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SXSW EDU: Bringing the educators together

March is a special month in Austin, Texas. There is a huge event happening: South by Southwest (SXSW). Part of it is the SXSW EDU Conference & Festival that fosters innovation in learning by hosting a community of optimistic, forward-thinking, and purpose-driven stakeholders with a goal of shaping the future of teaching and learning.

SXSW EDU is a component of the SXSW family of conferences and festivals. Internationally recognized as the convergence gathering for creative professionals, SXSW EDU extends SXSW’s support for the art of engagement to include society’s true rock stars: educators!

Learning from the best

I had a chance to talk to founder Ronald Reed and learn more about how it all started 11 years ago.

💡 1. How and why did you start SXSW EDU 11 years ago?

We launched SXSW EDU in 2011 in conjunction with the Texas Education Agency, which supports K-12 educators in the state. We knew we didn’t want to be a K-12, Texas event, so we set out to grow and diversify by asking ourselves each year: who is not here that needs to be? We’re really proud of how the SXSW community has grown and matured, with representation from early learning, K-12, higher education, workforce development. We’re pleased education professionals, nonprofits and foundations, entrepreneurs, legacy and startup businesses, policy-makers, and more all find value in SXSW EDU’s program and community.

💡 2. What’s the SXSWEDU mission statement?

We believe that education has the power to inspire, elevate, and change the future. We bring together the learner, the practitioner, the entrepreneur, and the visionary to share their groundbreaking stories, tackle complex issues, and build reimagined paths forward. It is this unfettered, inspired and passionate community that will collectively create a new tomorrow for learners everywhere and drive impact.

You may also be interested to learn that we shared with the community these four themes we felt underscored our collective work in education.

💡 3. What goals have you and the team achieved this year with SXSW EDU?

Our most important goal was to gather the community safely and support them with compelling programming, great networking and inspirational opportunities to re-charge and re-energize. Mostly, we wanted to welcome people and their humanity, from wherever they were, physically and emotionally. Getting back together was wonderful! To say it’s been a difficult few years for all of us sounds trite, but it’s true, for SXSW as well as the education community, writ large. For our part, we’re on a cloud that things went so well and the community was finally physically present…something we haven’t been able to take for granted the past two years.

💡 4. What’s the plan for next year?

After our event, the SXSW EDU team continues working and supports our SXSW colleagues as they produce SXSW Music, SXSW Film and SXSW Conference. There’s no rest for the weary. After the event, all the staff takes a few days to rest and recover, then the SXSW EDU team will start diving into the data, the pre and post event surveys, and session feedback forms and other data points to assess how things went — what went well and what can be improved. We’re always working to provide a better experience for our community each year…and, as I say that, yeah, maybe we are already getting a little bit excited for next year!

Ed Tech in full swing

I love the fact that web3 is entering the education domain. SXSW EDU offered sessions on AR/VR/XR, NFTs for education. You could also check out web3 startup solutions like VeyeZER Graph — an assessment tool which uses the study of eye movement to provide insights to the underlying factors causing reading impairments. Technically it helps tackle reading problems for both kids and adults. The early adopter cost is $4750 (half of the full price).

NTF talks were there too! They were mostly giving general knowledge and educating the audience on the new tech. If anything, I wish they’d taken a more practice-based approach and told the educator how this new tech can or is being used already. For example, the first and foremost application of NFTs for education is certification.

Certificates on blockchain can never be forged and are already in use by some educational institutions. I got my first blockchain certificate in 2021 when I completed the GSV Startup Bootcamp program!

My take on how to leverage NFTs for education:

  1. Certification. The NFTs represent academic tokens, without monetary value, that represents when a student has passed the course. The NFT contains unique details about student performance. MIT has done research and has been advocating for the use of blockchain for authenticating college certificates and transcripts.
  2. Textbooks. “They allow digital textbooks to be easily resold but more importantly they allow publishers and authors to collect royalties for every resale. Forever.” — Mark Cuban for EdSurge. The NFT textbook is the next step for the “English For Tech” textbook I authored in 2021.
  3. Gamified classes. NFTs can be used to gamify the course and create a leaderboard experience for students. For example, each curriculum milestone is rewarded with an NFT and bumps you up the leaderboard.
  4. NFTs & art. Art students can make money while still in school. Turning their art into NFTs can create a source of income plus make you popular worldwide! The same can be done for music classes where students put their music on a platform and share with the world.

