While it is still too early to tell if Sonoma will be an early adopter, stay in the mainstream or be dragged kicking and screaming into the future, all signs at the recent South By Southwest Education Conference (SXSWEdu) in Austin, Texas, indicate that we should brace ourselves for dramatic and exciting changes in education.
More than 4,000 educators, administrators, tech developers and media attended the three-day conference in Austin last week. The education-centric event is only in its third year and it leads up to the more famous SXSW music event, which follows a week later. There were panels, keynotes, parties, book readings, workshops, a competition for promising education startups, and the launch of some high-profile products and initiatives.
The conference included more than 300 presenters and the overwhelming focus was on how technology will – not could or can – completely transform education in the next few years. I managed to squeeze in 11 sessions in two days on topics that ranged from how technology can help deliver America’s new common core curriculum to specific apps that can transform elementary education (see more at sxswedu.com/schedule).
The conference took over Austin’s enormous conference center, as well as the adjacent Hilton Hotel. The audience seemed split almost evenly between teachers/administrators and ed tech companies. The conference cost $375, but the teachers and district staff I spoke with all indicated that in terms of professional development, it was money well spent. (I paid my own way but was given a free press pass).
I chatted with Jaime Casap, the Google’s global education evangelist, and he said the conference has quickly doubled in size and is now his favorite annual education conference. “Instead of disjointed workshops on narrow topics, the focus is on how can we all work together to take what we are doing to the next level.”
Even for a technophile like me, the conference provided a sobering and sometimes scary perspective on how much change lies ahead.
1. Apps: There is now an education app for everything, with thousands more on the way. My jaw dropped over and over at innovative new ideas to help teachers access, organize and deliver content and to help students learn and engage in both traditional content and the new core curriculum. Most are free, some cost a few dollars. See the sidebar for some of my favorites.
2. No more textbooks: It is very possible that your children will never again hold a new textbook in their hands. The new common core curriculum standards being adopted by California will require new curricular materials and at least right now it looks unlikely that schools will place large orders for new traditional textbooks. The talk in Austin was not about e-textbooks but instead the advantages of open education resources (OER). OER materials are free, the information has been vetted for credibility and some of it is derived from some of the world’s top educators. Most important, OER materials don’t require slow and costly edition upgrades. Teachers can change, add to and update content anytime, and they control their classroom content. Students can access the materials online or offline. One misconception is that teachers have to create their own textbooks. Instead, teachers use curriculum developed by other top educators, picking and choosing the lesson plans that best deliver the content right for or relevant to their classroom goals. The top resources for teachers I heard praised were: Net Texts, iTunesU, OER Commons, CK-12 Foundation and Project Gutenberg. Presenter Karen Fasimpaur, who has helped launch the open-ed movement, told the administrators in the audience, “Please don’t just buy a new set of common core textbooks. This is an opportunity to take curriculum back from the giant textbook manufacturers.” (Check out OER Commons, Curriki, K-12 Open)