How to Make the Most of SXSWedu 2015

While many Austinites are busy planning their spring break getaways, I’m anxiously awaiting the arrival of the best event to come through town. That’s right. I’m talking about South By Southwest…edu. In 2011, the wildly popular SXSW festival featuring music, film, and interactive technology, expanded to include an educational conference. Since its inception, the SXSWedu programing has expanded rapidly and now offers upwards of 300 sessions and workshops and more than 700 speakers.

This year, from March 9-12, the conference includes debates, informal conversations, short presentations on cutting edge research, featured sessions that are divided into nearly 20 different themes, a makers’ space, panels, long format summits, and hands-on workshops. Major players in education and edtech give keynote speeches and participate in the closing sessions. Narrative and documentary films about educational topics are screened through the eduFILM program.

If you’re sensing that there’s a lot going on during SXSWedu, I’m not explaining this well enough. There is a mind-blowing amount of information and countless learning opportunities to choose from at this conference. There’s just no way to see it all. I know, because I’ve been using the online scheduling app to try to plan which sessions to go to and I have no less than four interesting options for each time slot. And did I mention that because of all the different types of programming that sessions begin at 15-minute intervals and are spread across two major venues? It’s truly an edtech geek’s paradise!


Photo credit Nicole Burton, courtesy of SXSWedu

What Not to Miss

Here are a few of the sessions I plan to attend:

Competition, Creativity and Choice in the Classroom, a presentation by Betsy DeVos of the American Federation for Children. Whether you’re talking about home schooling, virtual school, charter schools, or vouchers, choice in education is a hot topic.

The Learner Driven Revolution, a presentation by Jeff Sandefer of The Acton Academy. I first heard Jeff speak at SXSWedu 2013 and immediately started following the news of what was happening at Acton Academy. Expect the notion of the one room schoolhouse and heroes’ journeys to become more relevant as Acton’s school model becomes more widely known.

Here Comes Professor Everybody, a presentation by Jeffrey Young from The Chronicle of Higher Education. As a former educator and curriculum developer, one of my favorite things to read about is online teaching. I trust the Chronicle’s viewpoints and reporting, so I know that this session on teacher-designed courses and online platforms should be excellent.

Trends and Popular Topics

After looking through the program online and reading a bit about sessions and presenters that caught my interest, I think I see a few trends forming.

  1. SEL: Social and emotional learning is a hot topic. Teaching student how to be responsible, kind, and caring citizens seems like a smart topic to discuss at a conference that is usually dominated by technology. With students more connected than ever, how can we help them foster real relationships?
  2. Access to learning: Technology can be a great equalizer when it comes to students with special needs. More developers are realizing that online content, and how you access information, needs to be manageable for all types of learners.
  3. Educational equity: Let’s face it, the educational landscape in America doesn’t always reflect current events—sometimes we can be a little bit behind the curve. But when it comes to the recent current events around race, immigration, and justice, many SXSWedu sessions and panels are right on point.

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is one topic that seems to be missing from the spotlight. When I attended SXSWedu in 2013, many presenters used the CCSS as an example of why certain types of digital skills, sites, and apps were necessary. However, two years later, as states are reassessing their participation in the national program, I wonder if we might hear more about CCSS classroom hacks—that is, how to do what you know is best, using the best technology out there, and those apps specifically designed for a restrictive set of standards.

See You There!

There’s always electricity in the air at conferences. Everyone is excited to learn new things, meet new people, and experience new ways of thinking. SXSW is bigger than ever and attracting speakers and participants from around the globe. I can’t wait to share with you what’s going on while I’m there. I’ll definitely be tweeting during the conference—you can follow me @amanda_ronan and our Managing Editor @leahannelevy. And keep an eye out here at Edudemic for articles during and after the conference!



  1. Brian Silberberg

    February 26, 2015 at 9:37 am

    Taking advantage of conferences like SXSWedu is a great way to find innovative and exciting advances in education.

  2. Alex Kluge

    February 27, 2015 at 12:58 am

    At a conference this large make sure to push your boundaries too. It is easy to fill your schedule with high profile talks like these and talks that will integrate directly with your current practices. But seek out a few that will be thought provoking and outside your comfort zone.

    Also there are a lot of non presentation gatherings, make the best of these. Come prepared for conversations!

    And most of all enjoy your time in Austin!

  3. Furqan Nazeeri

    February 27, 2015 at 6:08 am

    First time attendee and really looking forward to it…although coming from Boston I can’t tell if I’m more excited about the weather or the content! ;-)

    • Leah Levy

      February 27, 2015 at 7:34 am

      Knowing TX weather it will either be in the mid-70s or the mid-30s. But given the winter you’re having, I suppose either one is an improvement! Have a great time in Austin.