I’ve attended every SXSWedu since the beginning. As it’s located in Austin, it’s a great opportunity to learn and share with leaders from around the world right in my backyard. This year, we are sending quite a bit of staff to stretch their thinking and grow as professionals. As usual, Ron Reed and the crew at SXSWedu put together a dynamite line-up that doesn’t disappoint. One thing I created to help guide staff is create a “manifesto” of sorts for those that are either going for the first time or are just needing help not being overwhelmed by all the great sessions in their lineup.
If you are a first-time or veteran SXSW-er, hopefully some of these tips will help you as you make your way towards Austin next week.
If you are with a group, create a Slack channel
Attending a large conference with a group can be engaging but you also can run into serious FOMO (Fear of missing out) on sessions you don’t attend. I invited all of our staff attending to our own district Slack channel. Slack is a great way to share resources and communicate in a group format that won’t crowd your inbox during an event like this. I consider it kind of like a group text on steroids. We will still encourage staff to follow along at the #SXSWedu hashtag, but using a private group Slack can be powerful when reflecting and sharing after the event is over.
Parking can be tricky…and Uber is gone
The days of free parking in downtown Austin are over (unless you are comfortable walking a long distance). That said, most of the parking around downtown is reasonably priced ($10-$15 bucks), but I’d encourage you to car pool if possible. Here’s a map of downtown parking for some ideas of where to find parking. Also, as Uber and Lyft pulled out of Austin since the last SXSWedu, you’ll want to use an alternate ride-share company like Fare or Ride Austin to get around down town. If that doesn’t work, there are always a bunch of pedi-cabs!
Registration is located on the Northeast corner of the convention center (Exhibit hall 5). You should have been sent a badge via email from firstname.lastname@example.org that has your Quickcode to scan when you get there. You can also link your account with the social.sxswedu.com account to upload your picture ahead of time if you don’t want them to take it when you get there.
You can pick up your badge starting at 4 PM on Sunday (advisable if you want to avoid longer lines on Monday).
Lunch places are always changing year to year so check Yelp for some good options. Prices do vary and “rush hour” is generally between 11:30-1:00. Some newer places downtown include Cafe Blue and one of the BEST pizza food trailers down Rainey street behind Craft Pride called Via313 (Detroit-style pizza). One of my favorite burger joints continues to be Casino El Camino on 6th street. Of course, if you are looking for BBQ and don’t want to wait too long in line at IronWorks, I’d highly recommend LaBarbecue (order the rib, it’s pricey, but worth EVERY penny!).
SXSWedu has several events that happen in the evening. There are multiple movie screenings happening throughout the week. One of note is a screening of the movie “Hidden Figures” on Monday from 7-9pm at the Stateside Theater (with a Q&A panel with @RafranzDavis and others to follow). Another event that I am personally involved in is the CatchOn Launch Party on Tuesday at 7:30pm-11pm at Cedar Street Courtyard. It’s a start-up company I’ve been advising on and we have all sorts of fun stuff planned for that evening including a little live band karaoke! Your SXSWedu badge will get you into all of these events.
SXSWedu doesn’t follow traditional conference schedules (1 hour sessions repeating throughout). There are variety of sessions from 15-minute talks, to Think tanks, to meet-ups, to Future 20s, to longer workshops. Be sure to create a log-in before arriving and ‘star’ the sessions you are interested in but also note the start and end times as many overlap. Also, note that with the exception of keynotes, most of the sessions Monday through Wednesday run from 11am-6pm and on Thursday they are from 9:30am-2pm with a closing party to follow. (you can sleep in!)
Sessions that intrigue me
I’m super pumped to see Tim Ferriss keynote on Wednesday at 9:30am. I’ve been a fan of his podcast and books for the last couple of years and I’m excited to hear what he has to say about learning and mastery. Sessions that focus on design thinking, student empowerment, and artificial intelligence tend to draw my interest this year. I’m also all-in on the Breakout EDU concept and I’m excited to see good friend and super-engaging speaker Adam Bellow at this year’s event. This year, not only am I attending, but I’m also moderating an interactive panel called “#AppOverkill: Going Beyond the Buzzwords”. I’m excited to hear from the panel of experts we have assembled and we are also going to be doing some different activities to engage audience in the conversation. Come be a part of the conversation and fun at Tuesday at 11am!
Takeaways and Reflections
Attending an event like this can be incredibly rewarding and energizing to those of us in education. However, it’s important that those that attend also bring back and share their learning with others on campus.
Here is a list of questions to keep in the back of your mind as you attend sessions and look for things to bring back. (Thanks to Lisa Johnson @TechChef4U for curating this!)
