#SXSWedu Fostering Innovation in Teaching and Learning via #EdTech

How can we enhance education and improve student success with technology?

logoThis question is front and center at the SXSWedu Conference. SXSWedu:

“fosters innovation in learning by hosting a diverse and energetic community of stakeholders from a variety of backgrounds in education.”

With over 8,000+ attendees from around the world, the conference is a valuable interchange of ideas at the intersection of teaching, learning, and technology.

There are a wide array of sessions and topics at SXSWedu.  Eric Kunnen, Associate Director of eLearning and Emerging Technologies captured the following notes and highlights from the event:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

#SXSWedu – Learning through Virtual Reality Experiences

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

DigitalBodies Blog

Session Description

This workshop explores the impact of virtual reality on education. Participants will experience VR devices to analyze how this immersive wearable technology reshapes the teaching-learning environment and institutional culture. New forms of experiential learning will draw upon visually rich virtual and augmented reality experiences. VR is raising fundamental questions about the shape of future media, narrative and storytelling. Technology is rapidly moving from information access to personal experience, where deeply compelling learning environments are immediately available before our eyes, requiring profound innovation in pedagogy, learning space design and institutional culture.


  • Google Cardboard – 5 million card boards are out, 500,000 are part of the expeditions program. 1.1 million for the New York Times. Benefit is that they are highly mobile.
  • Oculus Rift and HTC Vive – Powerful but often can’t run on the computer as they require a powerful PC. They are also tethered.
  • Disney’s Augmented Reality Coloring Book
  • ZSpace 3D – A 3D monitor for visualization and interaction.
  • Microsoft HoloLens – Portable augmented reality.
  • Meta 2 AR Glasses (large screen projection) – Similar to Microsoft HoloLens (complete unit untethered).
  • Magic Leap – Lightfield displays.
  • Samsung Gear VR – $99 similar to Google Cardboard but more “sturdy”
  • Google VR Headset – Possibly coming before IO event.
  • Project Tango by Google – Tango is a mobile mapping project.
  • There is a cinema in Amsterdam that is one of the first VR theaters.
  • Virtual Reality as a New Medium – You are part of the content using your hands and even turning your head.

Education is a social process. Education is growth. Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself. – John Dewey

  • Virtual Reality – Presence, Empathy, Experience, Action
  • Virtual Reality – Ivan Sutherland, 1965 “… A room within which the computer can control the existence of matter.
  • Learning Possibilites – Create new learning resources and go where you couldn’t before with VR.
  • Alchemy Learning offers analytics and data gathering about the virtual reality experiences.
  • Chris Milk …Virtual Reality as the “Final Medium”
  • Storytelling is a benefit of VR. Nonny de la Pena: Social Advocacy and Documentary Work.
  • Sundance’s New Frontier Exhibit – Real Virtuality: Immersive Explorers
  • Filmmaking and the Martian VR Experience
  • Holo-Cinema by Lucas Film Studio is a 1:1 experience that offers engaging full body interaction.
  • Creating a virtual reality playspace and “THE VOID” is an example.

Access Session Resources

Looking to the future how will we answer these questions through the lens of VR?

  1. What are the implications for learning as virtual reality blurs the line between reality and illusion?
  2. How will virtual and augmented reality accelerate personalized learning?
  3. How will virtual reality reinvent the concept of experiential learning?

#SXSWedu – InnovationU. Unlocking the University-as-Incubator

Session Description

Universities develop and commercialize IP in critical areas, from medicine to particle physics. Yet, despite being the most well positioned for the task, universities have not played as big of a role in developing EdTech. Instead of more technologies in search of a problem, university-grown innovation can help to develop user-focused solutions: technology made for educators, by educators. The university-as-innovation-playground approach allows entrepreneurs to prototype and iterate quickly with faculty and students on campus. Hear from academics-turned-entrepreneurs who have successfully used this approach to develop and launch technologies aimed at the biggest challenges in higher ed. 


  • The politics of a university can be a challenge or barrier for innovation – if you intend to commercialize or sustain the idea into a product.
  • Perry Samson from the University of Michigan created the Weather Underground and LectureTools which was recently purchased by echo360. Perry has also created a new incubator called Eduvators out of the University of Michigan TechArb.
  • The University of Virginia’s school of education has generated 5 startups through the Jefferson Startup Incubator.
  • Part of the incubation process involves extensive and rich use of the technology. Rich test beds of options for developers and new ideas can emerge and be engaged by users.
  • How do we best manage innovation at our universities… At scale?
  • Nimble and quick versus our monolithic large universities.
  • The interest in EdTech by faculty should be based on need in the classroom. Do teachers see the value of trying something new in the classroom? What are we providing re: EdTech – that makes your job as a faculty member better or easier.
  • If we know in week 3 that a student is likely to fail – based on data/analytics predications – now what do we do? If we don’t do anything, are we liable?

