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This is my first year to attend SXSWedu.  I came to Austin mostly because EdSurge’s Director of Higher Education, the amazing Allison Dulin Salisbury, organized a panel discussion that was accepted on to the program.

The opportunity to share the stage with Allison, as well as ASU’s Sean Hobson and Entangled Ventures Paul Freedman, was too good an opportunity to miss.

What I’m wondering about is if I will try to get to #SXSWedu in 2017? Will you?

The challenge in making this judgment is that I had to miss much of the early part of the conference do to work / family conflicts, so I’m not sure that I have a good feel for the total value that SXSWedu offers.

From what I have been able to gather, I would say that there are at least 2 arguments to attend future SXSWedu events:

Argument #1 - Different People:

SXSWedu differs from other edtech events in that it includes:

a) Both higher ed and K-12 people.

b) Attendees from across the education ecosystem - including faculty, administrators, tech company people, edtech startups, venture capital folks, foundation officers, the press, and government people.  (Who am I missing?).

I’m still trying to make sense of who shows up to SXSWedu, and in what proportions (can you help?), but this seems like a different crowd than at other edtech events.

One thing that I was very conscious of at SXSWedu was that I was representing the learning innovation work going on at my school to folks who may be more critical of what’s going on at liberal arts institutions.  One of my goals in coming to SXSWedu was to make an argument for the centrality of the liberal arts perspective in postsecondary change, and to see if I could invite other people into this conversation. 

I also wanted to make a pitch for Centers of Teaching and Learning (CTL’s) as emerging places of organizational leadership

How well I was able to make these arguments is not clear to me, as there are many competing narratives and voices for attention at an event as large (and fast-moving) as SXSWedu.

Argument #2 - Different Vibe:

One thing that you feel at SXSWedu is the energy and optimism of the edtech startup / venture community.  This is a group of folks who seem to believe in the potential of new technologies and new thinking to make non-incremental improvements in education.

At this point in my career, I’m sort of down on the entire edtech scene.  The promised improvements that technology was supposed to bring to higher ed for enlarging access, reducing costs, and improving quality have not yet materialized.  Edtech companies seem better at talking about their own services and products than they are at listening to the needs of educators.  There seems to be way too little talk about how technology and technology companies can support educators, and too much talk about efficiency and cost savings.

The opportunity to hear the passion and vision of people who work for and fund edtech companies is a good counterbalance to my growing edtech skepticism.

As individuals, edtech people seem to be critical, skeptical, and measured.  As companies, most (not all) edtech providers continue to come across as boosterish and naive to the necessity of political action and social activism to support our schools and our educators.

Why do we have such a big mismatch between how individuals who work for edtech companies talk about where higher ed is going, and how edtech companies talk about higher ed?

How come individuals in the edtech startup and corporate scene are motivated by getting educators the tools and support that they need, but the companies that they work for often skip right over the centrality of the educator in higher education?

What SXSWedu needs is probably needs is more skeptical faculty to attend.

I’m not sure how SWSXedu could get more faculty to Austin - particularly faculty who are least impressed with the products, services, messaging, and culture of the edtech scene. Any ideas?  

More critical faculty would lead to better arguments and more interesting discussions. This, I know, is unlikely - as schools lack the resources, and faculty lack the time (and maybe the interest), in attending events like SXSWedu in large numbers.

What was your take on SXSWEdu 2016?

Will you be trying to get to SXSWedu 2017?

What conferences do you attend?


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