SXSW EDU 2022 Gears Up To Reimagine Education: From Practical to Profound
Hybrid Event Scheduled for March 7–10 with Over 350 Sessions, 800 Speakers
- By Kristal Kuykendall
Since students began returning to classrooms following pandemic closures, “bad news” keeps rolling in: about the depth of learning loss suffered during remote-only school, about students’ worsening mental health, and about an alarming increase in disciplinary issues across the nation’s K–12 schools this school year.
The effects of pandemic disruptions are showing up among the adults at schools too; teachers are burned out and fed up, with more educators saying they’re considering leaving their careers early than ever before.
Behind the front lines is a growing call to “reimagine K–12 education” by a wide variety of education experts, nonprofits, researchers, equity and accessibility advocates, and even some elected officials. The phrase has been tossed around for decades, but since COVID-19 turned the U.S. education system upside down, the movement seems to be having a moment. But what does “reimagining education” mean?
SXSW EDU attendees can expect to hear a lot of discussion on remaking America’s public school norms when the event returns in-person March 7–10 in Austin. The 2022 SXSW EDU Conference & Festival schedule includes more than 350 in-person sessions, dozens of which will be streamed online as well for virtual attendees.
Scores of the 800-plus speakers mention “reimagining education” in their program information — with focus areas ranging from how schools think about student wellness and how districts tally learning achievement, to ideas on changing the shape of classroom learning to radically engage students and how to incorporate the science of how kids learn into teaching methods.
Keynote speakers, too, will offer visionary discussions of how the nation’s public education system might be reshaped.
Keynote speakers U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and author and longtime journalist Dana Brown of A Starting Point will host a conversation on “Reimagining Education with Students at the Center” on Wednesday, March 9, at 9:30 a.m.
“The pandemic created a massive upheaval on our education system — from the shift to remote learning to mental health challenges many students face,” SXSW EDU said in its preview. “A Starting Point and the U.S. Department of Education will host a conversation about how to put student voices at the center of our recovery and ensure their experiences inform how we build an even stronger education system than before … and how we can create education systems that meet the needs of today’s students.”
The keynote address on the conference’s final day will be delivered by acclaimed author of “The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters” Priya Parker and Emmy-nominated writer, activist and comedian Baratunde Thurston starting at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 10.
Parker — also the executive producer and host of The New York Times podcast Together Apart — is trained in the field of conflict resolution, and for 20 years she’s guided leaders and groups through complicated conversations about community, identity, and vision at moments of transition.
Thurston, host of the award-winning podcast How To Citizen, a bestselling author, and former advisor in the Obama White House, “is unique in his ability to integrate and synthesize themes of race, culture, politics, and technology to explain where our nation is and where we can take it,” SXSW EDU said.
Opening the conference will be keynote speaker Pooja K. Agarwal, Ph.D., author of “Powerful Teaching: Unleash the Science of Learning” and a renowned cognitive scientist. She is the founder of RetrievalPractice.org, a resource for scientifically proven teaching strategies, and she is an assistant professor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Agarwal’s address at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, March 7 will explore “teaching as an art form and the tools that strengthen the exchange of instruction and learning,” SXSW EDU said.
2022 Conference Sessions Align With 11 Tracks
The wide range of topics and ideas at this year’s event are organized by “thematic tracks, designed to help illuminate overarching focus areas and enable attendees to easily navigate the event,” SXSW EDU said:
- Accessibility & Inclusion: Exploring initiatives and programs that focus on special education, learning differences, and disabilities across the learning lifecycle including instructional strategies, assistive technology, universal design, and more.
- Arts & Storytelling: Exploring arts-based pedagogies and creative practices including the performing and visual arts, arts integration, and the intersection of STEM and STEAM as well as narrative and world-building approaches for teaching and learning.
- Business & Investment: Content focused on the business of education including entrepreneurship and startups, investment and funding, marketing strategies, corporate initiatives and partnerships, market trends and analysis, business adaptability and virtual opportunities.
- Community Initiatives: Programs and projects focused on empowering and connecting communities in and out of the classroom by highlighting work organized by community spaces and groups including libraries, museums, makerspaces, community centers, after-school and summer programs, and more.
- Emerging Tech: Exploring development and implementation in educational technology including virtual teaching and learning solutions, artificial intelligence, XR, data privacy, coding, data interoperability, as well as issues surrounding equitable access to technology.
- Equity & Justice: Addressing work championing equity, justice, access, diversity, and inclusion in education and beyond, including social and economic disparities, culturally responsive teaching, anti-racism practice, LGBTQ+ issues, and more to ensure equitable opportunities and outcomes for all.
- Global Impact: Programs and initiatives exploring the importance of global collaboration in education and beyond including international instructional approaches and business ventures, language acquisition and ESL/ELL instruction, program implementation across borders, global partnerships, cross-cultural initiatives, and more.