We need learning sensors in the field to forecast the success of students. – Perry Samson

  • How do we help students succeed is the key question. Everything boils down to this.
  • Some of the value of #EdTech is difficult to evaluate because in many ways we (higher Ed) struggle with valid assessment.
  • Ideas need to be vetted, because you can’t support everyone and some ideas are not ready for prime time.
  • Encourage students to take courses on entrepreneurship to create a culture of idea generation and venturing forward.
  • Delivery of content is 1 piece of #EdTech – but it can be much more. We need a broader definition of student outcomes like initiative, leadership + how do we assess these?
  • What are the REAL problems we are facing now vs what problems we are desiring to solve.
  • Where is our focus and how do we know where to start? Hackathons can generate ideas for solutions.
  • “Kegenars” with beverages allow students (of age) and faculty to have a conversation and generate ideas.
  • Support for bubble up ideas by central administration is important.

Every campus should have space to generate and collect new ideas while also putting some money behind it.

    View Video

    #SXSWedu – Playground offers a Plethora of Possibilities

    Have you been to the playground yet? Head on over to interact and explore an amazing set of tools and technologies to teach with…

    Session Details

    Stimulate your adventurous side in the SXSWedu Playground, an exhilarating space that promotes discovery through STEM, maker, gaming, virtual learning, accessibility, arts integration and more. Hosted by LEGO Education and VEX Robotics, this exciting destination will feature displays from a number of innovative organizations, as well as dynamic talks and hands-on sessions. Discover, participate and explore in this casual learning space.

    Look forward to engaging in interactive activities with the following displays, up and running for the duration of the Playground:

    Black Rocket
    Computer Science Department, The University of Texas at Austin
    Digital Media Academy
    Einstein’s Workshop
    Electric Girls
    Kurzweil Education
    LEGO Education
    New York Hall of Science
    NOVA Labs
    Office Depot
    Progressive Arts Alliance
    Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center
    The Learning Portfolio Project
    Urban Arts Partnership
    VEX Robotics

    #SXSWedu – From Analytics to Action

    Session Description


    In spite of wide-spread interest in learning analytics, many educators are still uncertain about what data are available to them, whether these data are relevant to their specific contexts and how to put available data to work in the classroom in a way that is aligned with their values as teachers. This panel brings together thought leaders with experience in business, research, administration, teaching and instructional design to discuss complexities involved in the use of learning analytics, explore the challenges associated with rethinking student success in the 21st century and share some of the innovative ways they are using data to improve the lives of students today.

    View Presentation 


    • Student intervention: who is the person doing the intervention, what is their motivation, what level of data/tools do we provide the?
    • If you have the data > what are you going to do with it? It’s important and actually ethical to act.
    • Faculty need useful data, faculty need to be convinced that using data is part of their profession and their role, faculty need to be taught what to do (if a student is “red”) what should I do?, faculty need to know they are having an effect.
    • Move analytics and data to action is where to key.
    • Privacy and ethics: who owns the data?, making student data public, are we profiling (and is that problematic)?
    • Re: Data Privacy: What is the “contract” between the student and the institution and what is shared with whom and how. What is the level of transparency that is provided.
    • How can the data be used for students to help themselves.  The value of the data back to the student. Do students perceive the value.
    • What is the cost benefit for the process and technology to capture the data vs the payback that that data provides. It’s not necessarily the more the better…
    • Additional applications: enrollment and admissions, scheduling and program planning, course design. 
    • Based on data from Civitas schools, course grades have signals – students with grades of C in the first year will persist but will not graduate.  
    • Looking ahead: Better student decision making (remove the need for interventions), employment to careers is the goal. Can we aggregate data across our institutions to make the data more powerful and helpful to all.
    • Challenges are for gathering up data from a wide array of “off campus” use of eTools in classes. Caliper and Experience APIS are helpful in providing a baseline standard.
    • KEY > Use data to compliment the human intervention and decision making process vs diagnose the underlying cause using the data alone. The data is a signal and a piece, and an important signal.  When an action is taken, does it have a positive effect on a student. We need to focus on measuring this interaction.

    How do we get head of students and give them a “nudge” before it’s too late! Help students make better choices and give them feedback loops as to the impact of those actions.

