This past week, 2 of our team members attended the SXSWedu conference in Austin, TX. The conference brought together teachers, administrators, edtech developers, policy makers and more for a 4 day conference where they could learn together and exchange ideas. We spent the week attending panels and workshops in order to uncover emerging trends in education. Throughout the week, we began seeing patterns in the discourse. Here are some of the recurring concerns and trends we saw:
1. Access, access, access
One thing we saw over and over again was that access was the key issue teachers and administrators are dealing with. As great as all of the newly available edtech is, there isn’t much schools can do with it if their students don’t have access. For many teachers, administrators and school CTOs, the issue of access was not one of putting devices in students’ hands, but one connecting those students and their devices to the Internet. We heard from people expressing concerns both about the ability of schools to keep up with demands for better, faster broadband access and about students’ ability to stay connected outside of school. It’s hard for teachers to integrate tech in the classroom when only half of their students have experience with using computers and the Internet at home.
Like many of the themes we saw at SXSWedu, the topic of data was multi-faceted. On one side, there was a celebration of all that data can help us achieve. By collecting and processing data through the many software programs and apps that have come on the market, we can pinpoint our students’ needs and personalize our teaching to maximize their learning. On the other side of the topic however, is the issue of privacy. As teachers, administrators and policy makers, we need to be very careful of students’ privacy in our data collection and storage. As testing and data storage move online, this will be become an even bigger issue.
3. Personalized learning
Personalized learning and technology’s ability to help us achieve personalized learning plans for each and every students were huge at SXSWedu. Apps and programs like Khan Academy allow us to teach to every students’ learning level at once, not just to the middle. As access to technology increases, we will be able to target individual students’ learning needs and elevate them to new levels of learning and thinking. Many presenters seemed to view using data to create personal learning plans as the ultimate goal.
4. Communication between edtech developers and teachers/students
Edtech developers had a huge presence at SXSWedu, not just as sponsors and presenters, but also as activate audience members. We were excited to see that a repeated theme in presentations directed at edtech entrepreneurs was the need to include students and teachers in the development process. Schools do not need entrepreneurs to hand them solutions, they need to work with the edtech industry to solve existing problems. The most successful edtech programs are built with student and teacher voices in mind and adapt to the needs of the people they are developed for.
5. New Learning Models
There were many new models of teaching and learning (and some old models that have been given a facelift with new vocabulary) that were discussed at the conference. Two of the biggest trends we saw were the Independent, or Self-Directed Learning model of getting kids out of the classroom and into real-world experiences and the Design Thinking model of learning through the process of finding solutions to real problems. Both highlighted the need for authentic learning opportunities with real-world applications. One of the most interesting things about these new models is that they can be administered piecemeal. Teachers can use what fits, and what they’re able to do with the resources they have, to personalize learning in a real, effective way. Flexibility and experimentation for both teachers and students are key.