SXSWedu Days 2 & 3: Reflections and Round-up

A lot has been going on over the last two days, and Austin is such a fun city, that I’m combining my reflections into one super blog post. There is a lot to talk about, so stay tuned, but I’m not going to go in chronological order.


Total Fanboy Moments

SXSWedu is one of those conferences where you’re bound to see people in the field that you really admire. Earlier today, while browsing in the bookstore, I saw Sal Khan from Khan Academy out of the corner of my eye. I’ve been a Khan Academy evangelist since Sal started putting videos on YouTube at the start of the ed tech surge of the 2010+’s. Naturally, I had to buy his book, get an autograph, and then get a picture with him. Then I spent $120 on data visualization books. facepalm.

Immersive Role Playing

For all of the stuff I posted the other day about VR being the future of the classroom, I was humbly reminded today that well-designed games and learning experiences can be equally, if not more effective, without using technology at all. I went to a presentation on Reacting to the Past, a new pedagogy being used in higher ed history classrooms in which students adopt historical personas and role play as those people to act out a historical series of events.

We played a game set in 444 BCE Athens and had to participate in the Athenian assembly to decide how to react to a Spartan army threatening the city. My faction, the Oligarchs, were rich and didn’t have to worry about starvation during the siege as other groups did, so we were focused mainly on self preservation. Each group had its own objectives, and our objectives included the over thrown the democratic assembly, the installation of a ruling group of three to five Athenians, and the destruction of a small part of Athens’ walls. In the end, our group succeeded, thanks in part to my awesome oratory as unofficial Oligarch spokesperson.

This was such an interesting experience for me because when I initially received my role card, I kind of hated my character. He was a rich, old with dude hiding food from everyone intent on overthrowing democracy by starving out other factions only to install a ruling class to support the Oligarchic policies. But then there was competition, so I adopted this POV and had to start constructing arguments from that perspective. Look at that critical thinking.

After the game was over, and the winners were declared, the professors leading the session led a historical discussion about the actual series of events and we talked about how our outcome was mostly similar to the way things played our in history. All in all, I left thinking about how I could use this type of immersive game play more in the classroom.


A Demo is Worth a Thousand Slides

Most of what happened on day 2 is a blur now, sandwiched in between the excitement of design sprints of day 1 and role playing on day 3, but I spend most the afternoon on day 2 at a startup launch competition hosted by another really interesting person, Guy Kawasaki.

Most of the products were uninteresting to me, and I was really surprised at why people decided to build some of the things that they had built. However, there were a few really cool technologies demonstrated, and if nothing else I learned more about the pitch process and the types of questions that judges and investors ask of ed tech companies.

Guy, however, was the most entertaining piece, offering little nuggets of wisdom about business and presentation, so I’ll leave you with one of the things he said that really stuck with me: “A demo is worth a thousand slides.”

After sitting through three pitches without a demo of the actual technology, I couldn’t agree with him more. Seeing is believing. If you’ve built something, go ahead and show it.

Final Thoughts

Austin is an awesome city, and SXSWedu is likely my favorite conference of all time if you do it correctly. There is no real theory here, only praxis, which is what I loved about it. If you decide to make the journey there, be prepared to stand up and engage, make things with your hands, and think about education in a wholly different way. Keep Austin weird!

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