#SXSWedu 2014 Recap

Three days now since I returned back from Texas and SXSWedu. My luggage made the same flights as me, but my sleeping habits are still somewhere on their way. Maybe they got stuck at JFK.

Rainy ACC

Let’s start from the beginning. I touched the ground in very cold Austin on Sunday before the conference. Next morning the weather reports were screaming “Central Texas Freeze” in their headlines. The start of the week was quite cold and rainy, but it got better towards the end.

SXSWedu at Austin Convention Center

As last year, SXSWedu proved again to be a good mixture of sessions and booths/lounges, of academia and industry, of educators and businesses.

The growth since SXSWedu started four years ago has been huge, but my gut feeling is that this year there were approximately the same amount of participants as last year: 6000, according to the organizers. Over 250 sessions and some 700 speakers/panelists.

The main differences between SXSWedu 2013 and 2014? This year there seemed to be less startup buzz than last year. LaunchEDU, the conference’s startup competition, had only one category this time around, whereas last year they divided between K-12 and higher ed.

By the way, RobotsLAB was the LaunchEDU winner this year, out of 80 participants. RobotsLAB creates robotics kits to be used in STEM education.

To fill the hole left by absent startup folks, there apparently were more educators in the audience this year. This is great, since you need educators for creating good edtech and online content.

Pearson lounge

Lounges had been swapped a bit from last year. Pearson had inherited the biggest one from Google, who was now in a smaller room. McGraw-Hill with their Smartbook demos had grabbed the nicest lounge, with huge windows facing downtown Austin.

Last year in that same exclusive lounge was InBloom, the Gates-backed public-private organization aiming at managing student data across US states. It was midway through this year’s conference when I realized I hadn’t bumped into InBloom at all.

Could this have something to do with the criticism it has received? Parents are worried about where the data concerning their children ends up. Also many educational experts are wary about the activity, one of the loudest being Diane Ravitch, who gave a talk at SXSWedu this year.

In 2013 SXSWedu managed to attract more popular keynote speakers than this year, for example Bill Gates and the CEOs of the biggest MOOC providers. Although keynotes represent but a fraction of a conference’s whole content, they are important. Many make their decision on whether to join or not based on keynotes.

I concentrated quite a lot on gaming and gamification related topics this year. Brainpop was quite visible and also Amplify demoed high-end games to accompany their curricural content.

Maybe the best gaming-related session I participated was a workshop presenting several educational games for K-12 usage, also with hands-on activities. Edugames are still quite separate from the rest of the gaming world, as I reported in another post.

SXSWedu is still several times smaller event than its bigger and older brothers of SXSW Music, Film, and Interactive. I stayed for one day after SXSWedu had stopped and when Interactive had just started. The streets of Austin started to swarm with conference badge wearing people, and parking lots were turning into temporary stages and lounges.

Education, movies, music, technology. Whatever is your thing, I recommend you visit Austin in the festival season.

Phhhoto from Pearson party

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