SXSWedu: Let the games begin, with open minds


The third annual education conference at South by Southwest (SXSWedu) gets underway today, and it promises to be an exciting event filled with great ideas. The roster of speakers is global, and includes luminaries like Bill Gates, along with many other key players in the world of pedagogy and edtech entrepreneurship. Themes span the hot education topics of late (e.g., MOOCs, big data, Makerspaces), broader questions of policy and reform, and exploration of new approaches to effective teaching and how technology might help.

It’s a pivotal moment in the world of education, and this conference sits on that knife edge. People are not in general agreement about the state of things, where education needs to go, and what we should do to get there. Many are optimistic about what they see as an education revolution; they feel the current system is ripe for change and disruption, and view new educational technologies, businesses and approaches as key elements in this disruption. Others see barbarians at the gates, techno-humanitarians who trot out technology as a panacea, but ignore history and the deeper issues that need to be addressed. There seems to be an underlying (and sometimes overt) current of distrust and cynicism between educators and entrepreneurs; the timescales and motivations of policy reform and business are mismatched, and the gears are grinding.

It’s easy to get swept up in emotional arguments about what’s right, what’s wrong, why our system is working or isn’t. If we’re ever going to get anywhere with education reform, and improving outcomes for students (and society as a whole), I think it’s important to have debate and discussion with a critical eye and an open mind. Blind optimism won’t get us where we need to go, but neither will hard-headed cynicism. There has to be compromise.

And so I’m ready to join the conference, to engage with interesting people, to learn about exciting new developments, and most of all, to keep my mind like a working parachute – open. How are you going to approach SXSWedu? I’d love to hear your thoughts.