SXSWEdu Reflections Part II

Creating Session Boards EdCampATX

Photo by Stephanie Cerda 

Check out Part I of SXSWEdu Reflections here

The A in STEAM

I started out volunteering at the EdCampATX session. In other words, since I wasn’t presenting this year I needed to feel valued and productive, so I asked Stephanie and Adam if I could be of service. They directed me towards the session boards. Yess!!!

There is a sort of odd intellectual stimulation that comes from creating the EdCamp session boards. I love the craft of making connections from the seemingly disparate ideas on little stickies and coming up with titles that encompass the ideas with as much authenticity as possible. I get great pleasure from deciphering handwriting and acronyms I don’t know. I love trying to find a home for every single sticky in hopes that every idea can be discussed, valued, and heard. Adding to my delight, Moss Pike, jumped in on the fun as we sorted, rearranged, debated, and ultimately settled upon the sessions that would make up the next couple hours of discussion.

One of the categories which Adam Holman aptly named, The A in STEAM, brought together creative minds interested in everything from creativity in the classroom, to teaching educators the art of improv. This was one of my favorite conversations of the conference, not only because it resulted in some impromptu collaborative sketchnoting, but also because by the end of the conference some of these folks had become legitimate friends and thought partners (more on that later).

A in STEAM Discussion at EdCampATX session

Photo by Stephanie Cerda

I am also glad I shared about how sketchnoting was impacting my thinking which opened up some discussion about why and how it could have a place in the classroom. Then Chris Davis asked if he could interview me and share my sketchnote book right there at our EdCamp session table as the second session began. With no question prep? My lizard brain wanted to say no, but I am glad I didn’t. He made my stream of consciousness comments and messy sketchnotes into a beautiful little glimpse of the conversation that happened that day around the table.

EdTechWomen Networking Mixer

EdTechWomen SXSWEdu Mixer

Still working on the whole needing to feel valued and productive, I sped-walked over to the Capital Factory to help the EdTechWomen folks (Sehreen & Margaret) with set up and check in for the 100 women (and one brave man) who would descend upon the Capital Factory kitchen for a facilitated networking experience.

It was here, amongst this group of incredible women doing all sorts of extraordinary things, that I had conflicting emotions again. On the one hand it was hard to discuss the messy parts of my startup journey and not feel some sense of loss and failure around the experience. On the other hand, the very lessons I learned (and continue to learn) from that journey were valuable in several conversations with women who were where I was last year, in the middle of making decisions that could chart the course of their entrepreneurial journey.

I reflected back on my decision to listen and learn and added a verb–to share. I chose to share the behind the scenes experiences when I thought it my be helpful for others. I chose to say hey why don’t we all stop pretending like we have it all together and share the mess, so others might not have to go through that same thing. Let’s share the mess, so our successes don’t seem unattainable. Let’s share the mess, so we don’t have to clean it up and put ourselves back together alone.

I said some sort of rant like this at the event, women’s heads nodded in response–either from agreement or group think.

Visual Literacy Bootcamp

Visual Literacy Bootcamp SXSWEdu 

I have a confession on this one. I am a Brad Ovenell-Carter fan girl. I follow Brad on Twitter, Instagram, Paper-Mix, and simply can’t get enough of his ideas, sketchnotes, and the work he does with students. My digital sketchnotes have been greatly influenced by his style and Paper tips and he has pushed my thinking regarding the possibilities for sketchnotes and other visual mediums for student learning opportunities. Needless to say I was pretty pumped about attending his session and meeting him face to face.

The session went even beyond my expectations though, as I got to explore not only digital sketchnotes with Brad, but also photography with Julia Leong and videography with John Woody.

Each chunk had meaningful examples and wrapped up with hands on activities that got everyone involved with experimentation and creation. I tried to get rid of my internal editor, Brad, but I didn’t get my sketchnotes posted until after the session was over.

Sketchnotes Visual Literacy Bootcamp SXSWEdu

 Exploring at the Visual Literacy BootCamp SXSWEdu

Oh and remember my friends from the table at EdCampATX? A bunch of them were at the front table with me during the Visual Literacy Bootcamp….so we headed down to the hotel lounge area and continued the discussion. Sharing sketchnotebooks, drawing stylus’, iPad screens, ideas, and with my kindred spirit, even some relationship advice. 

