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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Thoughts on SXSWedu

SXSWEdu 2012 by @cfanch
     Yesterday was my first day at this year's South By Southwest Education (SXSWedu) conference in Austin, TX.  I spoke twice at its maiden conference last year and was wondering where it would go this year.

     It appears that SXSW has figured out a direction they are heading.  Last year it felt very awkward being here - was it supposed to be a TEA (Texas Education Association) conference, a vendor conference, or an educator's conference?  We never really knew.

     This year there is a definite feel that we are seeing this conference embrace edtech and education entrepreneurship.   And that's OK.  If they continue in this direction it would be great to see ways to get more educators in attendance.  I attended a session with about 40 people and when the panel asked how many were teachers there were two of us.  There was another higher ed person in the room but the rest were all from industry.

    As we get more and more startups creating products that can be used in the classroom, we need to have educators here to hold conversations with these company representatives.  An app or program is only as good as its usability.  Will teachers want to use the product?  Will students use the product?  And, most importantly, HOW will they use the product?

    I have met many startups as well at this conference.  One of the things at SXSWEdu is LAUNCHedu where startups/edtech companies can hawk their wares and attendees can ask questions.  This is a great idea and I see wonderful opportunities for future South By's in this arena.

     Finally, this evening, I was able to attend meetups hosted by many of the larger edtech companies at the conference and it was nice to be able to talk directly to their representatives about the conference and how it can be improved.  Then many of us were able to attend a party hosted by Tech & Learning which really made us feel like we were more than just "educators."  These type of parties are prevalent at the regular SXSW conference and it really gave a nice ending to a great day.

     SXSWedu will be in its 3rd year next year and I'm hoping that they find a way of getting more teachers to the conference.  I was able to talk with WeAreTeachers founder Sandy Fivecoat and she came up with a great idea of holding a contest on her site that would allow a certain number of teachers to win scholarships to next year's SXSWedu and I'm hoping that can become a reality.

     Over and over I was asked for my thoughts on the conference and without hesitating I was able to say that it was MUCH better than last year.  There was good interaction in most of the sessions I attended and presenters wanted to know where the teachers were.  I would like to see more interactive sessions with conversations and hands-on opportunities but SXSWedu is heading in the right direction and I look forward to what it looks like next year.