SXSWEdu 2015: Education For All - How Far Have We Come?

Source: TES Global

An important and undeniable thrust of the 2015 SXSWEdu conference has been the attempt to reconcile the nation's educational inequalities. Marquee panels and sofa conversations alike have centered on this notion of access – access to college, to technology, to careers, to mentors, to professional development, to contemporary learning tools.

Last night's reception at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library made this theme immediate in bringing together historians and educators to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.

Source: LBJ Presidential Library, ASIDE 2015

This morning, Second Lady Of The United States Dr. Jill Biden kept this dialogue moving forward in leading a summit by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation about redesigning higher education to fuel student success. Dr. Biden noted that education is the great equalizer, the basis for a better life. For this reason, she stressed, "Teaching is not what I do. It's who I am."

A panel discussion later with Jamie CasapTimothy Jones, and Isis Stephanie Cerda focused more intently on the need for diversity within educational technology. Similar messages emerged in workshops on "Equal Opportunity For Deeper Learning," "My Brother's Keeper: One Year Later," and "Teaching A New Narrative For Black Male Achievement."

Source: ASIDE 2015

An equally critical thread appeared in the number of talks about empowering girls and women in technology and entrepreneurship. For example, EdTechWomen was named this year's official SXSWEdu Change Maker. Other titles included: "Women Disruptors 2.0," "Paying It Forward: Leveraging Today's Female Voice," "Empowering Girls And Women To Lead," "Digital Diversity: Minority Women In EdTech," and "EdTech For Educational Inclusion."

Another highlight of the day was Kristin Ziemke’s and Cheryl Boes’ presentation of innovative project examples to engage young learners with voice, choice, and audience. Their use of easy apps and elementary blogging revealed the many avenues that let children demonstrate understanding in exciting, authentic ways.

A later workshop featured a panel of thought leaders who promoted creativity in schools. They championed "less talking and more doing." The speakers paraded both theoretical and tangible ways to inspire kids as imaginative thinkers. As Jonathan Plucker, Professor at the University Of Connecticut, noted, “creativity is about constraints.” A teacher’s task, therefore, is to help students identify constraints and then decide which ones to get rid of, which ones to ignore, and which ones to live with.

Ultimately, after a day of education and introspection, of creativity and contemplation, we recalled John Ashbery's lines from Three Poems, which speak to the impossibility of certainty and the elusiveness of knowing:
"The term ignorant is indeed perhaps an overstatement, implying as it does that something is known somewhere, whereas in reality we are not even sure of this: we in fact cannot aver with any degree of certainty that we are ignorant. Yet this is not so bad; we have at any rate kept our open-mindedness -- that, at least, we may be sure that we have -- and are not in any danger, or so it seems, of freezing into the pious attitudes of those true spiritual bigots whose faces are turned toward eternity and who therefore can see nothing.” 

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