South by Southwest’s 2016 Education Expo

South by Southwest’s education expo will be held on March 7-10 in Austin, Texas. The education expo brought close to 6,000 students, parents, and educators together last year. SXSWedu is a part of the South by Southwest network. This includes the annual music and arts festival of the same name. The education expo has a varied speaker lineup and demonstrations from all over the country. SXSWedu features a playground, education lounges, panels on new technology in education, and development sessions. The event takes place over 3 days in Austin. It encompasses topics of education and development in education resources, as well as a LAUNCHedu competition for startup entrepreneurs in the education industry.

Keynote Speakers at the SXSW Education Expo

SXSWedu is a mix between technological breakthroughs and classical teaching methods, so it seems fitting that SXSWedu has a lineup of diverse interests with three strong Keynote speakers.

Temple Grandin: Animal Behaviorist & Autism Activist

Dr. Grandin will be a keynote speaker for the SXSWedu expo. Credit: SXSWedu

Temple Grandin, professor of Livestock Behavior and Welfare at Colorado State University, is the keynote speaker for Monday, March 7. She has written a variety of books as well as presented a Ted Talk on autism and sensory perception. She has given insight on the different types of minds, and their roles in society. Grandin will kick off the education expo with a talk about the diverse forms of thinking.

Ayah Bdeir: Found & CEO of Little Bits

Ayah Bdeir, founder and CEO of Little Bits, will be the keynote speaker for Tuesday, March 8. Bdeir’s company, Little Bits, provides a line of kits that allows the user to build a variety of electronic projects with magnetically attaching pieces. The company was started in order to promote maker education, where students learn by doing, as well as firsthand experience with scientific and mathematical principles. Bdeir will be speaking on the importance of maker education in the classroom setting. She asserts that students can design, solve problems, and think creatively using maker tools, which is a step beyond simple career preparation. Bdeir will also announce a new initiative at the speech.

Jane McGonigal: Game Designer & Author


Dr. McGonigal has won awards including the 16th most engaging TED talk. Credit:

Jane McGonigal, world-renowned game designer and author of Reality is Broken and SuperBetter, is to be the keynote speaker for Wednesday, March 9. McGonigal is a winner of many awards; she is one of Forbes’ 10 most powerful women to watch for the year. Her segment on new game “SuperBetter,” was named one of Harvard Business Review’s Top 20 Breakthrough Ideas of the Year.

In her one-hour session, Dr. McGonigal will cover the three methods of future forecasting, as well as some of the most interesting future forecasts for education in the coming decade.

Featured Speakers

The featured speakers are also from a variety of educational backgrounds. There are learning game creators from Silicon Valley and Harvard professors studying the effects of learning disabilities on test scores.

The founder and CEO of the Afghan Institute, Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, will give a presentation on the current process of rebuilding Afghanistan’s education system.

A panel including Brian Mooney, a Columbia University educator, will present the correlation between hip-hop culture and student achievement and self-worth.

Olympic Gold medalist, Steve Mesler, will present on Classroom Champions, an international nonprofit character development and mentoring program. The speakers will be presenting at the same time in several lounges and educational workshops in order to give a variety of options for conference goers.

SXSWedu Workshops

The workshops are themed under 15 categories:

  • Arts
  • Assessment
  • Cognitive Process
  • Continuing Education
  • Data Analytics
  • Early Learning
  • Educational Quality
  • Entrepreneurialism
  • Gaming
  • Implementation
  • Instructional Strategies
  • Leadership
  • Learning Spaces
  • SEL
  • Special Needs

Many of the panels cover specific topics. For example, the 2:00 pm panel on Tuesday in the special needs category covers the achievement gap for struggling learners, where the same timeslot in the Instructional Strategies section will offer a show and tell on Google Classroom and its use as a means to distribute assignments.

This separation of panels by content allows for a fully customizable conference experience; it is easy to get a view of any or all subtopics, or at any time attend a workshop in lieu of a panel. A schedule of the education expo workshops can be found on the SXSWedu website.

The workshops include experimenting with technology like NOVA labs, discarding the notions of age-based teaching and replacing it with learning modules that work for any age. Some of the most prominent ideas at this conference revolve around maker technologies and game-based teaching, so the workshops will have a plethora of cutting-edge technology.

Panels on Early Education

Interactive learning can benefit all ages and is important for young children. Credit: SXSWedu

Sarah Lytle, Director of the Outreach and Education division at the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, will give a presentation on the benefits of children learning from screens as opposed to physical lessons. Not only are they more interactive, the lessons on screen can actually help to improve the brain function and coordination of young children.

The future of educational assessment is another hotly debated topic that will be covered at SXSWedu. For years, parents, educators, policymakers, and opinion leaders have been on both sides of the debate over how to best tackle the topic of standardized test preparation, and this panel will have some revolutionary assessment techniques to share.

The Playground

One interesting part of the conference is the Playground, sponsored by LEGO education and Vex Robotics. The Playground encapsulates disciplines including STEM, virtual learning, and accessibility. The Playground hosts a number of talks, displays, and hands-on learning opportunities. Panels cover innovative education strategies like using dubstep music to teach coding, and using agricultural techniques like aquaponics to teach urban farming.

Participants in the Playground will have the ability to test cutting edge educational technologies and resources for development of those technologies. One of the devices is the world’s first 3d printer pen, completely redesigned to be easier to use to create models for education and the encouragement of creativity.

The Playground will host the 3Doodler as well as Arduino Verkstad, GameSalad, the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center, VentureLab, and more. Each demonstration will allow for a hands-on experience in maker education and alternate methods of using technology in the classroom.


The fifth annual LAUNCHedu event will take place at the conference from March 7-10. Credit: SXSWedu

According to the program, the LAUNCHedu education startup competition will be in full swing this year. In this competition, early stage companies apply to the contest in hopes of receiving market exposure, investment, or partnerships from a jury of education experts. This program has found success in the progressively-minded SXSWedu community. This is the public forum in which new development in the education landscape can be unveiled, and the new technology and strategies of learning that LAUNCHedu assists in cultivating can be applied to business practices in the constant learning process of educators.

Resources for Teachers:

Bethanny Jones
Marketing Specialist