The 2014 SXSWedu Conference & Festival kicks off March 3rd in Austin, Texas. SmartBrief will have reporters on the ground, bringing readers regular coverage of the event. To help get things started, we recently spoke with SXSWedu Executive Producer Ron Reed.
How would you describe this year’s SXSWedu Conference and Festival?
Exciting! At its core, SXSWedu has always been about the celebration of innovations in learning. As the SXSWedu community has grown, the event has taken a shape reflective of all the energy and enthusiasm for modernizing teaching and learning. I think this year’s SXSWedu Conference & Festival will be a major step in the development of the event as our returning attendees set the tone for how to maximize the value of SXSWedu, and newcoming registrants enrich the event with their own unique perspectives and flavors. We are excited to see how they all blend together to create meaningful, constructive outcomes for education.
Which national education topics influenced the design of this year’s conference and how did that manifest in the final program?
Our entire program is designed around the proposals that are submitted in August, so we like to think that the final program is an accurate reflection of what the hot topics in education are — it is really a community driven event. No surprise, but prominent on a lot of people’s minds is standards, accountability and assessment. There was a rich swath of sessions proposed for those topics from a variety of perspectives. Other trending topics at this year’s SXSWedu include blended and personalized learning, the importance of big data and privacy concerns related to that data, and the next iteration of MOOCs, given learnings from initial deployments. Additionally, there is keen interest from attendees about strategies to close the achievement gap and to engage all learners. The maker movement — and more broadly, STEM education — as well as the integration of arts into the curriculum are also vibrant and prominent topics.
How does the idea of creating “positive” educational dialogue play into the mission of the SXSWedu Conference and Festival?
It’s really easy to get stuck on things that are going wrong — and that’s not unique to education. What we’re about at SXSWedu is approaching education with an open mind, positive attitude, and eye for the long-term goal. Additionally, as we endeavor to utilize SXSWedu as a breeding ground for actionable outcomes, we also think it is important to focus on what is going right. That’s why we are a celebration of innovations in learning.
What can attendees expect in terms of sessions/workshops that will help them move from inspiration to implementation?
Well the most obvious answer is the addition of our “Problem Solver” sessions. These are sort-of miniature think-tank sessions in which presenters lay a problem on the table and utilize the time with the audience to create real-world solutions to that problem. Additionally, I think all of the presenters at SXSWedu get what we’re about. One of the main goals of SXSWedu is to mash up the different education stakeholders, believing that bringing together a diverse community with shared interests and passions creates opportunities for personal and professional growth. We like to give the community voice and encourage presenters to devote a goodly amount of time to interact with the attendees. Our presenters know that our audience isn’t interested in the echo chamber, but rather how to bring it home, and I think our content reflects that.
Our sessions and workshops, in true SXSW fashion, are focused on the tomorrow of education, not the today. So you can expect sessions in which new and innovative ideas are met with creative energy and practical knowledge, allowing the inspiration to become implementation. Certainly, that’s our desire and goal.
The schedule includes more than 200 sessions and workshops. Are there any themes trending among registered attendees?
Oh boy, where to start. Again, our entire program is designed around the proposals that are submitted in August, so we like to think that the final program is an accurate reflection of what the hot topics in education are — it is really a community driven event. MOOCs were certainly the big new topic in 2013, and we are excited to see some of the sessions discussing the latest evolutions of that conversation. As you would expect, there is a lot of interest in social & mobile learning, as well as gaming in education. There are some really creative people doing great things in these areas. Ultimately, our largest programming theme is still Best Practices & Implementation. When push comes to shove, our registrants are most concerned with how to improve their performance for the benefit of learners, and that’s what makes them so special.
This year’s conference materials seem to place an emphasis on community. How did the idea of community contribute to this year’s program?
It’s funny: We tend to think of ourselves more as “community organizers” than “event planners”! The education community is unlike any other. Such passionate people doing such great work, it’s hard not to get pulled into the club. In just four short years we have developed a community of our own at SXSWedu. It is our greatest delight to see returning attendees that have grown with us, and to see the connections they make and outcomes they produce. Additionally, to augment the sense of community at SXSWedu, we strive to provide as much of a fun and relaxed environment as we can. Through our many networking opportunities, socials and parties, we hope that our attendees have the opportunity to meet one another and expand their personal reach within the greater education community.
Finally, our community give-back is the Education Expo. In many ways it is a local manifestation of the innovation at SXSWedu. This event is free and open to the public, and is focused on providing Central Texas students and parents with a resourceful event to help them in their exploration of learning and career options. It also is a great place for them to explore informal and continuing education options that are available. Austin is, in many ways, the star of the show…it’s among the largest college going communities in the country, and supporting it fits hand in glove for the passion we have in hosting SXSWedu.
Stay tuned for additional conference coverage.
Melissa Greenwood is SmartBrief’s senior education editor, with responsibility for the content in a variety of SmartBrief’s education briefs. She also manages content for SmartBlog on Education and related social media channels. Prior to joining SmartBrief, Melissa held a variety of positions in the education field, including classroom teacher and education editor and writer.