- What are the top sessions/topics that you liked?
- What are the top sessions/topics that you would like to take back to your campus to impact change?
- What are the top sessions/topics that challenged your beliefs?
- Who was someone you connected with that impacted you?
- Who are the top people that engaged you?
- What are the top resources you found most impactful?
- What are the top pieces of research or studies you feel are most impactful for our students and/or teachers?
- How will I share my new discoveries from this event with my staff?
While there are many other questions you are thinking about than the ones above, keeping these in the back of your mind while attending SXSWedu allows you time to reflect when it’s all over and also think about ways to share your new discoveries with others when you return.
In the spring of 2015, our district passed a bond which included over $5 million for a line item called “Student Mobile Device Initiative.” For the past 4 and 1/2 years we’ve been a 1:1 district K-12 using the 16GB iPad2 as our device of choice. With the passing of the bond, we now had an opportunity to not only reflect on the first few years of the program but also to garner input from a variety of sources. This post is an inside look at the process we used and the ultimate results of that process. It’s my hope that other districts will do the same when investing money into devices and also realize that purchasing the device is the easiest thing, it’s changing pedagogy and creating meaningful learning with technology that is the hard thing.
Formation of the Digital Learning Task Force
With opportunity comes great responsibility. Ok, so maybe that wasn’t the exact Spiderman line, but we knew that going forward we needed to make sure we had several voices represented in choosing our next device. Rather than just form a “Technology Committee”, we decided to create a “Digital Learning Task Force” (DLTF). The name was symbolic in that this was much more than just a selection of a device. The task force would be made up of teachers, students, parents, community members and administrators.
In the summer, we publicly posted an application for members of the district community to apply to be a part of a newly formed task force that would ultimately recommend the final device. (Here’s a copy of the application) In September, we gathered some board members and administrators to look through the applications in an attempt to bring a diversified group of parents from different schools in our community. We then did the same thing in choosing our teachers, students and administrators to be a part of this team.
In our first meeting we discussed the two goals of this group:
- Look at what our current reality is when it comes to integration of technology AND
- What do we want our preferred future to be?
The task force then constructed multiple ways to not only gather input from the district community but also to learn and investigate the current state of devices in schools.
Digital Learning Symposiums
In an effort to create more discussions around digital learning, we decided to host several symposiums open to the community as a launching point for these conversations. Each of these were captured via Livestream for those parents that couldn’t make it in person or wanted to watch at a later date. The first one was an expert panel made up of industry experts, university professors and people from the local start-up community. The second was a panel of teachers from across grade-levels and disciplines and included some round-table discussions as well as the panel discussion. The final symposium was made up of students from 1st grade to 12th grade and also included some round table discussions. During the teacher and student symposiums, we asked students to submit their questions via video to the staff. We also had a different person moderate each symposium.
Also the symposiums, feedback posters were placed around the room that correlated with online feedback walls. The four posters asked the following questions (links to virtual walls included)
- What are some things we are doing well with technology?
- What are some things that we need to improve?
- What other things do we need to consider when it comes to tech? What’s next?
- What future ready skills do our students need?
One of the first assumptions from the public community was that iPads were not really being used much at the K-2 area. There was a feeling that we could provide laptops or higher end devices to the high school students if we just took away the devices from the lower grades or went to a shared model. Before any decisions were made on that front, it was decided that the task force visit an elementary, middle and high school campus first.
Though those visits, the task force saw that the in fact some of the most meaningful uses of the devices were happening at the lower levels of elementary. While they had the devices the least amount of time, they actually had integrated them much more fully than even some of the upper level high school classes. It was through these site visits that another recommendation would come in that we need to do a better job of communicating what’s happening in the classroom and which apps are being used district-wide.
As the symposiums were very public, it makes it difficult sometimes for people to share honestly what they were feeling or concerns they had. As a result, we hosted focus groups for students, parents and teachers at each of our campuses and even hosted a central one just for parents. These focus groups provided some great qualitative data as well. It’s through the focus groups where we heard the most about the day-to-day issues with distraction and the need to occasionally have access to other devices when needed. One other outcome as a result of this is the idea that even though we’ve made our final device recommendation (skip to the end to see that), we want to continue to have these focus groups yearly so we can make necessary adjustments on the initiative.
As many on the task force mentioned, not everyone can get to a physical meeting or symposium. We all live busy lives and it only seemed to make sense that since this was all about digital learning that we have an online component. So besides the symposiums being posted online and the interactive feedback posters (via Padlet.com), we also created a Google Community. The community was a place where anyone could join and post questions or resources when it comes to digital learning. We also used the #EanesDLTF hashtag whenever information was shared or posted as a way to gather data. This hashtag would also be used as a way to curate questions for the panels at the symposium.
