SXSW EDU Returns to Austin

Image Description: Photo of SXSW EDU Keynote from back of the room.

Last week, SXSW EDU returned to Austin, Texas for the first time since the COVID pandemic began. The conference brought together teachers, policymakers, ed-tech company professionals, and others to discuss the current state of education in the country and learn what the future holds for our education system. Some themes felt throughout this year’s conference were how COVID has changed the education system, the ongoing debate about teachers’ freedom to teach their students about important concepts around race and culture, and the interplay between the continued evolution of technology and education.

Several sessions focused on the culture wars taking place in education institutions across the country. In the Monday afternoon session, “Critical Race Theory Media Coverage,” Education Week Assistant Managing Editor, Daarel Burnette gave a poignant overview of how the media has covered the evolving debate around Critical Race Theory in schools and what needs to be considered when covering this evolving debate in the future. In addition, the Tuesday morning keynote, “When Culture Wars Come to School” featured hosts of the Southlake podcast sharing the stories of parents and educators who are experiencing the national reckoning around race and education first hand. Both of these sessions made one thing clear, the debate of how best to teach students about race is not going away and is an important part of education’s future.

While it feels like there is a light at the end of the tunnel for educators when it comes to the pandemic, SXSW EDU made it clear that COVID-19 had a lasting impact on our education system that will be felt for years to come. The Wednesday morning keynote, “Reimaging Education with Students at the Center” featuring an important conversation between U.S. Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and students Audra Garcia, Gesenia Alvarez, and John Mark Wesley Hunter explored the challenges that COVID-19 posed for students who had to navigate their educations during the pandemic. It also explored what it could mean for the future of education.

In addition, the importance of digital equity to education has never been more clear than during the past few years. While there were several sessions focused on this issue, it was probably best encapsulated in the session “Closing the Digital Divide Once & for All.” Members from Chiefs for Change Chad Geston, Donald Fennoy, Scott Muri, and Sharon Contreras shared how they are implementing unique solutions to get their students the internet they need to do homework and participate in education during a time where remote and hybrid learning has become increasingly necessary.

Image Description: SXSW EDU Launch Startup Competition Stage. Includes two individuals standing on the stage and a screen to the right.

Of course, it wouldn’t be SXSW EDU without an emphasis on innovative education technology. This innovation was on full display during the Launch startup competition on Wednesday morning. We were excited to see founder and CEO of Education Opportunity Project grantee TalkingPoints, Heejae Lim serve as a judge of the competition. Several companies shared their fresh technology platforms aimed at making education more engaging and accessible. Congratulations to the augmented reality company Our Worlds, and their exciting approach to turning public and private spaces into interactive learning environments, for ultimately impressing the judges and coming away with the top prize.

This year’s conference was a great return to the in-person experience that makes SXSW EDU such a unique and valuable experience. It was great to see educational and digital equity on full display. We hope the conversations from the week lead to continued progress towards a more equitable education system and look forward to engaging with the event again next year.

You can learn more about Voqal’s work in the education space on our investing for educational impact page.