- Policy & Civic Engagement: Addressing education policy issues across local, regional, national, and international governance including funding and standards, student data use, school safety, and digital policies, as well as economic development, advocacy and activism, and government partnerships.
- Practice & Pedagogy: Content focused on instruction and pedagogy across the entire learning lifecycle with a focus on innovative teaching and learning and institutional transformation, with topics including instructional best practices for all educational levels and evolving curricula, leadership practice, and groundbreaking insights.
- SEL & Wellness: Furthering social emotional learning and whole-child education including initiatives addressing mental and physical wellness, trauma-informed practices, and health education with a focus on mental health initiatives for educators, students and families.
- Work Reimagined: Programs and new approaches to upskilling, corporate learning, and talent development, including workforce revitalization and training and career transitions, as well as initiatives for mature learners and non-traditional students.
Visionary Goals For Tomorrow, Beginning Solutions For Today
Among the featured sessions are many speakers sharing their ideas on improving America’s schools, from practical proposals attainable now to the more profound, long-term possibilities.
Jenny Nash, Ph.D., fits both of those. As LEGO Education’s Head of Education Impact in the United States, she is well-versed in the way learning happens, the shortcomings of traditional classroom set-ups, and methods teachers can adopt now to begin transforming students’ experiences and outcomes. She also advocates the integration of STEAM concepts and methods into every subject at every grade level, to prepare students for a workforce projected to be vastly different from today’s.
One solution that can be implemented in any classroom, she recently told THE Journal, is hands-on learning, beginning with purposeful play.
“The movement toward hands-on learning is about student motivation, student engagement, and the fact that students learn in different ways; hands-on learning gives students agency to try their own ideas out, and it equalizes the learning process among students,” Nash said. “We must find ways to provide hands-on experiences that allow students to fail and pick themselves back up, so to speak, and find a solution — that is what builds their confidence in learning, as they realize ‘I can try an idea and if it doesn’t work. I can try again a different way.’ This is how they learn how to be learners.”
This looks a lot different from the traditional classroom setting, where every student is sitting still at their desk, all eyes focused on the teacher at the front of the room. It looks, in fact, a lot like chaos, Nash acknowledged.
“It really needs to be organized chaos — organizing the chaos, making it purposeful, and having an end goal makes it so effective for students,” she said. “Hands-on learning lets that purposeful, playful learning happen organically, which we talk a lot about at LEGO Education. When we allow students to get in there and play with it and figure it out and see where the learning takes them, they’ll get to those answers. And when they do, the students are so excited to tell you about it, when they build something or solve a hands-on problem.”
In these scenarios, teachers can see the students’ thinking in action, and they can see the tangible learning as it happens, Nash said.
“So now as a teacher, I have a way — without testing students — to prove they’ve gained the knowledge I’m teaching them; they’re doing it authentically and using the vocabulary of the new knowledge naturally, instead of me having to find a way to check to see if they’ve learned it,” she said. “This creates a completely natural environment for learning to happen organically.”
Recent research by LEGO Foundation has shown that hands-on learning and project-based learning in small groups helps close the learning gap among students of varying skills and abilities, Nash said, and achieves social-emotional learning goals in the process.
“By having students work in a group, they’re naturally learning those social and communication skills and there’s also emotional learning happening, such as having self-regulation of emotions during the back and forth with group members,” she explained. “This process also builds comfort and confidence in groups and group interactions, it builds confidence among students in their own abilities to learn and to demonstrate their learning, and along the way, they learn a little about how they learn as individuals.”
As the nation emerges from the pandemic and the disruptions of the last two years, Nash said it’s time to rethink teaching and learning.
“Look at the experiences we are giving students in traditional learning settings, and compare those to the jobs we are preparing them for; 60 to 70% of jobs that kindergarteners will have as adults don’t even exist yet,” she said. “We have to prepare them to go into the unknown. If they know how to learn, and relearn, they will be prepared for changes and for new knowledge as lifelong learners.
“With hands-on learning, we can give them amazing experiences and get them excited to learn, engaged in learning, and motivated to keep moving forward.”
Alongside Mike Kincaid of NASA’s Office of STEM Engagement, sixth-grade teacher Joanna Mulholland, and Forbes education writer Derek Newton, Nash will host a panel discussion at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, March 9, on ways to “Bring Joy Back to Learning.”
The speakers will explore how educators can use playful STEAM learning to better reach students and create ‘aha’ moments in classrooms that will lead to a deeper understanding of core subjects while also building student confidence. “Research shows when learning happens through purposeful play, lessons become more motivating and meaningful,” SXSW EDU said. “It’s why many classrooms are implementing hands-on STEAM learning programs, like those developed by NASA and LEGO Education, to foster social-emotional and 21st century skills, including collaboration, communication, and problem-solving.”
Find more information on the conference at SXSWEDU.com. Tickets for full-event, in-person attendance and online attendance are $625 and $209, respectively; prices increase after March 5.