Sunday, March 10, 2013

It's All About the Conversations

People Like to Talk
Anyone who has ever attended an Educon event knows that conversations are the key to having successful learning experiences at conferences.

In the standard conference we attend sessions where people talk to us, in a lecture format, and there may, or may not be time for questions. To truly have time to discuss what you just heard you have to join up (virtually or face-to-face) with others who attended that session or who have knowledge of the subject.

SXSWEdu is starting to have less lecturers and more facilitators of discussion and it is a welcomed change.  There are many things that are different, this year, from that first disappointingly bad conference two years ago. But, unfortunately, there is still too much emphasis on the business of education rather than the art of education.

So, if you want to have conversations about topics of interest, it is the hallways, restaurants, bars, and lounges where you will have the best and deepest discussions.  While in the hallways of SXSW you hear teachers talking with edtech people; startups talking with venture capitalists; and IT folks talking with school administrators.

Unfortunately, you don't hear many conversations between teachers and other teachers at SXSWEdu.  As a friend of mine said to me this morning, when I asked him how his week was, "They should call it an Education Industry conference.  It really isn't an education conference."

And this week was frustrating because of the huge emphasis on data.  There were startups who could give you a better dashboard for your data.  Edtech companies who could put all of your data from the various programs you are using into one data file.  There were companies who could do more meaningful data management.

Analyzing data can help teachers provide better and more meaningful instruction for their students. That is a true statement. God knows I spend hours upon hours of spreadsheet analysis of student scores related to various data points.  But with this much emphasis on data I felt like I was attending a math conference instead of an education conference.

SXSWEdu has grown in size and in scope.  It is immensely better than the poor excuse for a conference in 2011 that I had to attend - at my own cost even though I was a speaker. [Side Note: speakers at the other SXSW events get a pass to the conference]  But if we're going to call this an educator conference, let's bring in the educators in large numbers.  Let's have the break down be 70% educators and 30% industry folks instead of the current 70%(or more?) industry and 30% educators.

As I said two years ago and last year: Let's put together educators in the Central Texas area to sit on a panel and select key educators from around the globe and truly make this the "Can't Miss" education conference on the planet. Then we can discuss the data of its success.