The annual South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, Texas, owns the rare and noble distinction of being both the coolest and nerdiest media conference of the year. Thousands upon thousands (nearly 20,000 attended just the interactive conference last year) of tech geeks, top researchers, entrepreneurs, rock stars, and celebrities descend upon Austin for two weeks of panels, parties, shows, networking and tacos.
Some of the biggest technology companies, like Twitter and Foursquare, for instance, owe much of their success to early SXSW buzz.
For the second year, SXSW is holding an education conference, SXSWedu, in the days (March 5-8) preceding the conferences for interactive media, film, and music. Technology-friendly education conferences are nothing new, but that perhaps the largest media conference of the year is focusing on education signals the industry is in an ever-changing state.
SXSWedu attendance is expected to increase dramatically this year, behind a big-name lineup of speakers and panels. This year’s keynote speakers are U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Pearson CEO Marjorie Scardino, and former Star Trek star and current Reading Rainbow Executive Producer LeVar Burton. A roster of leaders in charter schools, educational gaming, classroom technology, and research fill out dozens of panels scheduled throughout the conference.
I recently touched down in Austin, where I’ll be covering SXSWedu and the SXSW Interactive conferences for the next 10 days or so. In this space, I’ll be posting dispatches, interviews, and some of the sights and sounds of the conference. If you’re at the conference, come up and say hi (I’m the guy in the upper right corner of this blog) and if you’re not, let me know what you’d like to hear about. You can also follow our Marketplace K-12 Twitter account for continuous updates.
Here’s a sampling of some notable events on the SXSWedu schedule this year:
- iBook – Going Mobile in the High School Classroom – March 6, 10:15 a.m.In this session, Pearson, fresh off its 2011, digital-revenue-friendly financial report, will be unveiling its new Pearson iBooks. These are the latest iteration of the e-textbooks we already got a peek at when Apple announced its new textbook software for the iPad. Apple, you may remember, partnered with Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to provide digital, interactive textbooks. (Related panels: Integrating OER Into a Strong Instructional Model; eTextbooks are HOT! But *Still* Don’t Matter)
- Education in a World of Social and Technological Change – March 6, 10:15 a.m.Unfortunately, attendees will have to choose between getting a sneak peak of Pearson’s new e-textbooks, or a sneak peak of new research on technology and behavior in minority and low-income schools, from S. Craig Watkins, a professor at the University of Texas. As companies and districts tout their shiny classroom technology and programs, this session will provide an important opportunity to think about what students are actually accessing that technology. (Related panel: Diversifying the Pipeline: STEM+Arts and Urban Culture)
- Launch EDU K-12 Education Lightning Round – March 7, 10:15 a.m.As education technology startups proliferate, conferences like SXSW often double as pitch contests, where the latest companies can show a large audience what they have to offer. The LAUNCHedu contest pits six pre-screened startups against each other and in front of a panel of judges, who will determine who is the winner of an unspecified “prize package.” You can check out the startups that won the chance to present here.
- Learning Powered By Technology: Investments, Incentives, and the View from the Nation’s Capital – March 7, 11:30 a.m.Two officials from the U.S. Department of Education, including Director of the Office of Educational Technology, Karen Cator, will lead this panel on how policy is affecting innovation in education. It would be nice if there were a panel member who could offset what is sure to be a promotion of School Improvement Grants, Race to the Top, and other innovation-friendly federal programs, but that’s what Q&A sessions (and journalists) are for.
- Does Assessment Have to Be a Four Letter Word? – March 7, 2 p.m.Geoff Fletcher, deputy executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, will examine how technology and the phasing out of No Child Left Behind is changing assessment. Expecting Common Core and online assessments to be addressed. (Related panel: The Truth About Effective Assessment; Redefining “Data Driven”)
Photo: Downtown Austin from the hotel room of yours truly. (Jason Tomassini/Education Week)