Less than 2 weeks remain until I return to SXSWedu again.
I’m excited about returning to what I describe as the “Land of A-Ha’s” where creativity and learning come together in a dazzling display of keynote talks, featured speakers, panel presentations, interactive playground, pop-up bookstore, and social gatherings of educators and learning specialist from all over the world.
Here’s how they put it officially:
“The SXSW EDU Conference & Festival cultivates and empowers a community of engaged stakeholders to advance teaching and learning.”
Past SXSWedu conferences have featured keynote speakers like LeVar Burton in 2012, when he spoke of re-introducing the classic Reading Rainbow TV show as an interactive app. After his talk on the importance of storytelling, he greeted any and all fans wanting a photo, so I overcame my shyness to get one. When I gushed about his talk, saying I, too, was a storyteller, he grinned and said, “You look like a storyteller, Alan.”
That same year, Jane McGonigal spoke on her then-current book, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. She also introduced her SuperBetter game, a “role-playing recovery game” created in response to her major concussion, designed to build resiliency. When the book came out, she returned and held a book-signing — but spoke instead of futuring about a Bitcoin-like learning exchange for a project called Learning is Earning 2026.
Other speakers that stood out have included Goldie Hawn, Temple Grandin, Tim Ferriss, and Brené Brown (links open video of each talk). My favorite, by far, though, was getting to see Sunni Brown (The Doodle Revolution) from the very front row, and getting a hug afterwards.
Though I’ve been attending SXSWedu regularly since its second year, this will be the first time I will attend from afar. I’ll be curious to see how this might impact my experience.
Looking at the amazing schedule, I’m reminded of a friend who loved opening the new course catalogue each semester at college. She would get excited by the course titles and brief descriptions and sign up for more classes than allowed, somehow talking her way past the advisors, and register for all of them. Overwhelmed by the sheer number of classes to attend (and underwhelmed by the reality of them compared to what she’d envisioned from the title and description), she drop the classes, one by one, until once again, she had dropped them all.
I won’t do that, but when I took a quick spin through the schedule and start creating a list of my “favorites’ on the schedule, the initial results were quite similar. After a quick spin through a lot (not all) of the schedule, I clicked on “My Favorites” to see my compiled list of sessions to attend.
Sure enough, for some time slots, I had selected as many as 7 different possibilities. Add in the factor that sessions may last as long as 2 hours (for the Forums) or as short as 20 minutes (Future 20) and you face a challenging juggling act. I mean, which would you choose: “Students Can Build the VR/AR Worlds of the Future” or “Five Design Questions to Empower everyone with Design Thinking“? Oh, wait a minute, there’s an overlap with “Creative Education in the Era of AI: Beyond Arts” as well.
So, you see, any pre-planning has to be done in a very loose sense. And I already know 2 additional factors will likely impact my final choices. First, I want to be able to chase after emergent interests that I discover while down there. To preemptively eliminate last minute substitutions is not the right approach for this conference — too many last-minute opportunities can arise.
There’s also the fatigue factor involved — more cognitive fatigue than physical, but with each passing year, the physical wear and tear of a 4-day conference does take its toll on my energy level.
Guess I better start resting up right now!