SXSW EDU – A Bucket List Opportunity

by Kate Sommerville, Professional Development Specialist

Kate at SXSWEarlier this month I was given the chance to attend SXSWEdu. Truly a #bucketlist opportunity for this educator from Wisconsin! Many people know SXSW as the incredible mix of music, tech, film, and culture, but fewer know the smaller gathering of educators from across the globe that come together the week before to dive into the work of learning and teaching. Even now, a few weeks later, I continue to reflect on the experience. My head is swimming with ideas, thoughts, and next steps. I am definitely experiencing an information hangover. I was one of tens of thousands of educators from different spaces that gathered to empower one another and nurture a community of people ready to transform education as we know it.

Going into the week in Austin, I promised myself that I would use the opportunity to connect and build relationships with others in attendance. To some, traveling alone to a new city can be intimidating, but anyone that knows me knows that I do not struggle striking up conversation with complete strangers. I used that skill to my advantage that week as I attended meet-ups, panels, workshops, film screenings, and a variety of formal and informal learning experiences.

I wanted to share a few take aways, along with a handful of educators and learners that I met throughout the week in hopes of others learning from my time in Austin. From the act of “unlecturing” to playful assessment, every session I attended, every conversation I had, reinforced my belief in the power of relationship building and making connections everywhere you go! Here are a few of my favorites!

David Brooks kicked off the conference by sharing Weave: The Social Fabric Project and challenged all of us to avoid the rippers in our lives and to become a weaver. It was an incredible way to kick off my week and left me looking for opportunities to build community and connections.

SXSW austin signI met Ethan Ellis, a high school student at One Stone in Boise, ID. This young man is the founder and marketing director for Clutch, a phone app developed to combat distracted driving. Although he was not the presenter at the Place Based Education break out session I attended, I had the luxury of hearing about his experience with navigating his way in the world, fully engrossed in place based education. I was in complete awe of his ability to strike up a conversation with me and hope to have the opportunity to connect with him again at the Hands Down Voices Up Education Summit in October, 2019.

Amoeba Sisters, Brianna Rapini and Sarina Peterson, shared the process they went through to transform lecturing as they knew it in their science classroom. Through their YouTube channel, they have helped learners find relevance in their content and make the learning more meaningful and fun!

Dwight Taylor Sr. shared the power of taking 5 minutes to meet 1-on-1 with your students. He shared the magic that can happen when we remove the mask, be human, encourage others, and build a bridge with the learners we serve. In his quick 30 minute session he shared his genuine heart for his work and left me looking for ways to empower others.

Paul France’s 20 minute power session left me screaming YES! as he discussed the difference between individualization and personalization, two words that many people use synonymously. Like me, he sees technology as a tool that can support the work of personalization, but believes the work truly falls within an iterative pedagogy around human connection. I was drawn to his three dimensions of personalized learning and the myths he outlined resonated with my beliefs. Since seeing him in Austin, I’ve started following him on Twitter and have been enjoying reading more about his thoughts around the work of personalized learning. This is an educator that I will be reaching back out to in the near future!  

I spoke to many, listened to more, and learned from all. Regardless of the person, I left my SXSW experience ready to amplify the voices of others and bring learner centered practices to light for others. Until next year Austin!  

Title photo by Carlos Delgado on Unsplash

Event photos courtesy Kate Sommerville