SXSW Edu 2018: Four Key Takeaways

SXSW Edu 2018: Four Key Takeaways

The idea of tools developed by teachers for teachers is nothing new for EduSmart – that has been the foundation of our product development since we wrote the first digital STEM curriculum a decade ago.

Nothing gets us more inspired professionally than spending time surrounded by several thousand like-minded education professionals, sharing a passion for helping teachers and students thrive. That’s what several of the EduSmart team got to do earlier this month at the annual South by Southwest Education Conference in Austin.

Now in its eighth year, SXSW EDU is all about fostering innovation in learning by hosting a community of forward-thinking stakeholders with a shared goal of impacting the future of teaching and learning.

So much was discussed and shared over the four days, it’s impossible to sum it all up. But here are our top four takeaways.

  1. AI: Supporting, Not Replacing, TeachersArtificial intelligence is playing an increasingly valuable role in education technology. Everything from assessment tools to teacher recruiting software are leveraging AI to aggregate data and do predictive analysis.  And the current applications for AI’s use in education are just scratching the surface of what’s possible.That said, despite what AI can do, what it can’t do is replicate the critical human interpretation of data. The fact is, AI may be an increasingly valuable support to teachers, but it will never replace teachers. The potential for teachers to take AI’s data, assign value to it, and use it to deliver personalized learning for students is endless. And that has great application for those of us pursuing creative digital STEM education strategies.
  2. But Can Our Students Problem-Solve?We heard lots of talk about the need for greater focus on those all-important soft skills. You know, the ones that tend to get short shrift in assessment circles -- the non-academic skills that enable people to function successfully in society and in future jobs.But defining what exactly those skills are seems to be the rub. Do they include creativity? Communication? What about bravery, or the ability to accept failure? No one is in complete agreement about what that list of skills encompasses. What most do agree on is that critical thinking and problem-solving should be a focus within our education system, and teaching these skills is gaining traction in school curricula.  Digital interactive STEM curriculum tools provide an ideal way to further students’ soft skills -- like collaboration, problem-solving, communication, and listening, to name a few – while also teaching critical 21st century hard skills.
  3. Tools that Help Teachers (Really)Traditional edtech too often has been more of a burden on teachers’ time than a help. Dashboards were confusing. Reports were impossible to generate. Data wasn’t useful. Instead of solving a teacher’s pain or problem, traditional edtech often just created more work for the teacher.The good news is that teachers are starting to have tools that actually help them. Why? Because increasingly, edtech companies are finally realizing that no one knows more about what teachers need than teachers themselves. The idea of tools developed by teachers for teachers is nothing new for EduSmart – that has been the foundation of our product development since we wrote the first digital STEM curriculum a decade ago. At SXSW Edu, the trend towards implying edtech offerings also was visible. One tool doesn’t need to, and usually can’t, fix every instructional problem a teacher faces. We couldn’t agree more. We’re not a comprehensive curriculum trying to do too much. We’re focused on quality science and math curriculum and that’s it. Thankfully for teachers, more edtech firms are starting to do the same.
  4. Cracking the Creativity CodeOf all the SXSW talk about soft skills and AI, creativity remains the lone skill that artificial intelligence just can’t crack. Creativity is essential to all areas in life, from how we think about and solve problems to how we work with others. It’s the root of all other soft skills. For STEM educators, that reality is especially exciting, as creativity is the fuel that keeps the sciences constantly moving forward. Creativity is what drives scientists to continuously wonder, and imagine, and ask “what if.” STEM educators have a unique opportunity to harness the creative mind in young students, and to help them hone critical thinking and soft skills that prepare them for the workforce of the future.