Gates: “We Need Even More Risk-Takers”

SXSWedu Executive Producer Ron Reed’s introduced Bill Gates as a “passionate, articulate voice for modernizing teaching and learning.”
The standing room only crowd agreed. Gates delivered the closing keynote to a packed house at the Austin Convention Center on Thursday morning and left the attendees feeling inspired to take the week’s lessons back home to our own corners of the world.
Since its inception, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been an impact organization with education as a core pillar of its overall mission. Gates has been an advocate for technology that extends access to high-quality education across K-12 and higher education.
The themes of this year’s SXSWedu conference included Big Data & Emerging Technologies, Funding & Philanthropy, Global Connections, Educational Equality and more – all fitting categories for a speech from Bill Gates. But perhaps the closing keynote from Bill Gates fits best under the Leadership & Inspiration category.
Gates’ key message was that, with technology, we are finally on the verge of making a big difference for a lot of students. His optimism for innovation to improve educational opportunities was obvious and genuine.
As Gates stated, exemplars are pushing the field forward. To illustrate this, Gates shared some of our favorite examples: Rocketship’s tech-rich, student-centered model and Mark Edwards’ 1:1 leadership in Mooresville, NC (oh and Yoda).  He also invited three CEOs to the stage to give the audience a taste of the fine work happening on the ground and behind the scenes.  We were excited to see Dreambox, Summit Prep and inBloom share the stage.
In his speech, Gates said that we’ve reached some important thresholds that create a special time for educational innovation. For example, he noted that we’ve reached the tipping point of availability and device affordability, so access is “no longer a gigantic barrier.”
He identified a number of trends like personalized learning, embedded assessments, improved feedback structures, increased interaction with content, and the removal of isolation from teaching to create learning communities. Diving deeper on personalization, Gates laid out three elements of personalized learning, noting that it must be data-rich, adaptive, and connected – all while achieving the ultimate high bar of relevant and meaningful learning for students.
As Gates stated, we are at a critical moment now where the right things are falling into place that will allow the system to better deliver at-scale solutions that can make a difference for all students.  We’ve seen many of those “right things” at SXSWedu this week. But the work does not end here.
Gates encouraged the audience to make even more of edtech opportunities – explore multiple solutions, exchange more information, keep investing to create more competition, grow the thriving ecosystem, and collaborate among one another. Overall, he says, “create more innovation.”
“We need even more risk-takers in this space” he said. “We’re depending on the creativity and commitment of this group.”

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