SXSW EDU - A Unique Professional Development Opportunity (By Kimberly Campbell, French Instructor)

For the seventh year running, a community of forward-thinking individuals committed to furthering the field of education came together to participate in SXSW EDU. Participants ranged from teachers and students to policy makers and entrepreneurs. Because of this diversity, a wide array of sessions is offered to encourage participants to think creatively, make connections, and consider new approaches to the challenges faced by educators.
My favorite session was Alaa Murabit’s keynote address: Who has the right to education? This question addresses the intersectionality of education, global health and security, international affairs, gender equality, economics, and the environment. I was shocked to learn that of the 130 million children who are not in school, 70% are girls. There are many reasons behind this statistic that include violence at school, lack of sanitation, poverty, and others. Paradoxically, the poverty and lack of funding that prevents so many girls from receiving an education could potentially be solved by their education. When 10% more of a country’s girls go to school, they increase their nation’s GDP by an average of 3%. That means that if 1% more of girls in India were in secondary school, the national GDP would rise by $5.5 billion. Furthermore, on average, young women reinvest 90% of their income in their communities, as opposed to 30% reinvested by men. The benefits of educating girls go far beyond their economic impact. Murabit described a number of global problems that could be ameliorated by addressing the singular global problem of the education of girls.
One of the main themes that permeated discussions about innovative design and practically every other session was, as expected, new and best uses of technology. I found a session on ambient intelligence for school campuses particularly interesting. Ambient intelligence (AmI) refers to electronic environments that are sensitive and responsive to the presence of people — the new voice-controlled assistant called Alexa, for example. I was impressed by the implications for student accessibility—namely, the potential for students to have a virtual presence in classrooms when they are unable to physically be at school. Possibilities ranged from those already in use, such as telepresence robots, to emerging applications, such as augmented and fully immersive reality.
Several of the sessions I attended focused on innovative design and innovative teaching & learning practices. In order to equip students with the 21st-century skills that allow them to successfully approach the issues they will face upon graduation, teaching practices must align with values and goals. Many schools are approaching this task in new and creative ways that let students deeply explore a myriad of world issues through activities that students find personally compelling. The personalization of such curricula keeps students interested; if students love learning, they shouldn’t be bored at school!

As a Catholic educator, I am especially drawn to the intersection of issues of education and social justice. I am extremely grateful to work in a school where, not only do I have the opportunity to attend conferences like SXSW EDU, but I also have the pleasure of being a part of a community where social justice issues are explicitly taught in and out of the classroom.