It’s that time of year again—spring break, king cakes, green everything, and South by Southwest (SXSW) in ATX. Ahead of the official start of the music, film, and interactive festivals, the EdTech community gathered en masse for the ninth annual SXSW EDU conference last week. Over four days and 449 sessions, 8,000 plus registrants opined, debated, shared, networked, collaborated, and ultimately got fired up about how to innovate across the education sector and improve learning for all kids.

Each day of the festival, I received little reminders of the power of our collective work and the importance of our mission. Over the course of the conference—in sessions, hallway conversations, meetups, and Twitter buzz—two hopeful and exciting themes emerged:

Interoperability is not just a buzzword.

This year’s conference saw a true interoperability takeover; our favorite “i” word was the focus of numerous sessions and kept popping up on social media. From interoperability geeks, to practitioners who had never heard the term before, everyone could relate to the challenges of connecting data across systems. And everyone understood the importance of connecting that data to provide deeper insights and improve student outcomes.


The interoperability discussions started on Monday morning when I was joined by partners CCSSO, SETDA, and CEDS for “Interoperability: Empowering the Future,” a discussion of the challenges we face in the education sector, the change we want to see in our industry, and how interoperability can get us there.

On Tuesday, our partners at Dallas County Promise took to the stage for a powerful demonstration; they’re improving college readiness, enrollment, and success in Dallas County and beyond with Ed-Fi powering their data strategy. We wrapped up the day with our annual networking event (shout-out to those who attended), which was a great opportunity to meet new Community members and reconnect with regulars.

And on Wednesday, Project Unicorn and ISTE put an exclamation point on the call to interoperability by releasing “Better Edtech Buying for Education,” a resource for school districts.

The age of personalization is upon us, and personalization means data.

Personalized learning, blended learning, and competency-based learning are all happening in pockets and innovation zones across the country. Sessions throughout SXSW EDU explored the theoretical, the hopeful, and the real work going on to expand these initiatives. Policymakers spoke to the challenges of scaling great outcomes in this arena.

Principals and district leaders shared their thinking on resources and tools for their teachers. Teachers spoke to the strain of bending over backwards to deliver personalized experiences in their classrooms. And students talked about seeking opportunities in and out of the classroom that offer choice, flexibility, support, and engagement.

As the demand for personalization grows, so does the need for data and technology to support those efforts. From classroom to boardroom, data and analytics are essential to making personalization work and scale.

Maureen's Daughter at SXSW EDU

I like to think that when my four-year-old enters the K12 system in the fall of 2020, her teachers will have the information and tools they need to support her aspirations of being a superhero/doctor and she will have a data-informed college and career planning tool to help her get there (at least to the doctor part).

SXSW 2020 is already accepting registrations, but in the meantime, the future of learning keeps moving forward through your hard work and the interoperability use cases you bring to the table.

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