Like many people attending the jam-packed SXSWedu event in Austin, TX last week, I found that so much information was exchanged that I had to divide it all into categories. At the end of four days of conference sessions, informal meet-ups and parties, product launches, and personal introductions, a few trends emerged. So with no further ado—here are the Top 5 topics of conversation at SXSWedu related to our research and teacher development work here at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center.
- Data – Student data, teacher data, school data, useful data … seemingly every other sentence uttered at SXSWedu contained the word “data.” Not coincidentally, the winner of this year’s LAUNCHedu competition was Clever, a company that helps educational apps integrate with existing student information systems. The tool helps developers sync their apps with school data systems and allows teachers to link data streams across the different tools they use. While many of the entrepreneurs I spoke with touted the valuable data that their new tools were compiling, no one presented an innovative plan for helping teachers figure out what to do with all this data!
- Ecosystems– On a brighter note, a popular phase I heard from entrepreneurs, investors, and teachers to describe the school and home learning landscape was “ecosystem.” The more forward-thinking entrepreneurs working in educational technology today are thinking about the fluid relationship between formal and informal learning, the expanding group of stakeholders in the wider educational environment, and how everyone can work together to make great products that improve learning opportunities for all students.
- Personalized learning – From the first sessions on game-based learning on Monday to Bill Gate’s keynote on the last day of the conference, a commitment to personalized learning initiatives was evident. Providing anywhere/anytime access and self-directed pathways to core curriculum and supplemental educational materials (often bridging the home and school learning environments) is where many creative educators and entrepreneurs are focused right now.
- Marketing and selling education apps straight to teachers— A particularly interesting trend that emerged throughout the conference is a tendency for developers to bypass legacy school purchasing systems, and target teachers directly with their free or low-cost apps and games. Helping this along are new “curation apps” that guide teachers and parents towards high-quality programs. The development of a set of trusted voices (such as Common Sense Media,YogiPlay, and newcomer KinderTown) to alert teachers to promising new apps for their students is still a wide-open category, one that the Cooney Center will no doubt be tracking very carefully.
- Makers & DIY Education—With a dedicated, Lego-filled “Makerspace” at the convention center this year, SXSWedu 2013 had significant contingency of DIY-Education people attending sessions and gathering at meet-ups to discuss disruption in the education space. DIY curriculum, certification, and alternative paths to higher education were the most popular topics on this front, as well as coding academies and video game design competitions such as Cooney Center’s STEM Video Game Design Challenge.
- Honorable mention: Tablet-based Learning— With Amplify’s announcement of a new dedicated tablet and mobile curriculum (including newly developed learning games in all subject areas!) for schools, it became clear that tablet-based learning is fast becoming a viable option for schools to adopt. While it’s hard to find apps and games that can be used on both tablets and desktop/laptop computers to bridge this transition, Amplify’s investment in this space this could drive rapid integration of mobile devices in all educational environments and tip the scales away from web-based product development for schools.