What works in education? Musings and inspirations from the SXSW Edu conference

by Andrew Nye, 03 April 2018
Many people have heard of the SXSW music festival in Austin, Texas; The Guardian newspaper and Time magazine list it as a hot event to watch out for every year. The week before the festival, educators gather for another equally engaging event - the SXSWEdu conference and festival, which was established in 2011 with the goal of celebrating innovations in learning. The conference brings together hundreds of speakers with diverse backgrounds and expertise, all aiming to impact the future of learning. SXSWEdu speakers take to the stage to share their knowledge and to challenge participants to think critically about the future of teaching and learning, and about the role technology plays in education. This year two of the keynotes were given by Danah Boyd, Principal Researcher at Microsoft research and Founder/President of Data and Society and by Jim Shelton, President of Education at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and Deputy Secretary of Education under President Barack Obama.

Two presentations from Cambridge Assessment English were accepted to be part of the conference this year. In our talk 'Science or Art? Online Teaching and Learning' we explored key ingredients to learning and showed how these fundamental principles are applied to the design of our MOOCs. We focused on MOOC features such as:

• the use of video with a range of people talking unscripted

• a variety of tasks to accompany texts and videos

• the integration of digital tools into the courses

• encouraging an online community of learners in discussion forums combined with the active involvement of educators and mentors in those discussions.

Such instructional design features lead to higher than average engagement by the participants taking the Cambridge English MOOCs.

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Evelina was also one of the presenters in the second Cambridge English presentation alongside Geoff Stead (Vice President of Didactics at Babbel). This workshop – 'But does it help Learning? Evaluating apps for their learning benefits' – was based on the theme of the digital wild west, and in it we invited teachers to share experiences and concerns about bringing digital into the learning space. We discussed the ‘bad guys’ in the digital wild west and explored the need for meaningful professional development for teachers on how to integrate digital tools. We also focused on the ‘good guys’ – the opportunities technology offers in learning and key questions to consider in evaluating digital learning products. The participants in the session were given the recently developed resources for evaluating digital learning products on the Digital Teacher website. A journalist from EdWeek Market Brief attended the session and wrote a brief article on her workshop experience.

Many exciting new developments were discussed at the conference, explored, tried out and critiqued, ranging from:

• case studies of how to meaningfully integrate technology and transform teaching in K-12 classrooms

• the role of AI in bringing interactivity in classrooms

• the importance of cross-cultural competence and collaborative skills

• the balance between analytics and human judgement, and between automation and human involvement

• the need to address the lack of diversity in the pool of people developing edtech tools.

Texas panoramic SXSW 2018 blog

Of particular interest to us were sessions about the disruptive influence of technology in assessment; a talk from ETS (the producers of the TOEFL iBT test) told the audience that there is no ‘whether’ testing gets disrupted - it's inevitable, and the space is ripe for it. Assessment and learning will become inseparably connected as the ability to aggregate formative assessments increases.

For us the conference was exciting and inspirational, a fantastic opportunity to engage with like-minded education experts and foreground the work of Cambridge Assessment English on an international stage.

Andrew Nye and Dr Evelina Galaczi
Digital & New Product Development and Research & Thought Leadership, Cambridge Assessment English

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