Intentional Authenticity

I think if I could sum up what made SXSWEdu this year a valuable experience for me. It was my choice to be intentionally authentic in every opportunity possible. I listened, and learned, and shared–even when it didn’t do anything to progress anything I was working on and even when it didn’t make me necessarily look “successful” or whatever other perceptions of myself I was most convinced needed to be upheld. And in that place, with my guard down, and devoid of pretense, I was free to actively listen, deeply engage in learning, and humbly share.

I choose to keep learning

SXSWEDU Reflections Part I: When Your Horse Goes Out to Pasture…

Jessica Ross & Edward Clapp, @AgencybyDesign, presenting on Exploring Environments for Maker-Centered Learning

Jessica Ross & Edward Clapp, @AgencybyDesign, presenting on Exploring Environments for Maker-Centered Learning

SXSWEdu is always a whirlwind and this post sums that constant feeling of FOMO I had no matter what decision I made on how to spend my time. FOMO aside, the thing that makes SXSWEdu powerful is the people. There will forever be a debate if there is the right balance of educators, entrepreneurs, researchers, government folks, nonprofits, and students involved in SXSWEdu. My take on this is that we can always use more educator and student voices at these events, not to mention an authentic increase in diversity of all sorts. But of the educational type conferences I get involved with, it is that mashup of folks from the classroom, startup, government, non-profit, and research lab that, when given the space and time, can challenge perceptions, extend thinking, and even change perspectives–if we let them.

Vantage Points
This year, on the heels of a challenging decision to walk away from a startup I was involved in for the last three years, SXSWEdu was pretty hard. I struggled to find my tribe and get my bearings on where I was headed and what my purpose was. I had no less passion to make positive changes in the education space, but the power-horse through which I had imagined I would make those changes was headed out to pasture. I am sure these feelings weren’t lessened by the prevalence of hip, young startups with wild eyes to make their mark in education and my obsession with events in the Capital Factory space.


Kristie sitting in the chair we made from cardboard, brads, and nails in 20 minutes in the maker session.

Kristie sitting in the chair we made from cardboard, brads, and nails in 20 minutes in the maker session.

Early on during the first day of the conference I made a decision. I would focus on listening and learning. I would engage with those sharing ideas that challenged or extended my thinking, not just those who I knew or who would likely think like I did. I would leave margin to have conversations in the hallway, on rooftop dining establishments, and approach folks I wanted to meet. I had no ulterior motive, I had no intention of creating a company partnership or getting a new customer or getting feedback on my MVP. I would simply focus on taking the good, the vision, the deep desire for positive impact and see where it might take me.

The series of reflections that follow are a little piece of what happened after making this choice…

Get Out of the Way!


It might be a strange memento, but my SXSWedu nameplate has been sitting on my desk since the conference ended on March 6th. It serves as a reminder. A reminder of the things I learned this year and a reminder of the commitment I made to action with my original co-presenter, Greg Garner, and a room full of people tweeting to #sxmetacog.

I was inspired to scrap almost the entire structure of our presentation the night before, after taking part in the EdTechWomen dinner, an awesome event put on by the national organization and our local Austin chapter. Of course when I got into a room with such a diverse group of interests, passions, experiences, and perspectives, I wanted to remain in this Neverland forever. The conversations were powerful, indeed, and left me desiring another opportunity to learn, grow, and be pushed by the people who had traveled to Austin in search of something bigger than themselves. I left Uncle Julio’s that night determined to use our time the next morning to create and facilitate this type of experience.

Redoing a presentation the night before is not necessarily best practice or a habit to engrain, but in this case, the learning opportunity that emerged was worth far more than the missed sleep and frazzled nerves that accompanied a nascent presentation in front of lots of smarties.

I won’t go too deep into our content here, if you want to get the idea you can check out our Smore. But what is still making me smile a couple weeks later, is the authentic, collective conversation and connection that occurred amongst a random group of incredible people. It was as if they were just waiting for someone to pull the release valve, to be given permission to speak, share, and connect in an authentic way with those around them—that is… beyond the last five minutes at a solo microphone in the center of the room with all eyes staring at them #nooffenseifudidthat.

We knew we wanted to facilitate an active learning session, but what we did not know was how well this desire would mesh with the desires of those who showed up.

Learning alongside our peers, we experimented with Visible Thinking strategies, tweeted “headlines” representing our individual SXSWedu experiences, thought about what we want our students to be like and reflected on a shift in our thinking about what needs to take place in order for educational innovation to occur. And just when we thought we had pushed them to their cognitive capacity, (since it was day 3) we asked them to take one more step.