      #SXSWedu – “How to Think (and Learn) Like a Futurist”

      FullSizeRender (67)

      Jane McGonigal
      Institute for the Future – Dir of Games Research & Dev

      Session Description


      Best known for her work as a pioneering game designer and author of the bestselling books Reality is Broken and SuperBetter, Jane McGonigal, PhD, has also spent the past decade working as a futurist. In this playful one-hour master class, you will learn the three most important techniques of future forecasting, while taking a tour of five of the most surprising potential futures for education in the next decade. The final 15 minutes of this session will be devoted to playing a collaborative future forecasting game that Jane has designed just for the SXSWedu community—you won’t want to miss it!


      • 1930’s world fair, I have seen the future > I am making the future… instead. Because you can shape the future.
      • IFTF.ORG Institute for the Future
      • We think about the future to find out what’s possible.
      • To create something new you have to be able to imagine how things can be different.
      • The future is a place where EVERYTHING can be different.

      We love 10 year forecasts, close enough that we can see signals today, far enough out that things can be different, and you can still imagine YOU 10 years older. – Jane McGonigal

      4 Future Signals

      FullSizeRender (68)

      1. Collect signals from the future
        • Signals are a clue from the future. Something that catches our eye. Provokes curiousity and imagination.
        • What kind of change does this represent? From what to what?
        • What is driving this change? What is the “future force” behind it?
        • What will the world be like if this signal get’s amplified? What if the trend continues? Become common? Or even ubiquitous? Is that a future we want?
      2. Combine signals into forecasts
        • Signals are like jelly belly jelly beans. We can combine signals into different recipes to create a variety of futures.
        • What will the world be like in the future by seeing what is available now?
          • 3D printers that make food (TNO innovation for life)
          • Oculus Rift changes taste perception by showing you different images
          • Stanford cow simulator reduces meat consumption – you are a cow!
            FullSizeRender (71)
          • Carbon facts are now available on food packaging
            • All combine to make a magical mystery dinner… say, a healthy meal that actually tastes good! 😉
              FullSizeRender (69)
              FullSizeRender (70)
      3. Create personal foresight
        • What will you do NOW to intervene and make a difference.
        • What would you do in this future to trey to help humanity to survive?
        • Personal foresight can inspire experiments!
        • Imagining the future allows you to be more creative today.
      4. Play with the future
        • Games are the most elevated form of investigation. – Albert Einstein
        • LearningIsEarning 2026 – Play the game!
          FullSizeRender (72).jpg

      Asking questions about a signal:

      • What would happen if learning and credentialing were radically decentralized like Bitcoin?
      • What would a system that values learning that happens anywhere look like? A system where anywhere can be a teacher or grant credentials.
      • What if a degree become more like an open ledger? Would you ever graduate?
      • What if learning was treated like a currency? What kinds of new contracts would you create to exchange learning?

      Bitcoin is the first decentralized digital currency and Blockchain is a shared public ledger open to all. Blockchain also uses cryptography ensures integrity with tamper-proof data and enabling “smart contracts”.

      You might get a world in which…

      • Learning is unbound
      • Learning is a lifestyle
      • Working and learning are combined
      • Employers have more influence in education
      • There are many new ways to pay for education
      • There are new ways to verify learning
      • Just in time skills are key

      Imagine a future 10 years from now.

      • Ledger (credit for learning)
      • Edublocks (earn from school or from individuals)
      • Profile (displays all edublocks you earn)

      The future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed yet. – William Gibson



      #SXSWedu “Launch Competition Lightning Round”

      FullSizeRender (66)

      Brian Dixon
      Kapor Capital – Partner


      Guy Kawasaki
      Canva – Chief Evangelist of Canva/Trustee of the Wikimedia Foundation


      Joan Hughes
      The University of Texas at Austin – Assoc Professor


      Juan Cabrera
      El Paso Independent School District – Superintendent


      Sam Chaudhary
      ClassDojo – CEO



      Session Description

      SXSWedu Launch is a fast-paced, live startup competition for education entrepreneurs designed to highlight emerging innovations impacting the world of teaching and learning.

      Ten early-stage education startups have been selected to compete in the fifth annual Launch competition. While these startups vary in location, mission, structure and the challenges they hope to solve, they all share a passion and desire to create positive change in education.

      All ten Launch 2016 finalists will take a turn pitching their education startup to the judging panel and live audience in this fast-paced kickoff to the competition.

      • College applicants can create a profile and get a free assessment to help students find and become admitted to a higher ed institution. Experts will provide feedback on a student’s profile to help them get into their desired institution.


      • Game-based learning tools for science.


      • English Language Speech Assistant App
      • English fluency using AI for linguistics focusing on pronounciation.


