What EdTech Stakeholders Are Talking About: Lessons from SXSWedu 20

As a former teacher, education PR professional and current learning and development manager at Walker Sands, I was ready to nerd out at SXSWedu 2017. Thousands of experts gathered for 4 days in Austin, Texas to address trends in edtech and have honest conversations about the challenges facing the education industry as a whole.

Between education celebrities such as Dr. Brene Brown and John Maeda wandering the halls, and one interesting session description after another, my FOMO was at an all-time high. I attended as many sessions as I could and walked away with solid insights into the current state of edtech.

What EdTech Stakeholders are Talking About Now

1. What can VR do for you?

VR, AI and MR (mixed reality, combining the first two) technologies are eliciting intrigue across all industries, education included. While some educators are embracing the possibilities for deeper engagement (major buzzword alert), others worry about the risk of losing touch with reality.

If we can transport students to anywhere in the world with one swipe of a finger and a cardboard box, what’s to become of physical field trips? Will students further lose themselves in a solitary, virtual vortex? Will VR have a significant enough impact in the classroom to warrant any of this?

Teachers who have begun implementing these technologies in the classroom have noticed students prefer to explore them in groups. The social component of education remains significant. Regarding impact, all signs point to VR/AI/MR transforming, specifically and certainly, the med school experience and many healthcare practices.

In the traditional classroom setting, the technologies will allow for deeper exploration by bringing more concepts to life in new, interactive ways. One thing most can agree on is that these technologies are often intuitive enough to make implementation and integration more accessible for educators.A

2. What does the future hold for higher education?

The notion of the 21st-century job, in which you choose a specific career path and then go to school for it, is fading. Companies are instead seeking employees with relevant skills, such as creative problem-solving and good communication.

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4 Tech Trends that Will Dominate the News in 2017

2016 brought exciting technology developments that dominated headlines. Apple made a splash by ditching the headphone jack on it’s latest iPhone model, Snapchat reignited excitement over wearables with their new smart sunglasses, Spectacles, and Oculus Rift finally launched its VR headset.

So what will 2017 bring? Many tech analysts and enthusiasts- Walker Sands included- are already speculating over what innovations will emerge. As we make our way into the New Year, it’s worth taking a look at how the always evolving tech industry will shape our culture and dominate headlines in 2017.

  1. Augmented Reality (AR) Explores the Enterprise. The Pokemon Go craze catapulted AR to the mainstream in 2016, and we’ll likely only see more AR applications in 2017. With “augmented reality” virtual images and information are displayed on top of the physical world. While the success of Pokemon Go created a huge appetite for AR games, expect more enterprises to look for targeted applications of AR with devices like Microsoft’s Hololens. Microsoft is already exploring how the device could improve the construction industry.
  2. Virtual Reality (VR) Gets Real(er). VR is predicted to grow into a $30 billion market as early as 2020. Last year, we saw major strides in the VR space with the launch of Oculus Rift, HTC Vive’s, Samsung’s Gear VR and PlayStation VR. 2017 will likely see a major push in the development of better VR content including video games and film. As VR picks up steam amongst consumers and media companies, we’ll likely see more brands try to incorporate the technology into their marketing efforts.
  3. Mainstream AI and Machine Learning. The success of Amazon’s Echo brought renewed attention to the potential value of virtual assistants. To compete, Google launched Google Home, it’s own smart speaker, and Mark Zuckerberg even built his own AI personal assistant, Jarvis (voiced by Morgan Freeman, no less!). Not to beat, Apple announced it would open up Siri to third-party apps, signalling it will likely integrate the virtual assistant into other devices. Expect chatbots and AI virtual assistants to be integrated into even more devices and applications in 2017.
    As businesses look to drive digital innovation and create business value, we’ll also see more mainstream instances of AI in 2017. Industries ranging from to banking to retail will start using machine learning to create more personalized and efficient customer experiences.  
  4. Autonomous Cars Makes Strides. With nearly every car manufacturer, including new players like startup Faraday Future, as well as transportation service providers like Uber and Lyft aggressively pursuing autonomous driving, we can expect to hear even more about this trend in 2017. At this year’s CES, nearly every car maker showcased their self-driving car technology in an attempt to build consumer excitement. While we may still be a few years away from a fully autonomous vehicle, this year we’ll start to see more of the building blocks that could turn this long-time fantasy into reality. Discussions related to the ethics around self-driving vehicles, the impact on the sharing-economy and what the future of in-car entertainment will look like will also grow.  