You see, I went into the conference remembering distinctly my inspiration after last year– I thought I could fly. Then reality set in and the day to day normalcies slowly ate away my inspiration. This year, with wild, sparkly eyes once more, I wanted to capture that energy and commit to doing something with it. I didn’t want to go it alone either. So, our last request was to connected with someone in the room who could help you and/or you could help them accomplish something to move innovation in education forward. Then they were asked to take a “selfie” with that person and Tweet out what they were going to do.

Maybe our kids are just waiting for someone to pull the release valve too….

Maybe they are waiting for us to get out of the way…

This is what happened when we got out of the way:

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So what about you? How are you going to encourage thinking and do something to move innovation in education forward? Tweet to #sxmetacog and let’s keep the momentum going!

SXSWedu: This is the Moment of Truth

By Tracy Clark

By Tracy Clark

The EduNerds are leaving and in their place music groupies, film aficionados, and gaming junkies descend upon Austin for the “other” SXSW events. The Jeffrey Tambor keynote and Pok-e-Jo’s BBQ may have signaled the end of SXSWedu 2014, but hopefully the learning, connecting, and action is just getting started.  According to executive producer, Ron Reed,  “SXSWedu provides a powerful platform to drive meaningful change and constructive, actionable outcomes.” I know… sounds pretty nice, but here’s the question I want to keep asking:  What will it take to see this change?
SXSWedu may set the stage, but we still have to perform the show. A conference can provide a platform and opportunities to connect, maybe even develop a sort of culture, but ultimately we are responsible for how we engage in learning opportunities both during and beyond the conference dates. We choose what to make of the conference and what the conferences makes of us.
By Amy Burvall

By Amy Burvall

 Inspire & Be Inspired

Classroom teachers, entrepreneurs, investors, professors, thought leaders, students, and non-profit organizers from across the world gather in one place for four unique days of conversations, connections, and growth. People come to inspire and be inspired. Beyond the planned events, in the nooks and crannies of a jam packed schedule, the informal learning takes place.

I was reminded that good stuff happens during these “in-between” moments as I reflected on my own:
  • Conversations with friends both new and old, huddled by coveted outlets, on the top floor of the Hilton
  • A 15 minute hallway interview with Vladmir, a Russian edtech writer, prompted by the EduSocial profile
  • Learning from an incredible table of women, in preparation for the ETW lightning talks
  • Pushing the mindset of an entrepreneur looking for an educational viewpoint
  • Playing with the Paper app with Amy Burvall (definitely one of my new favorite people) during my #sxmetacog session (while I was implementing wait time for responses)
  • Carrying on conversations via Voxer with my extended PLN (most of whom were not at the conference) discussing the networked lives of teens
When everyone is willing to take a moment and talk about things that matter, a culture of thinking develops. And it is this collective cognition that makes the event so powerful.
By Tracy Clark

By Tracy Clark

 Moment of Truth

Ok so…
  • Mountain top high conference experience…check
  • Learned a lot…check….
  • Met a lot of incredible people….check, check!
But I want to talk about the moment of truth (insert inspirational trumpet music here). That moment when we all part ways.  When we get in the car (or on a plane or other mode of transportation) and go home, reflecting on what just happened. In that moment will we say, “that was really cool I can’t wait to see all those folks next year.” Or will we choose to solidify connections, commit to action… and then actually do it.
This is the moment to stop talking and start doing. Don’t let innovation die at the steps of the Hilton and Austin Convention Center. Don’t leave the change you want to see lying in your suitcase. Don’t disconnect from the connections you made. It was scary and akward to talk to that person in the first place.  Use the momentum of your active mind and your active connections to pursue innovation in education. We can’t keep talking without action. Our kids are way too important to leave change in the hotel lobby.


 What Now?

Here’s the thing, change is not going to be easy.  In order to get something done, to shift a culture, or to create lasting impact, it is not going to be one phone call, one tweet, one lesson. Most likely change will be more like the “20 mile march” Jim Collins writes about. It is going to be setting flags (performance indicators/mini-goals) along the way to make sure you don’t stray of course. It is going to be getting told “no” several, or several hundred times, before “yes”. It may be failing. But change is worth it and our kids are worth it. SXSWedu brings together pockets of innovation. But will we leave the conversations in Austin or follow through, creating connected and tangible innovation and impacting the future of learning?
SXSWedu self labels as a “catalyst for change in education”. Instead of complaining about where that fails to be true, why don’t we just go out from this conference and make it true.