SXSWedu to Kick Off as Schools Weigh Big Tech Challenges

Managing Editor
Heather Lamb, left, marketing manager for Smart, demonstrates the Smart Kapp, a bluetooth collaborative board, at SXSWEdu in 2015.--Swikar Patel/Education Week

On Monday,  it seems that nearly every species of ed-tech player—major corporate reps and founders of startups, entrepreneurs and investors, teachers and students, gamers and designers, academic scholars and digitally minded geeks (and I mean that lovingly)—will be on hand in Austin, Texas, for the South by Southwest Education conference, now in its sixth year.

The gathering, which runs March 7-10, has quickly become one of the best-known dates on the ed-tech conference circuit. Last year it drew more than 6,300 registrants from 42 countries. I’ll be reporting from there this week, so look for my dispatches on the Marketplace K-12 blog.

This year’s event is playing out at what could be described as a dynamic, but also befuddling time for K-12 officials trying to pick the right technology for their schools.

On the one hand, teachers, administrators, and students have a seemingly endless array of ed-tech products to choose from–devices, software, web-based tools, apps, and management systems. The overall value of the pre-K-12 ed-tech market has been put at about $8 billion.

But choosing the right ed-tech tool for a district or individual classroom is not easy. District officials are often confused about how to evaluate the pitches made by companies that show up on their doorsteps. And many of them are deeply afraid of making costly missteps that will disappoint parents and students and enrage taxpayers.

Many of the sessions at SXSWedu are framed as offering companies tips on how to succeed in the market, or at least core issues to consider. But there are also plenty of panels that are aimed at putting the market in context–information that, in theory, could help vendors gain a better understanding of the needs of schools.

Speaking of which, one of the reasons I’ll be at SXSWedu is to pick up ideas for EdWeek Market Brief, a new service launched by Education Week’s parent organization a few months ago.

The primary audience for EdWeek Market Brief is companies that do business with K-12 schools. The service provides news stories, analysis, and original data on the school market, all of it aimed at giving companies a better understanding of the needs, priorities, and frustrations of schools trying to buy the right things.

If you’re attending SXSWedu, I’ll be taking part in a pair of discussions that should prove fun and lively:

  • On Tuesday at 9:30 a.m., I’m moderating a keynote Q-and-A with Ayah Bdeir, the founder and CEO of the maker-ed company littleBits. Bdeir has an interesting history as an engineer-entrepreneur, and the maker-ed movement is drawing a lot of attention in K-12 circles these days.
  • Later that same day, at noon, I’ll be co-hosting a discussion, “What Ed-Tech Companies Need to Know About ESSA“—the sweeping new federal education law. My fellow panelist is David DeSchryver, a vice-president at Whiteboard Advisors, an insightful authority on the law. (For a primer on what ESSA means to K-12 vendors, see my recent story in EdWeek Market Brief.)

If you’re in Austin, stop on by those sessions. And if you’re not, check back throughout the week for my updates from SXSWedu.

Photo: Heather Lamb, left, marketing manager for Smart, demonstrates the Smart Kapp, a bluetooth collaborative board, at SXSWedu in 2015.–Swikar Patel/Education Week

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Follow @EdWeekSCavanagh and @EdMarketBrief for the latest news on industry and innovation in education.

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