By Oscar Sosa
In March, I had the opportunity to attend the South by Southwest Education Conference and Festival (#SXSWedu) in Austin, TX. The SXSWedu is a component of the South by Southwest (SXSW®) family of conferences and festivals that includes SXSW Music, Film and Interactive. Don’t worry, our PD funds were not used for the Interactive, Music, or Film festival! The SXSWedu is a week before Austin becomes the destination for partygoers, techies, and music aficionados worldwide. The education component of the conference is an amazing opportunity to engage in sessions, workshops, hands on experiences, and networking among other educators committed to the future of teaching and learning. While it may be easy to consider this a “warm-up” to the larger SXSW festival, it is important to note that the #SXSWedu conference is one of the top learning and innovation conferences available. From my experience, this was immediately evident from: the quality of sessions and presenters (think TED talk quality), the variety of formats available (see image below), and the powerfully inspiring keynotes. As the organizers of the #SXSWedu put it, the conference is “inspired by a diverse lineup of visionary speakers, compelling sessions, and networking opportunities.”
When describing this conference to colleagues, I find it important to share the structure of how the conference is delivered. The image below (from the SXSWedu program guide) provides an overview of the variety of formats and session formats available. Couple this with 15 different thematic tracks and concurrent sessions and you end up with one fantastic dilemma – having to choose a session among many great options! The difficult choices between all the engaging and interesting topics available was similar to my childhood days with only $.05 in my pocket and making a tough decision regarding which candy would be the lucky one.
Of the many sessions and speakers I experienced, Dr. Temple Grandin’s keynote, Helping Different Kinds of Minds Solve Problems, was the most inspirational and educational. Dr. Grandin made me aware of “blind spots” I have in my instruction and expectations of students. She demonstrated to the audience how she applies her cognitive strength to understand and solve problems. As an autistic person, she was dismissed by educators and professionals in her field despite her ability to understand and solve complex design problems. Dr. Grandin showed us MRIs of her brain and how it is different from non-spectrum individuals – these images were “eye-opening”. Overall, Dr. Grandin’s keynote continues to resonate on a daily basis while I work with our students here – specifically, I am trying my best to stay aware of “different minds” and hoping I do not miss opportunities to solve problems with them.
If you would like to get a sense of other participant’s “takeaways” from the conference, search on Twitter for the hashtag #SXSWedu. You will find people still commenting on the impact of the conference and how it relates to teaching and learning. Also consider a general Google News search and read what education journalists say about the conference – here is one from USA today I retweeted recently. For a sense of the offerings and the scale/scope of the conference, please browse the program guide. Looking through these sources should make evident that #SXSWedu is not a tech conference, it is an opportunity to learn about education.