Let’s Be Problem Solvers at SXSWedu 2015

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August 19th, 2014

SXSWedu is one of education’s largest gatherings with the stated purpose of “fostering innovation by hosting a diverse and energetic community.” They do a pretty good job at this, but after attending the conference these past two years, I’ve always felt like there was something missing.

The majority of sessions at SXSWedu follow a standard format: One to four people sit in chairs onstage and lead a “discussion,” while one to four-hundred people sit in the audience below the stage, providing commentary on Twitter and clamoring to get in line for the one microphone that’s available for questions. In her recap of the event last year, Audrey Watters summarized the situation quite nicely:

SXSWedu brings together some of the leading voices in (US) education: politicians and policy wonks (at the state and federal level), industry folks (from startups and corporations), the money people (from foundations and investment firms), educators (teachers and administrators), students, PR people, and journalists. And yet these groups mostly keep to themselves, only really mingling for pitches and press bonanzas. When they do talk to one another, it’s often talking at one another via panels lasting 50 minutes with 10 minutes for Q&A. (The exception, I suppose: the parties. I mean, even panels like the one I was on that hoped to bridge startups and researchers still was, well, a panel.)

SXSWedu is simply using the presenter-audience setup that every other conference uses. But isn’t this a conference that wants to be “innovative” and connects a “diverse community?”

I wanted to shake things up, so this year I submitted a proposal for SXSWedu titled “Whose Data Is It Anyway?!” In this session, eScholar Founder and CEO Shawn Bay will be teaming with up Joel Reidenberg, a leading academic on data and privacy, and Olga Garcia-Kaplan, a public school parent and student privacy advocate, to develop solutions to the challenges surrounding education data ownership, control and privacy. This isn’t a panel; it’s a problem solver session. SXSWedu seems to have heard people’s feedback about from previous conferences and now offer this new type of session to foster problem solving.

Rather than sitting on stage, talking among themselves, Shawn, Olga and Joel will be engaging with session attendees to come up with real solutions to the challenges regarding data ownership, application, and communication. From the Markey-Hatch Bill (see Shawn’s commentary on the Hatch-Markey Bill here), to the guides on using student data, it’s more pressing than ever to collaborate with all stakeholders.

Out of the 1038 proposals for SXSWedu sessions, 639 of them are panels or solo presentations. Only 25 of the proposals are problem solver sessions. If we want to actually solve problems, we need to collaborate with each other, hash out the issues (not just on Twitter), and come up with ideas that employ a diverse group of stakeholders. So, let’s all get in the same room – students, teachers, parents, state education agencies, districts, vendors, start-ups, academics, non-profits – roll up our sleeves and come up with real solutions to the challenges around education data.

In order to do that though, we need your votes! 30% of proposal evaluation is based on SXSWedu Panel Picker votes, so your votes matter. Voting is open until September 5th, but don’t wait, vote today!

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