeper data we need to collect in order to inform teaching and learning. As the wave of data continues to swell, the field needs to be thoughtful about the quality, depth and breadth of data. This was the key message of the panel featuring Mark Milliron, George Siemens, Nicole Melander, and Charles Thornburgh that we wish more people would have been able to attend. See the summary of Monday's data discussion authored by Aimee Rogstad Guidera, Lori Fey, John Bailey, and Tom Vander Ark

Stay tuned for our posts this week on Bill Gates' keynote and Tom's Investing in Education Session yesterday with Alex Hernandez. Diane Tavenner from Summit Prep will join Gates on stage today. In the meantime, grab a breakfast taco, put on some Avett Brothers, and check out our feature on Summit's teacher development system.

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