Last week, Committee for Children had the privilege of attending SXSWedu in Austin, TX. The annual conference draws over 10,000 educators, academics, and professionals from around the world to discuss hot topics in the education technology (EdTech) field. This year's conference included the usual panels and parties, but featured a new emphasis on equity, creativity, and social-emotional learning (SEL). Here are three of our top takeaways:
1) Despite skepticism from many, digital tools can help boost SEL.
Committee for Children's own innovation director Mia Doces participated on a panel along with an entrepreneur and an investor to discuss the implications of building digital tools for SEL. The session had over 180 people in attendance, and the Twitter back channel reflected a great deal of interest in, and enthusiasm for, the topic. Real-world examples of digital tools created by Committee for Children’s New Mission Ventures team (including Mind Yeti, Parachute, and a Minecraft research project), as well as HopeLab and Facebook, helped make the case for why technology can make SEL better. Questions remain about how to measure impact and outcomes, but as panelist Steve Arnold put it, “[Children] today have equivalent meaning in their virtual and real-world relationships. Digital tools for SEL don’t have to be a game or VR. It can be about broadly meeting kids where they are.”
2) When an entire district adopts mindfulness as a guiding principle for SEL, the impact can be astounding.
Mindfulness was on the agenda at SXSWedu, thanks to a two-hour session led by representatives from the Austin Independent School District. SEL experts James Butler, Hilary Smith, and Jason Littlefield shared stories of how mindfulness has impacted classroom culture and teacher retention, and discussed strategies for how to get buy-in for mindfulness across schools and the entire district. Later, the Committee for Children team was lucky enough to visit three Austin elementary schools using Mind Yeti, and see the local mindfulness movement in action.
3) To move forward, the EdTech industry must focus on empathy and equity, not just technology.
This year's conference included a number of powerful sessions about the need for equity in EdTech, including Christopher Emdin’s powerful keynote on the first day. Later, a number of design thinking and makerspace sessions emphasized empathy as a key component of equity building. At Committee for Children, we’re committed to both empathy and equity. We're proud to be part of building programs and tools that address these—and other—key issues in education.
What are your keys takeaways from SXSWedu? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter using the hashtag #Tech4SEL.