Six Tips, Three Whys: A SXSW EDU Reflection

We have the opportunity to experience conferences and convenings on a variety of topics and settings throughout the world and have a mindset that is applicable beyond our team in approaching learning in the conference format. With the buzz and knowledge hangover still very present, it is a great time to reflect. As we partner with educators across the country in exploring, defining and creating the future of learning, we are excited to “share our learnings.”

Our approach to every conference opportunity has three very simple “why’s.” In this blog, we’ve framed the value and provided a few tips along the way.

Why: We love to learn.

SXSW EDU 2019: 1,172 Speakers and 449 sessions

Learning takes shape in so many different formats and with our commitment to experiential education and personalization, SXSW EDU was a beautiful intersection of diverse topics that provided a truly high-quality Learner Experience (LX).

Upon arrival, we quickly discovered a distinct unwritten theme for SXSW EDU 2019 that was woven into keynotes, sessions and the informal “buzz” of conversations throughout the venue around inclusivity and the power that culture plays in delivering the future of learning. Our team was fortunate to participate in some amazing partnership opportunities that kicked-off with a panel featuring Adam Kulaas, Lisa Marie Coates, Gary Moore and Kim Tagge of the Nonpareil Institute entitled Life Beyond the Diploma: Adults with Autism. The panel engaged in conversations along the Pre-Kindergarten through life continuum and unpacked the brilliance that lies within individuals along the Autism spectrum.

Tip 1: Explore the conference city, learning extends beyond venue walls, embrace the power of place.

In a place-based workshop appropriately titled Building Student Agency Through the Power of Place, orchestrated by Nate McClennen and Emily Liebtag, participants took to the city engaging in experiential learning that connected SXSW EDU to Austin.

Whether discussing the reality that culture plays in developing community through Deep Love, Deeper Poverty with Carlos Moreno, Matthew Riggan, Linnea Garrett and JuDonn DeShields or unpacking system elements through multiple sessions on data and assessment solutions, we embraced the growing demand for interoperability (particularly in our session on Revolutionizing EdTech with Interoperability with David Myashiro, Kim Smith and Caroline Vander Ark). In the simplest translation, it is a demand for systems and tools to communicate and cooperate in their usage and sharing of data and information to support student and community growth.

As we traveled through the schedule, we celebrated the representation of HQPBL as more than just an approach to knowledge acquisition and enjoyed an exciting workshop via David Ross, entitled Enhance Student Creativity with PBL.

Tip 2: Pursue topics that interest you, but may not be in your current “wheelhouse.”

While it can be appealing to gravitate towards what you know, have the courage to expand your learning. One Session that fell into this category was delivered by a rockstar panel that consisted of storytellers Brett Pierce, Emily Reardon, Johanna Prince and Michael Hernandez entitled Storytelling for Impact. As a topic that has impacts on both learning to lead, and leading to learn, it was exciting to process their experiences created from vantage points outside of our current reality.

Why: We love collaborative growth.

SXSW EDU 2019: 15,212 Attendees

We believe in the access and growth that collaboration provides. We explored this belief in Better Together, which was unpacked during the session, Collaborate vs Compete: Sustaining via Networks with Lydia Dobyns, Juan Cabrera, Royce Avery and Tom Vander Ark, and in Who You Know author Julia Freeland-Fisher and David Berg’s session on From What Kids Know to Who Kids Know. Our conclusion, affirmation that the work is relationship driven, with a beautiful balance between the art and science of learning.

Tip 3: Many conference sessions have similar and even competing content (a good problem to have), do the pre-work and design a plan to maximize the resources you have.

As a team, we continually check-in, with the intention of designing a game plan to divide and conquer, which expands our opportunity for shared learning. SXSW EDU was no different and between session attendance and collaborative conversations, often in hotel lobbies and convention center hallways, we maximized the experience.

One other aspect of conference engagement rests in acknowledging diverse backgrounds and roles of presenter panels. Conference formats, not unlike the future of learning, must move towards student-centered programming and it was great to see student representation throughout the schedule. To collaborate with and celebrate the brilliance of current learners involved in transformation, not only supports the empowerment of student voice, but deepens our level of collaboration. For the second year in a row, One Stone was able to successfully leave its mark on educators far and wide, with a naturally student-delivered highlight by Bennet Huhn’s session – Passion as a Skill.

The Creating, Debating, & #HipHopEd(ucating) session featuring student Micknley West, Chris Emdin and Sam Seidel was a conference favorite that erupted on social platforms as a welcomed remix on traditional presentations that highlighted “experiences and observations on the purpose and potential of education informed by hip-hop culture, scholarship, and their work with students and educators all over the world.”

Why: We love people.

SXSW EDU 2019: 40 Countries

Every conference we attend has a variety of events that deliver on the relationship side of learning. We participated in the Early Bird Social and got to experience a wonderful kick-off to SXSW EDU 2019 hosted by Special Olympics. Unified athletes, coaches and supporters were on hand and it was wonderful to greet and connect with friends, old and new.

During each conference, there are events outside of the daily schedule, some connected to the program and others in collaboration with the conference. From drop-in “happy hours” to “socials,” they are a great networking opportunity to unpack the learning of the day and expand thought partnership for the coming days (and beyond). Conferences offer a massive pool of individuals with shared visions, take advantage of the opportunity to gains allies in creating the future of learning.

Tip 4: Engage in as many conference activities as possible (you can rest when you get home). We are engaged in a shared mission that is fueled by human potential, bring lots of business cards and meet as many people as you can.

Products are cool, but the people behind them are even cooler. We were very excited to see the SXSW EDU Expo Hall up and running. On a stroll (actually what we collectively estimate as a dozen separate trips) through the massive labyrinth of vendors and presenters, we quickly discovered that the balance of product presentation and emphasis on the “why” behind each, was alive and well. We met Tony Weaver Jr. who founded Weird Enough Productions and got to dive into his passion-driven explanation of Get Media L.I.T., a comic driven approach to increasing media and digital literacy with amplified student voice. (#SmartReview coming).

Additionally, robotics, coding, STEM, STEAM, makerspace, curriculums, interventions, VR, AR, MR and all other “realities” were present. Social Impact campaigns from Communities In Schools, #WhatWeAreMadeOf and Share Your Learning were impressive with the Chevron STEM Zone and Houston Mobile Fab Lab providing inspiration to put on safety goggles and get to work. Resources, tools, and opportunities for all levels were present and in comparison, the collection created – was “best in class.”

Tip 5: Set up your social prior to arrival. Social platforms serve as opportunities for amplified voice and increased engagement.

Tip 6: Capture it, to reflect and share.

The one and only, Sunni Brown had a doodle board at the entrance of the Expo Hall with the prompt, “How do you create change?” As you prepare for the next opportunity, we are excited to be your solution partners in the continued pursuit of the answer.

SXSW EDU was electric in both energy and learning, but more importantly, expanded our vision in pursuing the future of work, learning, and possibility. From thought leaders at various levels to conversations that have continued beyond the week of programming, our work is moving forward. For all of the highlights within this reflection, SXSW EDU will continue to find a place on our annual list of conferences worth visiting. We’d love to hear your conference takeaways and tips, drop a comment below or post on social media and tag us.

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Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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