29 Sessions to Watch During This Year’s SXSW EDU


29 Sessions to Watch During This Year’s SXSW EDU

By Stephen Noonoo and Tony Wan     Feb 27, 2018

29 Sessions to Watch During This Year’s SXSW EDU

Every year in March the edtech world descends on Austin for SXSW EDU, a conference that’s become as much about classroom practice and implementation as entrepreneurship and tech innovation.

With less than a week until the storytelling-themed keynote kicks things off, we combed through the sessions, workshops and talks that will be filling our heads, and our Twitter feeds, in the days to come.

At times, it’s hard to guess who the organizers are trying to court, with sessions on fidget spinners and yoga wedged between buzzword-heavy talks on “behavioral economics” and smart cars. It’s a real mixed bag, but this year the conference is putting a big emphasis on equity and diversity as well as employability, the implications of artificial intelligence and international education, separating sessions into 25 distinct tracks.

SXSW EDU sessions are separated into 25 different tracks.

Check out our can’t-miss picks below and visit the SXSW EDU website for more on the film screenings, panels, meetups and more to help fill out your schedule.



9:30 a.m. Stories of Schooling & Getting Schooled (Keynote): In concert with live radio and podcast platform The Moth, three teachers talk about their lives both inside and out of the classroom. Moth vets Chris De La Cruz, Crystal Duckert and Tim Manly will speak on social justice, hip-hop in learning, teachers’ feelings and more.

12:00 p.m. Can Evidence Even Keep Up with Edtech? Speakers from Newsela, New Market Venture Partners and Academic Business Advisors open up about how the lightning-fast pace of edtech development requires companies to produce evidence for schools in a shortened time frame.

1:00 p.m. The Future of Learning: Convergence of VR, AR, & AI: Treating future technologies as complementary, rather than separate, tools is the best path toward immersive learning. That’s what Maya Georgieva, director of digital learning at The New School, will argue as she explores what’s in store for education's relationship with the most buzzed-about tech.

2:00 p.m. How Educators Lead With Equity in Mind: New York City teacher, activist and founder of EduColor examines how school leaders can support equity and accessibility for all learners.

4:00 p.m. “Look at Me!” Artistically Addressing Behaviors: A trio of speakers, including James Miles from the Seattle nonprofit Art Corps, explore how environment influences student behavior, and how arts programs can inspire and change the trajectory for troubled students.

5:00 p.m. Diversity in Edtech: It’s Not a Pipeline Problem: Enough talk about the “pipeline” as the reason behind why women and people of color are underrepresented in the edtech industry. Speakers from NewSchools Venture Fund, FlyTechnista, Flocabulary and New York on Tech will explore how companies and organizations can hire and support diverse candidates.

Higher Ed

11:00 a.m. The Evolution of MOOCs: Six Years Later: Are MOOCs still around? (Yes.) Dhawal Shah, CEO and founder of Class Central, has spent the last six years tracking them. Here’s his look at the five major trends impacting these companies—and why countries are launching their own platforms.

2:00 p.m. The Invisible 34%: First-Gen College Students: How can policymakers better support first-gen college students and give them opportunities to thrive? Hear how leaders from Students for Education Reform and Michelle Obama’s Better Make Room campaign are giving voice to these oft-ignored learners.

3:30 p.m. (Un)Affordability in Higher Education: This is not a newsflash: college is expensive. But are alternative financing models helping make tuition less of an obstacle for aspiring students? A pair of entrepreneurs from a scholarship startup and an income-share agreement company join Lumina Foundation and Money Magazine to explore.


4:00 p.m. A Flipped Future? Lightning Talks on Teaching: EdSurge senior editor Jeff Young will facilitate a series of lightning talks on how college teaching is being transformed by trends in big data, flipped classrooms and learning sciences. Speakers include Emory Craig (College of New Rochelle), Rachel Davenport (Texas State University) and Brian Fleming (Southern New Hampshire University).



11:00 a.m. Grow Your Own Teachers: When in Austin...do as the Austinites. Local educators and community activists will take to the SXSWedu stage to talk about the city’s various programs designed to support and nurture teachers—both for today and the future.

2:00 p.m. Choosing Love After Sandy Hook with SEL: The mother of a Sandy Hook victim shares a social-emotional learning program that aims to help preK-12 students develop courage, gratitude, forgiveness and compassion.

3:30 p.m. Examining Our Faith in Educational Technology: For those looking to do some soul searching about which and whether technology has a role in education, hear from Richard Culatta (CEO of ISTE and former federal edtech director), MaryEllen Elia (a commissioner at the NY state education department) and Hugh Norwood, who runs a company that helps scale edtech projects in underserved K-12 schools.

