Guest Post: SXSW Edu Director on how educators are like digital creatives

Note: For the next 12 weeks I’ll be sharing this Digital/Edu space with some excellent professionals in the area of learning and innovation for one weekly guest post. In addition to helping bring new voices and ideas to our readers, this will help me as I finish the first draft of my forthcoming book, The Test, on the past, present and future of testing in public schools, to be published by Public Affairs in 2015.

This guest post is by Ron Reed, Executive Producer of the SXSWedu conference, which takes place in Austin, TX from March 3-6. Several Hechinger Report writers will be featured on the conference program, which also includes Diane Ravitch, Wendy Kopp, and Jeff Charbonneau, the National Teacher of the Year. 



Education was a programming theme at SXSW Interactive for several years and after a series of focused education sessions hosted at Interactive in 2010, it was clear that there was great and growing energy and enthusiasm for the topic. The same way seismic shifts in the music, film and technology industries fueled the growth of SXSW, the convergence of technology and innovation has set the stage for tremendous disruptions in the field of education. As a result, SXSW launched SXSWedu in 2011, to broadly address innovations in learning and to celebrate educators as rock stars, the same way SXSW supports musicians, actors and new media inventors at SXSW Music, Film and Interactive.

The education focus of SXSWedu recognizes that, as with other SXSW events that celebrate creativity and innovation, educators are digital creatives, too – artists who practice the art of engagement each day. SXSWedu seeks to celebrate and support education by convening the diverse communities of stakeholders to envision how collectively they can help modernize teaching and learning. 

SXSWedu convenes a community of forward-leaning education practitioners from K12 and higher education, as well as business industry, legislative and policy leaders. The event has doubled in attendance each year since its launch; an estimated 8,000+ attendees are anticipated for the 2014 SXSWedu Conference & Festival.

Topics at SXSWedu 2014 cover a diverse swath of interests identified by the community, driven in large measure by crowdsourcing. Trending topics at this year’s SXSWedu include: blended and personalized learning, the importance of big data and privacy concerns related to that data, and the next iteration of MOOCs, given learnings from initial deployments. Additionally, there is keen interest from attendees about new strategies to close the achievement gap and to engage all learners. The maker movement – and more broadly, STEM education – as well as the integration of arts into the curriculum are also vibrant and prominent topics. Further themes that are addressed in this year’s program at SXSWedu include:

  • Accessibility & Special Education
  • Achievement Gaps & Educational Equality
  • Civic Engagement & Philanthropy
  • Global Connections & International Approaches
  • Standards, Assessment & Accountability

One of the goals of SXSWedu is to mash up the different education stakeholders, believing that bringing together a diverse community with shared interests and passions in a relaxed, fun and collegial environment, creates opportunities for personal and professional growth and learning.

We believe that through this interaction and the shared successes and challenges, the opportunities to learn new strategies and best practices from one another leads to both inspiration and renewal.