Who knows, I might apply to be a speaker on web3 and education at SXSW EDU next year! We need to bring innovation to school sooner than later.

Misinformation on Social Media

Beyond thankful to SXSW EDU for highlighting the unfortunate situation in Ukraine. Max Klymenko, originally from Nikolaev, a city close to my hometown Odesa in the south of Ukraine, gave a great presentation on misinformation on social media. It’s so easy to spread fake information online yet difficult to catch it.

Once one person says it, then a bunch of people like it, and it seems like it’s the truth.

Use cross fact-checking in international sources. Use critical thinking to analyze what you have found. I am so proud of my English For IT team of educators that help people learn English and I’m committed to helping them be more open and aware of the information that’s being shared globally. I can’t imagine how deprived people are when they can only access information in their native language. This also contributes to propaganda being spread more easily. Educators play a huge role in fighting the world’s ignorance. Ignorance is ruling the modern world, unfortunately. We have to do our best and more to teach people critical thinking and analyze the information they are getting.

Future of Schools

What does the future of schools look like? What is the future of school curriculums like? Will we have campus life? Is education going to be fully remote?

I believe that the school system and curriculum have to be changed and it has to be done sooner than later. Unfortunately, it’s easier said than done as the school system is quite bureaucratic when it comes to change. Private schools come to the rescue though. I was able to connect with Sora Schools — a progressive school of the future. I talked to the founders, students, and their parents. Here is what I learned first-hand.

Sora Schools is the project-based, virtual high school that helps students soar. Our innovative curriculum takes online school from sitting-behind-your-desk school and turns it into an engaging experience for each student’s unique needs.

There are a few things that got me excited about Sora Schools.

  1. They created their own curricula that students love! Yes, the students and their parents told me that. Imagine your kid telling you: “Mom, I love school”. 😆 Hard to imagine. Sora’s full-time, fully accredited program consists of creative lessons and self-directed independent assignments that lead students to tackle questions from “What if Monet was a contemporary artist working with digital tools?” to “What are the economics behind building a tiny house community?” and beyond.
  2. They changed the lingo. Instead of traditional school terms such as “classroom”, “class”, etc, they use “experiment” for “class”, “expert” for “teacher”. The students do biz dev for their projects and run daily stand-up meetings.
  3. Freedom and creativity. That’s what parents said their kids get at Sora. Dissect a shark at home — you got it. I am pretty sure that the next step for such schools of the future is using VR for projects like dissecting a shark.
  4. Nurturing independence. With the Sora app kids plan their day in the morning themselves. Also, parents can track what the kid is doing and even join the live sessions. I love the idea, because parents can learn as well and make sure the kid is on track.

As of right now there are 150 students in Sora + 20 about to join. The school has been around for 2 years. I was pleasantly surprised to learn the cost of Sora’s tuition. It’s $12K a year, compared with around $50K a year for a typical private school.

Being a curriculum designer myself, the main concern with the new generation curriculum is whether we can make sure we give kids the right tools they need to graduate with enough knowledge. Of course, it is important to give students the freedom to choose the subjects they want to learn. However, it’s important to have certain general knowledge topics that are mandatory for all. We need to make sure new generations have it all!

Building the future of education leads me to like-minded people. At a SXSW EDU closing party I met Sathish Bala from Schoolio, another school of the future! Sathish, the founder & CEO said:

We are building the first of its kind educational metaverse fusing core and interest-based curriculum in a choose-your-own-adventure model for K12. We believe with academic choices students own their outcome. Through Schoolio, we aim to inspire the love and curiosity for learning for all students.

Schoolio is a home schooling provider with a range of customizable in-home learning solutions. You can choose a full, all-in-one curriculum program or choose specific units and build your own year. Parents with children in virtual-learning or in-person school can add on and supplement their child’s education wherever and whenever they need.

The Schoolio team focuses a lot on curriculum development and has already authored many books that can be used by any individual or a different school.

The thing that excites me the most about Schoolio is the fact that they are building the metaverse, or better to say eduverse since it’s for education. Just like my new baby Techville, the Scholio’s eduverse will promote a high level of student engagement and most likely become a new generation LMS.

Closure

I’d like to give a shout out to the SXSW EDU team for making such great events. Events like this help us share, learn, grow, and network. SXSW EDU 2022 was my first time and it was great! Looking forward to next year. Mark your calendar for SXSW EDU, March 6–9, 2023 in Austin, Texas.

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