Higher Ed

9:30 a.m. WE over Me: From College to Movement (Keynote): Michael Sorrell, President of Paul Quinn College, shares what he’s learned from turning around what was once a failing HBCU—and his vision for creating a network of “Urban Work Colleges.”

3:30 p.m. Break the Mold: New Models Connecting EDU & Work: In an hourlong session (sponsored by Wells Fargo), three higher ed leaders and a handful of students will discuss the post-MOOC landscape upending existing learning models and helping graduates navigate a the post-college career world.

4:30 p.m. The Tough Love Advice Edtech Needs to Hear: Higher ed’s risk-averse culture can stifle efforts to experiment and innovate. But Bridget Burns, executive director of The University Innovation Alliance, believes the edtech industry can also be more supportive as well. Hear how companies can be smarter about engaging with school leaders.


4:00 p.m. Beyond Mastery: The Six Elements of CBE: Dive into each of the six parts of a competency-based education framework and develop change-management strategies along the way. Learn how other institutions have implemented CBE and the supportive technology that makes it work.



11:00 a.m. Combat Bias, Interrupt Privilege, Include All: Inclusive classrooms do not happen by themselves but rather require educators to confront personal identity and bias and their impact in the classroom. This session will mix personal reflection, dialog and group discussion to help schools build more inclusive environments for students.

12:30 p.m. Media Literacy in the Era of Fake News: Helping students make sense of media may be more important now than ever. Here, two media instructors inform the debate to help educators tackle topics such as partisan sources, personal bias and the tools that will help set students up for success.

2:00 p.m. The Best Internet Filter Is Between a Child’s Ears: With so much of today’s students’ identities tied to their digital lives, educators and other adults must consider how kids learn, play and interact online outside the classroom—and how these observations can inform digital citizenship efforts that help keep students safe.

5:00 p.m. Computation & Kids: High School Digital Humanities: Computational thinking seems like the new must-have 21st century skill. Now, coding, data analytics and analysis are taking humanities subjects like history and literature in a whole new direction.

Higher Ed

11:00 a.m. NudgeU: Learning from Behavioral Economics: Can behavioral economics reveal simple steps that colleges can take to close the achievement gap? A college administrator joins experts from a think tank, a company and the radio show Marketplace to see whether the solutions to student success are as complex as the obstacles.

3:30 p.m. Strategies to Help Lower-Income Kids Go to College: In an era when a college degree is still the best path to higher earnings, many students are still being left behind. Two higher-ed leaders share how institutions can flip the script and begin enrolling and graduating more lower-income students.


11:00 a.m. AI: Learning Game-Changer or Something to Fear? Elon Musk says he fears artificial intelligence. But McGraw-Hill Education and Arizona State University beg to differ. Speakers from both groups will join EdSurge assistant editor, Sydney Johnson, for a conversation around what colleges must learn as artificial intelligence becomes a reality.

3:30 p.m. LOOP: A Networking Experiment Meet Up: Instructional designers and digital learning leaders in higher education are welcome to join for a networking experiment where we’ll pair participants based on their projects or research. Our goal: generate those “Aha!” moments as you share resources, challenges and perspectives on common problems.



9:30 a.m. The Breakthrough of Drone Education: Drones in the classroom are taking off. With an emphasis on coding, making, and problem-solving, drone education is expanding into more disciplines and subject areas than ever before.

11:00 a.m. Pandora's Headset: The Ethics of VR in Education: From virtual bullying to excessive data collection, virtual reality’s dark side may be larger than supposed. Tech/gaming expert and author Matt Sparks dives deep into the ethical considerations and what educators should know.

Higher Ed

9:30 a.m. The Adult Student Meets the Network Effect: More than 80 million U.S. adults graduated high school but never got a college degree. Goldie Blumenstyk, a journalist from The Chronicle of Higher Education, joins Hadass Sheffer from The Graduate! Network to explore why it can be a challenge for adult students who want to go back to school.

10:00 a.m. College Prepping for the Workplace: The New Deal: What’s in a degree? Or GPA, grades and test scores for that matter? This workshop will explore other measures and a framework that better align with the skills that students have—and what employers really want.

12:30 p.m. Closing Keynotes: Alaa Murabit, a medical professional and United Nations commissioner, will kick off a trio of 30-minute keynotes with a look at education, conflict and emerging global issues. That’s followed up by CZI’s education chief, Jim Shelton, who proposes broadening how we define “success” in the classroom. Finally, teacher-journalist Jessica Lahey will share keys to boosting kids’ motivation and outcomes.

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