Educators, Dreamers, Doers Gather at 3rd Annual SXSWedu

The 2013 SXSWedu Conference & Festival brings together diverse dreamers and doers from the public and private sectors to discuss creative ways to move education into the 21st century.

There are no rules at SXSWedu, just the desire to find ways NOT to make the same mistakes using updated technologies, but rather to help children learn in a completely different way.

The conference and festival are part of the larger South by Southwest (SXSW) annual music, film, and interactive conference and festival held in Austin, Texas every year.

Although the education component is only in its third year, securing a presentation at the conference is already highly competitive. From more than 800 proposals, SXSWedu organizers selected 150 presentations and eight education-related documentaries, including the controversial film about bullying in U.S. schools, Bully (2011), and The Revisionaries (2012), about efforts to banish evolution from textbooks and rewrite American history. Organizers expect attendance to be high as well.

Some of the biggest names in innovative teaching will be on hand to address audiences about the challenges and opportunities of a new century of learning. Alan November, senior partner of November Learning, will talk about creating a new culture of education that focuses less on the new technological tools in the classroom and more on how to use to those tools to help children feel part of a “one world” of learning. Alan Gershenfeld, president of E-Line Media, is giving a presentation entitled “Mind the Gap: Games, Impact, Potential, Reality,” which will help education game developers close the gap between promising pilots and actual success in the classroom.

Another distinguished speaker, 2012 National Teacher of the Year Rebecca Mieliwocki, hails the undervalued heroes of the American educational system—teachers—and the miracles they perform every day, given today’s decreased school budgets, myriad social and political pressures, and antiquated infrastructure. Teachers, she believes, are eager to embrace the opportunities of innovative technological tools and interdependent education communities to prepare our students to be the leaders of tomorrow.


Workshops tackle a variety of challenges in education, from engagement to helping English language learners succeed. Among the tech offerings are workshops on the use of apps for special education, mobile technology, and Hispanic empowerment; creating a cloud classroom; piloting e-portfolio programs; and digital content in the 21st-century classroom. Also on the menu are higher level thinking about redefining and redesigning the college transition, as well as student-centered pedagogy and building schools into an innovative ecosystem.

The Children’s Innovation Project, a part of our network, will showcase how educators and artists are working together to remake learning in Pittsburgh. Project developers Jeremy Boyle, resident artist at the CREATE Lab and an assistant professor of art at Clarion University, and Melissa Butler, a kindergarten teacher at Pittsburgh Allegheny K-5, want to teach students to be producers of technology. From their work with elementary school students, Boyle and Butler will explore the implications of approaching technology as a raw material.

By disassembling electronic toys and other objects to examine what’s inside, says Boyle, the students “start to understand that everything is made and created, and that that’s true of everything around us.” From these raw materials, the children build their own circuits and learn about polarity, the uses of a potentiometer, and when parallel circuits are needed. Butler and Boyle will also discuss how to design, build, and evaluate effective models for technology-based learning for all ages and in all contexts.

Boyle and Butler are part of a Pittsburgh delegation attending SXSW. The festival often gets attention for its tech speakers, bands, and incredible parties. In fact, Carnegie Mellon University and the Pittsburgh Technology Council are hosting a party this Saturday, March 9 called Innovation City. They promise to showcase the advances being led by technologists in the Pittsburgh region and to “transport you to the world of tomorrow, where there’s a GyroCopter on every lawn and a computer chip in every brain!”

But if you’re not lucky enough to be able to attend, you can follow @RemakeLearning for updates. Along with other conference goers, we’ll be tweeting with the hashtag #sxswedu.

Published March 05, 2013