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SXSWedu Shows 4 Ways Entrepreneurs Can Impact Education

Entrepreneurs should be motivated to launch companies and products that break down silos to accelerate learning and discovery.
SXSWedu Shows 4 Ways Entrepreneurs Can Impact Education
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A fascinating realization you make after spending a week at SXSWedu surrounded by teachers, superintendents, provosts and edtech leaders is that the conference is about so much more than education.

While the thousands of attendees at the conference each bring shared passions -- improving learning, strengthening education outcomes, innovating traditional systems, eating great barbecue -- they also recognize the strategies and tools we need to achieve these goals can come from anywhere. The SXSWedu team also knows this, and that’s why they pack hundreds of panel discussions and presentations with thought leaders from inside and outside education. SXSWedu isn’t about insular conversations in academia; it’s about knocking down silos and bringing people together from all different disciplines to focus on how we make learning better, and more available, for everyone.

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That realization should be remarkably inspiring for today’s entrepreneurs. In order to deliver the next generation of doctors, scientists, mechanics, artists, engineers, etc., education needs new ideas and technologies that span across disciplines. It’s a give-take system of innovation that makes it an exciting time to be an entrepreneur.

Here’s a look at four key themes from SXSWedu that can help entrepreneurs focus and take action to enrich education.

Technology as a connective force

Technology is a leading catalyst in eroding the walls and silos that used to exist in education. When I was a student, written correspondence between pen pals far outweighed the nascent connections I had over AIM. Now students and teachers can connect instantaneously and share resources via Skype, FaceTime, Slack and scores of applications, both purpose-built and borrowed intent, to drive dialogue and innovation forward.

Entrepreneurs that can find new ways to harness the connectivity provided by these technologies have an opportunity to thrive. One finalist in SXSWedu’s launch competition that stood out in this regard was TeachersConnect, a tool that promises to “lay the groundwork for a world in which teaching is no longer a solo activity.” TeachersConnect is an app that empowers teachers to share ideas, resources and best practices constantly and across geographies to best inform their individual efforts. When a teacher using this network has a question, she can quickly get an answer or new ideas to help students.

Apps and technologies that help educators best connect with both peers and thought leaders in real-time will continue to be valuable in the future. It’s an opportunity for entrepreneurs who can take our ever-growing mobile communication tools and leverage them strategically.

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Relevancy. Relevancy. Relevancy.

A common theme heard at SXSWedu is the need for education to be relevant. Graduating 200 dental hygienists into a marketplace only able to support 30 of them is an example where bigger isn’t always better in education. This need for relevancy is another opportunity for entrepreneurs -- what tools and technologies can you create that help educators understand the workforce needs of tomorrow?

SXSWedu’s employability track featured a great presentation on this topic, highlighting how job growth in healthcare will outpace overall job growth in our country for the foreseeable future. On a micro level, this is represented in Chicago, where there is a gap between the current market of qualified healthcare professionals and the projected 84,000 healthcare jobs set to come on-line in the Chicago region over the next decade. It’s a statistic that led Malcolm X College to build a new health sciences campus with a virtual hospital specifically equipped to help Chicago-area students take these jobs.

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More institutions in K-12 and higher education are set to bring sharper focus to ensuring the education experiences they deliver line up with employment needs. Entrepreneurs can play a role here on numerous fronts: creating tools that help analyze and predict job trends, developing technologies to better train students to take these jobs or apps that make it easier for educators to connect with professional in leading sectors.

Learning by design

For the first time this year, SXSWedu incorporated Learn by Design, a new competition program focused on the design of physical learning spaces and how they impact learning outcomes. The launch of this program is evidence that leaders recognize the growing importance design plays to advancing learning.

The program yielded three winners from hundreds of entries: Citti Academy in Los Angeles, the Baltimore County Public Schools’ Mobile Innovation Lab and Lassonde Studios at the University of Utah. All of these projects can point to design strategies that are helping their students succeed. Design was also at the forefront of numerous other discussions during the conference, including a look at Philadelphia University’s NEXUS Learning Hubs -- novel learning spaces that are thoughtfully designed to act as the catalyst for pedagogical training, nurturing and experimentation. The NEXUS hubs allow for seamless transitions to different modes of active and engaged learning and optimize collaborative involvement.

With design taking a more central role in education, entrepreneurs can make an impact in numerous ways. While schools, colleges and universities are all taking unique approaches to leveraging design, the spaces they create almost always embrace flexibility, technology, collaboration and idea-sharing. Entrepreneurs should focus on how they can introduce furniture, tools and resources that extend these spatial qualities and further empower students.

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Seamless job training

Education is just beginning to scratch the surface of how technologies like augmented reality and holographics can improve learning. For example, Microsoft recently launched HoloLens, the first self-contained, holographic computer enabling people to engage with digital content and interact with holograms in the world around them. That’s fascinating and powerful, but educators need help understanding how to best leverage it.

Creating content and applications that turn the potential of tools like VR and holographics into results should be a major focus for entrepreneurs. It was inspiring to see LlamaZoo as part of the SXSWedu launch competition; it's a tool that marries highly interactive 3D, augmented and virtual reality, and modern teaching techniques such as adaptive quizzing and spaced repetition to create more collaborative and useful student experiences. More tools like this can prove intensely valuable for education moving forward if and when entrepreneurs deliver them.

Amidst the wealth of thought leadership and innovation that defined SXSWedu, these four themes stood out. To host such a rich discussion on education, SXSWedu invited teachers, journalists, scientists, architects, healthcare professionals and more to be part of it -- an inspiring reminder that education touches everything. Entrepreneurs should be motivated to launch companies and products that further break down silos to accelerate learning and discovery.
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