SXSWedu recap

March 10, 2014

I had a great time at SXSWedu this week. For those of you who aren’t familiar, SXSWedu is a conference focusing on innovation in learning. It is part of SXSW, which is an annual music, film and interactive conference held in Austin.

I was able to see Scott Kinney, Capella University President , and Deborah Bushway, Capella VP of Academic Innovation and Chief Academic Officer, speak at SXSWedu.

Scott participated in a panel called “Can the Liberal Arts Survive in an Age of Innovation?” The panel discussed the traditional four-year liberal arts experience and the changes facing it as innovation expands and the cost of higher education rises. Michelle Weise of the Clayton Christenson Institute, President David Maxwell of Drake University, and Liz Willen, editor of the Hechinger Report were also on the panel. It was lively discussion and kept coming back to competency-based models like Capella’s. Audience members raised thoughtful questions about the goal of higher education – was it to make a person happy, or focus on jobs and productivity? Liz Willen used a piece Scott wrote in the Hechinger Report a few months ago to frame the conversation.

Deb led a panel discussion hosted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation titled, “Online Instruction at Scale: Emerging Trends.”  They had a thoughtful discussion of how colleges and universities were handling innovation and the complex issues and decisions that followed it. Faculty from the University of Toronto and University of Texas at Austin discussed their approaches for producing a quality online course and Maria Andersen of Area9, a leader in online adaptive learning, discussed the evolution of MOOCS and the role of faculty in online teaching.

I was also had the privilege of attending a panel with one of America’s greatest living non-fiction writers, Robert Caro. He joined College Board President David Coleman, and Peg Tyre, a nationally renowned education writer, to discuss the power of analytical writing. If anyone is going to talk about the power of analytical writing, it should be Robert Caro and he didn’t disappoint. For anyone who is interested, his series of biographies on Lyndon Johnson is some of the best storytelling in modern literature. I know this praise probably sounds a little over-the-top, but at the panel discussion, David Coleman compared Caro’s introduction to Master of the Senate to Plato’s Republic, so I feel like I have some flexibility here. Lastly, my longtime friend Steve Clemons (no slouch as a writer in his own right) was there in his capacity as Executive Editor of the Atlantic to announce a forthcoming partnership between the Atlantic and the College Board. I’m always excited to see the results of any project of Steve’s.

It was a great conference and I’m already excited for next year. It’s an interesting combination of traditional academic conversations and ed tech entrepreneurialism. I left struck by the note of optimism Scott struck in his panel. We have huge challenges in higher education, but Scott rightly pointed to all the opportunity and innovation surrounding us each day. Did you attend SXSWedu? What was your favorite panel?

Looking forward to Capella’s commencement in Nashville this weekend.

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