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An Austin local, I attended the SXSWedu conference for the first time this year. It’s only been a part of SXSW for a few years, and I had heard mixed revues about the benefits of attending in years past. I decided to attend for several reasons:

  1. The Ed-FI Alliance was launching as a stand-alone organization on the first day of the conference;
  2. our president, Lori Fey, was speaking in a session that same day;
  3. our licensee inBloom would have a sizeable presence;
  4. a number of interesting speakers and topics listed were related and adjacent to our mission of empowering educators with real-time, actionable education data on every student in their classroom, school, district or state.

I am glad I came to the conference, as I learned quite a bit last week. Two lessons come to mind in particular.

To whom does the benefit confer?

One of the best pieces of advice I heard last week came from Chris Thorn of the Carnegie Foundation: education technology ventures often fail in the first two years because they do not confer the benefit of the technology to the people who are responsible for deploying it. The same can be said of the panels: those that failed often did so because they did not include panelists who were also deploying the solutions. Too often, panels would gather with a combination of entrepreneurs, think-tank founders, bloggers, funders or executives to discuss possible outcomes. The panels that revealed the most, to me, had students, educators, or district -or state-level administrators in the mix.

Empowering students, parents and teachers is the next frontier

The most-retweeted line from the @EdFiAlliance twitter handle came from a lightly attended session on Common Core: “When students own their (assessment) data, it’s a powerful motivator for success.” I also heard from speakers that teachers needed the freedom to solve problems quickly, teacher time is our most valuable asset as a nation and parents should have a privacy profile to manage who can access their kids’ data. We all want to own our data, time and privacy. What are we doing to enable those goals in education?

I’d ask you to consider how the technology you are creating or deploying benefits those who are most responsible for its use. I’d love to hear success (or failures) on that front in the comments below. And, if you have the next great idea for empowering education stakeholders, please present at next year’s SXSWedu, because there were a number of people in Austin last week eager to hear about it.

Julie Lass is the communications director for the Ed-Fi Alliance. If you’re a K-12 educator with a strong point of view on how data could be—or is—used to make a difference for kids in the classroom, the Ed-Fi team would love to hear from you. Email communications@ed-fi.org to share your story!