When SXSW Really Matters
I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of SXSW for several years and in a number of roles. From attending as general manager for a marketing communications firm to sponsor representative at the interactive awards and the host of the official nonprofit meet-up and lounge. While I’ve always learned new and exciting things, I was often struck by the number of ideas and technologies that seemed to be looking for a problem to solve. Bringing arts, music, film, business, nonprofits and a plethora of other people together seemed to create energy, but also chaos. It’s cool, it’s fun, but why does it matter?
This year has been different. This year, SXSW matters — at least the part I have been honored to attend. I’ve had the pleasure of being part of the second annual SXSWedu. SXSWedu brings together not only education professionals — including teachers, administrators and university professors — but also business, industry and policy leaders who all share a keen interest in modernizing teaching and learning. SXSWedu is a convergence of a variety of stakeholders who share an interest in 21st century innovation and best practices.
Unlike with my past SXSW experiences, everyone at SXSWedu is focused on one thing — improving education and learning. While there are many ideas, discussions and debates on how we do that, everyone that I have met is committed to that end. It is a neat environment: Educators, students, technologists, venture capitalists/angel investors, software and hardware vendors, textbook vendors, artists and film-makers, thought leaders, and concerned parents are listening, sharing, learning, and debating how we improve the educational system in the US to better serve our students and help our country maintain our leadership. That focus on our educational future creates a passion and direction that was missing during my past SXSW experiences.
The other neat thing about SXSWedu is that, from what I have experienced, it isn’t political. Attendees have risen above the political rhetoric we often hear, especially in an election year, and have focused on solutions and ideas. It’s as if we all understand that our students and their future are not a political football to be fought over — at least not during SXSW.
Like its older sibling, SXSWedu is cool, fun, and different from any other conference out there. There is one area in which I do think the established SXSW has an advantage over its edu component. While both festivals cover the future and new ideas, SXSW has an unbridled spirit to try something new, to test the waters, keep what works and throw away the rest, even at great personal or financial risk. While I understand the educational system is different from the business world, the risks and rewards are arguably greater in the education field, and SXSWedu’s more cautious approach does not encourage attendees to take the risks that will lead to the rewards. This morning I heard an administrator say, “This has been exceptional — great ideas and opportunities, but I don’t see how I can implement much or any of it in my district.”
If I learned anything at SXSWedu it is that we have to change that attitude. We have to try. Because this time SXSW truly matters. That’s the challenge for attendees — take the spirit and ideas and go make a difference.
How do you think educators can embrace the risks that lead to the rewards of cutting-edge innovation? Please share your ideas below!
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