Two Main Lessons of SXSW 2017 That Every Teacher Should Heed
Plenty of educational events are held throughout the year, but only a few of them make a real difference. One of these few and my absolute favorite is the edu panel of South by Southwest. This year SXSWedu has gathered over 7,000 participants from 38 countries. With all its scope, this event gives a clear understanding of where modern education is headed. I’ve outlined two primary ideas from SXSWedu 2017 that, in my opinion, will shape the educational practices for the next few years.
1. Focus not on the technology, but on building the right context for them.
For the past 5-7 years, the binding word for all about-education talks has been “technology”. It became official when Obama’s administration announced Computer Science for All, a program with the aim of teaching every student in the U.S. to code. The problem here is quite practical: how do we provide all that’s needed to teach computer science for as many school students as possible? But it has nothing to do with pedagogy or teaching. SXSWedu participants put it in a different perspective.
Among the talks on STEM and computer science were those that discussed not simply how to teach them but why it is important. The Space between Technology and Disability showed how technologies used for space exploration could improve lives of disabled people on Earth. The host, David Brewer, explained that the work in this direction is a win-win for building a monetized industry and a better future for people with disabilities.
Sessions such as Diversity in STEM: A Case Study of the NNTRC and Building a Pipeline for Minority Students in STEM weren’t just about STEM but also about its accessibility challenges and lack of diversity.
The same issues were raised by a star speaker of the event. Christopher Emdin insisted that schools position tech sciences as an option for only exceptionally gifted students but not for the average student. Urban schools are excluded from the computer-science-for-all because it actually works as a computer-science-for-the-chosen.
Matt McKee and Jelani Memory presented another side to all-about-tech education perspective in The Meaning of Family in the Technology Age, which focused on ways to prevent technologies from hurting our social and family communication.
The pattern is apparent. A main focal point being tech-learning issues, SXSWedu 2017 raised a question of its value and setting a right context for technology in education. From the perspective of pedagogy, the main goal is creating an integrated, inclusive culture of learning and developing, while using technology to support it.
2. Don’t just tell students where to go. Actively follow through and be there for them every step of the way.
SXSWedu is a remarkable event because the key topics it embraces touch every student. Apart from the future-building issues, the sharpest theme raised at the conference was students’ emotional safety. This hasn’t been the first year that the importance of emotional learning has been underlined in SXSWedu.
In 2017, the tone-setter was obviously Chris Emdin who challenged the traditional method of cultural adjustment enforced by white teachers in urban schools. Sсhool systems must not work as a Procrustean bed. The aim is not to have kids behave or get the highest score on a test but to ensure that they are heard and understood. Students whose fundamental beliefs and background are ignored cannot feel confident in themselves. We cannot forget that young people also have trauma and emotional scars of their own.
The practical advice Emdin gave is simple: immerse yourself in the culture your students have grown up on. Do your best to relate to them and understand where they are coming from.
All the sessions that discussed diversity and inclusivity were up to tell the same. The titles speak for themselves:
- Why We Need to Talk with Students about Race
- What Youth with Disabilities Want from Education
- Racial Equity & D.Thinking Need Each Other: Why?
- Hear. Care. Act! Teaching Black Lives Matter
The equity motif was supported by the themes of emotional maturity and importance of social engagement. These topics were presented during the following sessions:
- A Creative Approach to Emotional Intelligence
- Can Digital Tools Boost Social-Emotional Learning?
- Gen Z Is for Sensibility
- You’ve Built Your Community. Now, Engage Them!
- Digital Equity: Power of Community Collaboration
This year SXSWedu traced an important shift in education. School learning is not about getting a high GPA or passing all the tests. It is about mastering learning and creativity as core competencies, which is only possible within an engaging society that cultivates openness and diversity. Technology is a great equalizer and can make learning easier, but we need to remember that they are only instruments and not the goal itself. In the center of the whole system should be our students who are valued and heard.
Long story short, teachers are becoming learners - students have a lot to teach.
Veronica Hunt is an EdTech expert and an experienced blogger. She sees her purpose in providing people with up-to-date info in the spheres of education and parenting. Apart from work, Veronica adores traveling and yoga.