Survey, survey, then survey again
One of the final methods of data gathering was the use of many surveys. Each survey focused on a different segment of our population and were focused on gathering information on both the current reality and our preferred future. Here are copies of our surveys that your are free to look at and remix for your own purposes.
The results of the surveys were very diverse and gave us a wide range of feedback. We saw a general tendency that the older the students were, the more they wanted to have a physical keyboard or laptop. Here’s an example of some of the data we shared with the school board on that first survey.
As a result of this and a discrepancy at the high school in terms of what students and teachers preferred, we decided to send a follow-up survey once we had narrowed down the device choices. Many of the students and teachers that preferred laptops wanted a high-end MacBook as their preferred machine of choice. As budget for the program wouldn’t allow for a $1200 device and for the uses they had outlined being so varied based on class, we needed to land on a base-level device to use for all classes. We then took the final three devices (Macbook Air 11″, Dell 3350, and an iPad Air 2 64GB w/keyboard case) and made them available for viewing a week prior to sending the final high school survey.
We sent out follow-up surveys to both the students and staff of the high school to land on our final decision.
One thing for certain, was that no matter what the selection, there would be some groups happy and some upset with the choice. After 600 hours of focus groups, discussions, meetings, presentations and symposiums as well as over 6000 survey responses, the task force voted unanimously for the option that gave us the most flexibility, with the best support model as well as ease of integration. In choosing the iPad Air 2 (64GB) for all levels, we are giving students and staff a model of iPad that goes 12 times faster, holds 4 times as much memory and now allows for split-screen multitasking. We also added a keyboard component for upper grades and some options for keyboards at the lower grades. This also honors the work of many teachers who have utilized the iPad to improve student learning in their classrooms for the past 4-5 years. It also reinforces the work we have been doing on the horizontal and vertical alignment of tools and curriculum within our district.
For more information I created this infographic which was distributed along with a press release today. (blog coming later on how I made the infographic using Keynote):
Planning a wedding is tough. As a (somewhat) retired wedding DJ, I have seen all the good and the bad of a wedding. From a bride’s father refusing to walk his daughter down the isle to a drunken uncle “mic-bombing” the reception, it’s a celebration of life while coupled with an undercurrent of stress.
Now take that and multiple it by 37, lose your voice and you have my experience at this year’s iPadpalooza. It was all the fun mixed with all the stress. Only instead of obstinate fathers we had some amazingly inventive teams of teachers in our first ever APPmazing race. We had our own drunken mic-bombing uncle close out the show (only without the drunk part) in the ever-entertaining and inspiring Kevin Honeycutt. All of this and my voice never fully made its way back from a weekend cold which made things madly frustrating at times for me.
This was our third year of the ‘palooz and we tried to continue to make it not only a happening event but also one where learning was fun and at the center of everything. Last year’s keynote of Sir Ken Robinson was very much the highlight of the 2013 event. While it’s great to have one-of-a-kind keynote speakers, making this event different than others is the experience around it. From the food trucks to the live music to the wide variety of speakers from all over the world (including our new friends Janelle and Terry from Australia!), making the experience innovative is always the toughest challenge to event organizers.
Like any other innovation or invention, we got some parts right and we failed on some others. Regardless, the feedback from attendees has been OVERWHELMINGLY positive with more than 98% saying they would return next year, which speaks volumes to the success of this year’s event. Here are some highlights from both my perspective and from those of that sent in feedback.
New additions this year:
APP-mazing Race –
Whenever I attend an event or conference, there are times where I feel like I could and should be a little more active in my learning. The APPmazing Race was born out of the idea that we have a lot of “minutia” that we could be utilizing. (such a great idea I hear Pearson used it at ISTE a week later). I also feel like at times we don’t make a point of getting to know others and instead just talk to those in our inner-circle or Twitter PLN. The APPMazing Race was a chance for 3-4 person teams to complete a series of challenges in a 36-hour period starting at Midnight on the first night. While we may have shot a little far on our series of app-based challenges, we did have 18 teams complete the race which far exceeded our initial expectations. In the end it was a couple of Minnesotans joining forces with two Aussies to create the winning team “FargoFromDownUnder Appletes” each of whom when home with an HD iPad Mini and a great story to share. Blog coming soon with more details on how we did this.
