It’s Never Too Early for Edtech Predictions: Trends From SXSWedu 2016 Session Proposals

It’s Never Too Early for Edtech Predictions: Trends From SXSWedu 2016 Session Proposals


Forecasting education technology trends eight months in advance can be a science as complicated and volatile as meteorology.

Still, many people take their best shot as they propose sessions for SXSWedu, Austin’s annual education technology extravaganza. And the folks submitting sessions know a bit more about their trade than, say, your local TV weatherman. These are chiefs, directors, presidents, and specialists of all titles across education, research, industry and policy landscapes—many often juggling multiple roles.

This year, the organizers have to sift through 1,278 proposals and are leaning a little on the public—who count for 30 percent of the decision process—for a little help. But act fast: PanelPicker voting is open until Friday, September 4.

These proposals offer insights into the hot topics and conversations that the edtech community will be buzzing about come March 2016. Of the 15 themes that session organizers can choose from, the most popular selections skew in favor of educator-facing topics. Sessions covering business and other entrepreneur-related concerns come in fourth place:

  • Instructional Strategies: 291 proposals
  • Educational Equality: 157
  • Leadership: 139
  • Implementation: 131
  • Entrepreneurialism: 125

The popularity of session proposals on implementation and instruction, says conference program coordinator Gaby DeLeon, suggests that “people are looking to provide more outcomes-oriented content. At any conference, you grapple with how you can actually implement these ideas after you leave, so we’re pleased to see this interest.” The 157 proposed sessions on educational equality, inclusivity and accessibility, she notes, is a boost from the 94 submissions last year.

Perhaps the education community no longer needs—or desires—to hear folks simply lauding the potential of blended learning, Big Data and other buzz-wordy technologies. Believers and skeptics alike demand to see whether new tools and practices can deliver on their promises. And that process often starts with a critical look at implementation.

Equally revealing are the keywords falling in and out of fashion. In their analysis of keywords used in a proposed session’s title or description, the event organizers found “tech” in just 140 proposals this year—more than a 50 percent drop from 292 proposals last year. The use of “teach” dipped from 343 to 242. At the same time, words like “student” appear in 729 proposals (up 25 percent from 583 last year); others terms also seeing a bump include “create” (from 178 to 302) and “hands-on” (53 to 117).

It may be a stretch to assess where the industry is headed from analyzing keywords. But for a conference that drew over 6,300 teachers, entrepreneurs and education stakeholders from diverse backgrounds and geographies last year, the proposed sessions offer a pulse check on the ideas and conversations happening in both boardrooms and classrooms. They add valuable perspective to others in the business of making edtech predictions, such as the New Media Consortium, which relies on several dozen experts for its annual Horizon Reports.

With swanky after-parties and clandestine investor meetings behind the scenes, SXSWedu may have the feel and dressing of an industry-focused conference. But educators and students made up 43 percent of last year’s attendees, versus 29 percent for business and industry folks.

“The spirit of our event is to highlight educators, and with that comes the instructional focus,” DeLeon tells EdSurge. “We want to celebrate and share the great work that is happening in classrooms.”

More telling than her statement will be which sessions make the final cut after the advisory board and programming staff also cast their votes, which together count for 70 percent of the selection process.


You bet we want to be part of the conversation! In what has become an EdSurge tradition, we’ve proposed sessions to connect decision-makers across the ecosystem and share stories of what works—or doesn’t.

The $@#! No One Tells You About Procurement: Ellen Dorr (Highline Public Schools); Pablo Mejia (IDEA Public Schools); Steven Ross (John Hopkins University Center for Research and Reform in Education); Dilara Sayeed (Golden Apple Foundation); moderated by Christina Quattrocchi

Breaking the University From the Inside Out: Paul Freedman (Entangled Ventures); Joshua Kim (Dartmouth College); Sean Hobson (Arizona State University); moderated by Allison Dulin Salisbury

What Do We Mean When We Ask If Edtech “Works”? Steven Hodas (Digital Promise); Chris Liang-Vergara (LEAP Innovations); Kristen Swanson (BrightBytes); moderated by Betsy Corcoran

How Do We Track Which School Models Are Effective? Alex Hernandez (Charter School Growth Fund); Michael Horn (Clayton Christensen Institute); Pam Moran (Albemarle County Public Schools); moderated by Mary Jo Madda

Here’s a collection of other roundups shared by a variety of organizers:

  • The Council of Chief State Officers, a nonprofit group for public officials who head state departments of education, has proposed 10 sessions covering topics ranging from open educational resources to student voice.
  • The #NYCEDU community has submitted 25 sessions tackling issues concerning toddlers, teachers and adolescent learners.
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