How to Survive SXSWedu (and Have Fun)


How to Survive SXSWedu (and Have Fun)

By Tony Wan     Mar 2, 2015

How to Survive SXSWedu (and Have Fun)

Where are you going to be next Tuesday night? If you find yourself in Austin weary, parched and yearning for good company, join us at Soho Lounge for some cocktails and mingling.

That’s right--we’re headed to SXSWedu, joining thousands of entrepreneurs, educators, investors and other edtech enthusiasts. Now in its fifth year, the venue, crowds and parties continue to grow. In addition to hundreds of sessions, this year promises an expo, a Playground, Summits and film screenings spread across two hotels, a theater and convention center.

Pack some water, comfy shoes and an evening windbreaker--it’s going to be a wild, “weird” ride (as they like to say in Austin).

EdSurge Sessions

This survival guide also doubles as a reminder to ourselves of where we’ll need to be—and when you can catch us onstage!

Monday (3/9), 1:30PM

Back by popular demand, CEO Betsy Corcoran returns to moderate “Women Disruptors 2.0” with Deborah Quazzo (GSV Advisors), Lynda Weinman ( and Vicki Abeles (filmmaker).

Tuesday (3/10), 10:30AM

Associate Editor Mary Jo Madda joins Matthew Pittinsky (Parchment), Beth Porter (edX) and Jake Schwartz (General Assembly) for a discussion on future of badges and credentials.

Wednesday (3/11) is a triple-whammy!

9:00AM: EdSurge Teacher Tank, Pt. 1: Entrepreneurs from Edmodo, LearnSprout and Schoology will take the spotlight and pitch their ideas to a panel of teacher “sharks” from around the country. Judges are Kelly Blair, Angela Estrella (East Side Union HS District), Pablo Mejia (IDEA Public Schools) and Matthew Worthington (KIPP Austin).

10:30AM: EdSurge Teacher Tank, Pt. 2: Another trio of companies takes the spotlight: Amplify, Curriculet, and Story2. Judges are Rafranz Davis (Arlington ISD), Tanesha Dixon (DC Public Schools), Manuel Herrera (Affton School District), and Geoffrey Roy (Teach for America).

12:00PM: Managing editor Tony Wan will ask Bill Fitzgerald (FunnyMonkey), Jennifer Medbery (Kickboard) and Chip Slaven (Alliance for Excellent Education) what irks them most when it comes to student data privacy, how the industry can step up and whether state and federal policy can assuage everyone’s fears.

Other Sessions to Catch


12:00PM: How the Crowd Will Change Education (keynote): Charles Best, CEO of, has helped people provide everything from pencils to 3-D printers in classrooms across America. (The company also shares beautiful data visuals to highlight its impact.)

3:00PM: Raising Their Hands: Empowering Student Voice: Does anyone bother asking the kids what they think? Aaron Feuer, CEO of Panorama Education, and others explore ways to bring students into the discussion.

4:30PM: Same Conference, Different Bagel: Can We Change? Another great question. Amidst all the optimism and echo chamber of “disruption” that often takes place at these conferences, are changes really happening in school? Mary Culliane (Chief Content Officer at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Michael Hanson (Fresno USD superintendent) and BuzzFeed reporter, Molly Hensley-Clancy will discuss.


9:00AM: My Brother’s Keeper: One Year Later: How has President Obama’s initiative to provide greater opportunities to young men of color fared? Kaya Henderson (Chancellor of DC Public Schools), Michael Smith (Special Assistant to the President) and others weigh in.

10:30AM: Diversifying Need in Education Technology: Jaime Casap (Google), Chris Lehmann (Science Leadership Academy), Jose Vilson (NYC Dept. of Ed.) and Audrey Watters (self-described “Troublemaker”) explore the crucial need for diversity in education technology.

7:30PM: #SharkTankEdu: Yes, there’s more Shark Tank action! NYC’s iZone, Chicago’s Leap Innovations, and the Silicon Valley Education Foundation will bring educators who will grill and give feedback to early-stage entrepreneurs.


9:00AM: Reinventing Industry: Changing Edu’s “Big Three”: How are Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt--the old guards of the industry--adapting in a changing education market? Are they truly being “disrupted”? Execs from these three companies will have to answer to "Principal" Frank Catalano.

3:00PM: Who Gets to See and Use the Big Data? John Katzman (Noodle Education) and Jessica Red Sliwerski (LightSail Education) offer two competing visions of how Big Data ought to be used to empower teachers and students.

Thursday: Closing Program

12:40 - 2:55PM: Bob Santelli (executive director of the GRAMMY Museum), Mimi Ito (UC Irvine), Goldie Hawn (actress) and Sal Khan (Khan Academy) will wrap up the conference with a series of powerful talks on the importance of music, connected learning and social-emotional development. These will be be packed, so get to the convention center ballroom early!

A Touch of Hedonism

When the sun sets, Austin’s 6th Street and neighboring alleys will be flowing with after-parties, spontaneous bar gatherings and perhaps even a bit of karaoke. (This will pretty much sums up every Austin evening for the entirety of March, we think).

The evening festivities officially start Monday at Trinity Hall. On Tuesday, CompassLearning will throw a block party at its home office just a couple blocks away from the SXSWedu venue. That night we’ll also be at an unofficial party at 7:30PM, co-hosted with 4.0 Schools, Education Entrepreneurs, HireEducation and NewSchools Venture Seed Fund.

The night programs wrap up on Wednesday evening with the LAUNCHedu Party, where the winners of the startup competition will be announced.

Final Tips and Advice

We’ve barely scratched the surface of all the events--official and unofficial--that will be taking place. But here are three words of advice: Don’t get FOMO. Despite all the meeting requests you may get, try to avoid double- or triple-booking your calendar. Leave yourself some time for what is often the most enjoyable part of any conference--meeting strangers and ducking into cool, unplanned shindigs.

Did we say there are three venues? Dress to impress—but wear comfortable shoes. And if, amidst all the scrambling, you miss an opportunity to try Texas barbeque, be sure to treat yourself to a platter of brisket at Salt Lick at the Austin airport before you jet off.

And remember: What happens in Austin...gets posted on EdSurge.

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