Youth Film Festival –
Without a doubt, the youth film festival film screening at Alamo Drafthouse on the second night of iPadpalooza was my personal favorite moment from event, and not just because I was able to take my wife and oldest daughter along with me. Keeping with last year’s theme of creativity, we decided to join forces with Pflugerville ISD film guru Humberto Perez to create our first every youth film festival. Much like the APPmazing race, the film festival wasn’t without it’s set of challenges, but in the end, we got to witness first-hand the joy of film-making from the minds of children of all ages. The teams had only a few rules – create a 2-4 minute film using only an iOS device, make it have something to do with this year’s theme “UP” and put a balloon in it as a prop. The final results were magical and the winning team “Up, Up, and Away” was also the team that traveled the farthest (coming to us all the way from Illinois). We can’t wait until next year’s event where we’re sure we’ll see the bar raised even higher after this year.
iLead Academy –
Leadership in any type of mobile-device initiative is vital to its success. While iPadpalooza offers many learning opportunities for leaders, it’s still teacher-focused at its heart. We created the iLead Academy as an opportunity to get like-minded leaders in the same room hoping to make change happen on their campuses. We mixed in a variety of world-renown speakers, expert panels and activities focused around the 4C’s. Having an opportunity the hear from so many inspiring leaders, much like the kids from the film festival, really reminded me of what this is all about.
Expert Lounge & Human Library –
With all of these great speakers and variety of expertise in one place, it would be a shame not to at least have 5-10 minutes with them in 1:1 conversation. For those buffer times in the schedule, we created a “human library” where you could check out an expert in a field and sit down and have a conversation to help with your growth and learning. We hope to expand and advertise this much more next year as feedback from those that attended these times was extremely positive.
One of the goals of iPadpalooza is to really focus attention on the attendees and make their experience an enjoyable one so that learning can happen more freely. Sometimes we get it right. Sometimes we get it wrong. Here are a couple of areas we’ll focus on improving next year:
I tried a “staggered” schedule much like that of a movie theater instead of the standard 60-minute session/15-minute break approach. The idea was to leave some wider gaps in between sessions and to cut back on traffic flow. Based on attendee feedback, this was either loved or hated. Add to that the limitations of our Sched app and there were times people got up and walked out of a session because they didn’t know another was starting a few minutes later. We also tried an evening keynote on the night before the event with the thinking that many people would be in town anyway for the next day. Sadly, many people missed this because they didn’t schedule to come in until the first full day. Next year, we’ll look at keeping some of those wide gaps but possibly syncing up more of the session starting times, we’ll move the keynotes back to the daytime and improve (or likely change) the scheduling app.
With a couple of last minute cancellations, our music this year was a mix of good and bad. At one point I even came out of retirement to spin the 1’s and 2’s as a morning DJ. While we had an eclectic mix of music, next year we’ll look to keep that flavor but possible have it either in a different area or possible turn the sound down on the amps so people can enjoy conversation and music at the same time.
Food Trucks –
Having an event with “personalized eating” when it comes to food trailers is still very much part of the fun experience of this learning festival and very much an attendee favorite.
Session diversity –
This year we had sessions from “I fear I’m becoming a Tree-hugging Hippie” to “Guilty Pleasures…Apps You Just Can’t Delete.” There were presenters from all over the U.S. and beyond bringing their own unique perspectives to learning with mobile devices. We had a little something for every attendee out there and can bet that we’ll increase on that diversity next year. We’ll be adding both a “Poster-Session” option for presenters and possibly a 15-minute “TED-style” option for talks in short bursts in a certain area of the event.
Sugata Mitra and Kevin Honeycutt provided the perfect bookend speakers for this year’s event. Both spoke about the ideas behind global outreach and also brought us back to core of why we are here…kids. Like Sir Ken last year, they’ll be tough acts to follow, but we already have some interesting leads already in the works!
Sneak Peak toward 2015
While I won’t spill all the goods on next year’s event, I’ve already alluded to the fact we’ll see some different types of session offerings, a change in our keynote structure, and improvements on the APPmazing Race and Youth Film Festival. We’ll also likely keep our old faves of live music and food trucks in place. I know that not every innovative and “weird” idea will work next year. Like a wedding, there will be all sorts of magical moments happening throughout the event (only hopefully without the tears). What I can guarantee people walking “down the isle” of iPadpalooza will experience something they can’t get anywhere else…and learn a thing or two along the way.
Come to Austin June 23-25, 2015 and say “I do”.
Here’s a word-cloud of all the 1-word answers attendees used to describe this year’s event:
Here are some other blogs and articles about the event from local news and attendees:
iPad Convention Trains Teachers from Around the World – Austin American-Statesman
Top 10 Things I Learned at iPadpalooza – Summer Len Diamond
Inspired by iPadpalooza Visual Notetaking – Wes Fryer
iPadpalooza 2014 Highlights – Mathy Cathy