      • Personal learning app. The “GPS” for learning. By selecting a topic and narrowing down users are brought to a lesson.  Free version access content, and paid version will connect users with a person.

      Listen Current

      • Bringing public radio into the classroom. Offers the curating current events for science, social studies, and english. Just announced, Listen Current is partnering with NPR. Content provides real world content and listening literacy. Newzela is a comparison but it is a reading based solution vs Listen Current is focused on listening.

      Parachute Teachers

      • A marketplace for finding substitute teachers. Schools can find teachers and connect with them.

      Paragon One

      • Paragon One is a video coaching marketplace and adaptive learning platform which guides international students to career success in the U.S. and abroad. Using proprietary algorithms and curriculum, international students are matched with a network of industry experts for training tailored to the challenges of succeeding in the U.S.

      Smart Coos

      • Smart Coos is where parents can get live language sessions for their littlest learner. Smart Coos web-based platform provides young children, newborns to age 16, the opportunity to learn a second language with a combination of live-language sessions and automated text nudges based on a language curriculum.


      • Territorium is a gamified social network for education in which students learn by projects, by teaching others and by solving challenges that are recognized with gamification while the platform measures the habilities and competences they develop.

      Words Liive

      • Words Liive is a literacy augmentation start-up founded upon a patented a teaching process called CGI (Contemporary Grammar Integration) that isolates grammar structures in popular music, social media, and computer coding to teach reading and writing skills for traditional literature.

      More information about the SXSWedu Startups.

      #SXSWedu – “The Myth of the Magical Device”

      FullSizeRender (64)

      Carl Hooker
      Eanes ISD – Dir of Innovation & Digital Learning


      Michael Cohen
      Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy – Dir, Educational Technology


      Sabba Quidwai
      Keck School of Medicine of USC – Dir of Innovative Learning


      Session Details

      Like the magic lamp, it is easy to believe that a device will automatically ignite a sense of excitement, engagement and exceptionally engaged learning. What happens when your three wishes run out? When the magical excitement of technology in the classroom wears off? Initially it may seem that technology makes your classroom awesome, focused, calm and organized, however ultimately it is not about the device but how we as educators transform the learning experiences in our classroom. The real magical force in your classroom is the experience that you create using technology to shift from talking about one another, to with one another, as independent, confident and successful learners.


      • Session focus: “A conversation of what meaningful learning looks like with technology.”
      • How can we drive change to help improve student success. How can we remix and amplify our work in collaborating to improve education?
      • The technology can’t be the focus… say the pencil, it’s a technology, but we don’t focus on it because we can rely on it!
      • Learning is social and requires sharing. Sharing knowledge, sharing the experience, sharing the learning.
      • The WHY is key – and the HOW will come with PURPOSE and a reason behind what we are doing with technology.
      • How much has really changed in the past 15 years in our classrooms? Oregon Trail, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, Logo, etc.? The kids got on the computer once a week. What is going to change for our students that are in kindegarten now?

      Children using the proposed Dynabook (based on Alan Kay drawing)alankay1968.png

      • Our technology is not just about consuming information aka the “eTextbook”.
      • Our kids have become masters of the “game of school” but have they really mastered the art of learning.
      • Assessment as a process of learning vs a “grade”.
      • SAMR Model – Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition.  The tendency is to get to “redefinition”, however, it’s ok to use substitution and augmentation with technology because it’s still a purposeful use. The learning is the emphasis.
      • “Is this going to be on the test” – Then the students only care about the grade. This isn’t the reason why they are in the class, it’s about the learning.
      • How do we encourage risk taking and failure.

      We need to be asking our kids to solve interesting problems… and we need it to be ok if they get it wrong. – Seth Godin

      • We need to work on getting students to ask questions. Design thinking provides a framework for generating a skill of empathy and engages in a new model of problem solving.
      • Students will show you what they value when you give them independence and allow them to personalize their learning.

      #SXSWedu – “The Role of Maker Ed in Schools”

      FullSizeRender (63)

      Ayah Bdeir
      littleBits – Founder & CEO


      Sean Cavanagh
      Education Week – Assoc Editor

      Session Description:

      In this fireside chat with Education Week editor Sean Cavanagh, littleBits Founder & CEO Ayah Bdeir will discuss the role of Maker Education in classrooms, libraries and makerspaces. Using examples of students solving real world problems using littleBits and other Maker tools, Ayah will argue that Maker Ed should push beyond career preparation and strive to create active and creative citizens of the world. The session will conclude with an important announcement about a new initiative.


