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Everyone has a role to play in education today

All about the growth of SXSW EDU

As we enter a new year, education is a topic that continues to resonate well beyond the classroom into the core aspects of daily life, from home and family to the halls of politics and the corporate world. Since launching SXSW EDU several years ago with the aspiration to become the world’s largest and most inclusive learning festival in the world, it’s been exciting to see the event grow and evolve. As past speakers including philanthropist Bill Gates and Teacher’s College, Columbia University professor Christopher Emdin both observed from the keynote stage, the growth of the event is a direct reflection of the public’s deep passion and interest with teaching and learning—no surprise, when we acknowledge that education is the foundation on which everything is built!

More than the growth of SXSW EDU, though, what’s been most interesting to observe is the evolution of the topics that the community wants to address, as reflected through our crowd-sourced program. Each year, the community proposes thousands of suggestions for sessions and workshops and speakers. As such, the SXSW EDU community’s conversation about teaching and learning continues to become richer and more diverse, spanning the complete life cycle of learning, from early childhood, to and through college, career, and beyond.

While past programs for SXSW EDU focused largely on the standards and structures of schooling, today the program has grown to additionally address the intersection of culture and learning. Stated another way, beyond exploring the 4- or 8- or 12-year curriculums associated with the traditional classifications of elementary, secondary, and post- secondary education, it’s been fascinating to see the program enriched with discussions about lifelong learning in the real world, against the backdrop of rapidly changing expectations to prepare learners for a future that will look far different than today.

(Next page: The evolution of SXSW EDU)

With South by Southwest’s roots deeply embedded in innovation, it’s no surprise that SXSW EDU has long been a destination for discovery about new technology to empower both teachers and students. The 2018 program provides another rich example in offering a wide variety of talks and workshops about artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR). Advancements in tech continue to provide powerful opportunities for teaching and learning, but they also provoke fundamental challenges as well. SXSW EDU will showcase hands-on experimentation as well as discussion of what this means for educators and personalized learning as AI, AR, and VR become more present in schools across the country. Moreover, there is a lot of discussion that will be happening at SXSW EDU centered on its application for student learning and skills development needed for a contemporary workforce.

Beyond tech and hardware, though, we are seeing significant growth of the community’s interest in the whole learner. Consistent with a growing focus on the individual learner, topics like social and emotional learning (SEL) and mindfulness are also prominent at SXSW EDU this year. Actress and philanthropist Goldie Hawn, whose foundation has championed mindfulness for the past 15 years, initially highlighted the topic in the closing program of SXSW EDU 2015. Since that time there has been a broad embrace and growing movement for schools to attend to the whole learner through SEL. Proven to lead to better academic and behavioral performance, educators have increasingly embraced mindfulness practice to help learners address stress, combat distraction, and create self-awareness. Such proficiencies not only ground students in their own minds but cultivate an emotional intelligence key to success both in school and in the workplace.

These developments create exciting opportunities for educators. “Hardware and heart-ware” is a phrase I increasingly hear. Never before have our individual and collective interests in teaching and learning been broader, deeper, more student-centric, and inclusive. As we collectively seek insights and inspiration to positively impact our learners, we recognize that our learning, as educators, is ongoing, too. And the desire for educators to be lead learners within school systems reflects their passion to fulfill their own curiosity and education as well as support their students learning both in and outside the classroom.

And even more exciting from where I sit is that each and every one of us—the public at large—has a role to play in education. Whether you are practitioner, a parent, an after-school arts program, a non-profit support education, or a technology startup, all are welcome at SXSW EDU, where we believe the broader and more diverse the conversations, the more impactful the outcomes.

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