      • littleBits is on mission to unleash the inventor in everyone with our platform of easy to use electronic building blocks.
      • What is “STEAM” – Science, Technology, Engineering, ART, and Math
      • How do we create education and STEM that isn’t “boring” – a recipe of more of the same isn’t going to cut it. For student retention we need engaging education.
      • Teachers need the tools to be successful.  They are extremely busy and have the hardest job in the world and so they need support and efficient solutions for teaching.
      • A new launch for a new product announced today. Goal is to make STEAM engaging with more support for teachers: STEAM Student Set.
      • How does littleBits translate to the classroom. littleBits focuses on the student. Invention-based learning.
      • “Creativity is important because the art of exploration and failure is embedded. A shift in a mindset for solving problems that haven’t been invented yet.”
      • Capturing the moment of inspiration is crucial to generating awareness of innovation.
      • How do we match the art of exploration with standardized testing. MakerEd have the tools needed to bridge the gap with standard assessment. Building curricular crosswalks are needed for teachers to help translate the tools to the application of the learning for the standard.
      • As educators we need to inject ourselves into the opportunity of learning by leveraging the passions of the student. We need to remove the silos of “learning time”, “play time”, “homework time”, “chore time”, etc.

      On inspiring students in making and creativity: “Mr. Wilson, I have been waiting for this my whole life!”

      • What is an example use of littleBits from an actual class? Check out this clever idea created by a student:

      #SXSWedu Begins… with “Helping Different Kinds of Minds Solve Problems”

      FullSizeRender (60)Opening Keynote: Helping Different Kinds of Minds Solve Problems

      Temple Grandin
      Colorado State University Department of Animal Sciences – Professor of Livestock Behavior & Welfare

      Session Description
      There are three basic ways that people think differently when solving problems. They are photo realistic, visual thinking like Temple, pattern mathematical, which is the way most engineers think and word verbal thinking. When projects are being designed, people with different ways of thinking have complementary skills.


      Ron Reed opens the conference with a focus of innovation and teaching.

      • This year there are over 400 sessions with 1000 speakers.
      • 3 goals: 1) learn something new that helps grow practice and profession, 2) meet new friends and colleagues, and 3) have fun along the way. Extra credit: To return home to leverage the impact from SXSWedu back home to the lives of students you work with and the impact of your work in education.

      Dr. Temple Grandin

      • Understanding that people think differently can help them work together!
      • Is observation part of real science, YES!
      • When I learned visual thinking was different from verbal thinking, it gave me insight into how different people’s brains approach problem solving.
      • 3 Different Types of Thinking
        FullSizeRender (61)
      • Characteristics of Visual Thinking: Object visual thinking is bottom up, concepts consist of specific examples, visual thinkers notice details, sensory based on word based, visual thinking is associative.
      • “Cattle may refuse to move when they see the white jug and the red car.” – They notice the details. Animals see details – they sense things. Animals going into the slaughter plant are afraid of little things people do not notice.

      If you don’t touch you don’t perceive! 3D printing is a good solution for this. Let’s use it to make things real!

      • Let’s not label students, let’s focus on building up the things they are good at!
      • You sell yourself by showing off your work. Kids have to learn working skills. Work experience is important so that they can make connections to the real world and apply learning for job skills.
      • Do not burden students with long verbal strings, use a pilot checklists.
      • Pattern thinking and spatial visualizers think differently than verbal.
      • When you think in words you tend to over generalize.
        FullSizeRender (62)
      • Genetics of personality traits are like a music mixing board. It’s complex and not just if you have it or not. It’s about the innate and environmental conditions and you have a blending, a mix.
      • Too many kids are labeled. The man who started Jet Blue had ADHD and the founder of IKEA. You need different minds. You need visualization thinkers as well.
      • Ask for help, call for help, use social.
      • Concerned that kids are getting too far removed from the World of Practical Things.
      • Huge shortage today of skilled trades. Average age of people in farming and ranching is over 50. You can’t eat computers and iphones!
      • Don’t be afraid to walk through the door of opportunity because they lack confidence too afraid to make a mistake. Failure is not embraced. This can be because of the lack of the real world experience. The experience of building and trying things. Doors of opportunity only open for a few seconds, you have to walk through them!
      • Sites the can open doors: 4H small engine repair, makerspace, hackerspace, Khan Academy, forum on your favorite subject.
      • Put your portfolio on forums to attract clients and avoid interviews.
      • The goal of education is get students a career.
      • Let’s get a little respect for skilled trades.
      • A jet engine is really complex, the next time you board an airplane, you will have more respect for skilled trades.
      • Take down the silos among students with labels.
      • Show kids interesting things to get them interested in things.

      Let’s “Keep Austin Weird” Dr. Temple Grandin