Time will tell just how much these four trends actually advance in 2017, but one thing is for sure. Tech innovation, whether from established players like Apple or a new unknown start-up, will continue to upend our lives in exciting new ways. And oftentimes, the most influential technologies are the ones we never expected.

What tech trends do you foresee dominating headlines in 2017? Tell us in the comments or tweet us @WalkerSands!

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Top 3 Marketing Tips from Digital Summit Dallas

Digital-Summit-HeaderIn a rather unsuccessful attempt at escaping the bitter Chicago cold, I traveled to Texas for Digital Summit Dallas, a marketing conference focused on content, SEO, UX, strategy, and design.  There were tons of great speakers from a wide variety of companies like Google, Cisco and Starcom. I was amazed at how much information they packed into two short days. Here are three quick insights, pulled straight from my 25 pages of type-written notes!

  1. Marketing is a massive fight for attention and we are rarely given permission. Keynote speaker and bestselling author Seth Gogin [google “Seth” to find his blog] explained how we are constantly vying for the attention of people online. The internet is the first form of mass media not intended for marketers but indefinitely abused by them. We demand a lot of our audience, with very little pay-off for them.  Wouldn’t we be more effective if we talked to people who want to be talked to? Permission is letting your audience decide what is valuable to them and what is not. If you have the permission of people who a truly interested in what you’re selling, you can build a real and lasting relationship.
  2. Leverage your existing content to increase organic search traffic. 71% of B2B researchers start their research with a generic search. Marketers can improve their organic search results by keyword-optimizing content already on their site. Vertical Measures Director of Marketing, Quinn Whissen, advises that you look at pages that are performing poorly and revitalize the content with 1-2 target keywords and a couple of synonyms (semantic keywords). Republishing pages is a great way to get a lot out of your marketing efforts, and timely content does better in search engines. Quinn astutely quoted John F. Kennedy’s “a rising tide lifts all boats” to illustrate the SEO benefit to your website from refreshing its content. Increasing the search value of your pages will go a long way towards generating more traffic and leads site-wide.
  3. The website should be the focal point of the marketing mix. A common goal of PR, email, social and SEO/PPC campaigns is to drive traffic to the website. If the onsite user experience is horrible, all your marketing efforts are essentially nullified. No amount of traffic is going to capture qualified leads when your users can’t figure out what your services are. Why spend time and money on a PPC campaign that directs users to an overwhelming landing page with outdated messaging? Make your website worth your users’ time. If conversions are low and exit rates are very high site-wide, it might be time to revisit your website strategy and UX.

Overall, the conference focused on improving the experience of users across all marketing channels and provided a good combination of tactical and aspirational insights. Anyone who is involved in marketing would benefit from this conference series; there are multiple U.S. events throughout the year.  I am thankful for the opportunity to experience a new city and receive some great takeaways for the new year in digital marketing.

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4 Key Takeaways from Fast Company’s Innovation Festival

Earlier this month, we had the opportunity to travel to New York City for Fast Company’s Innovation Festival. During the four-day conference, we trekked all around the Big Apple to take part in conversations and activities around the latest innovations in the tech industry. Featuring over 150 speakers and plenty of networking sessions, the second annual Innovation Festival was grounded in the theme of “Find Your Mission, Deepen Your Purpose.” From the keynotes featuring celebs like SJP and Cher to panel discussions centered around diversifying tech recruitment, this mission was ingrained in all of the sessions we attended.

Not only did this conference expose us to some of the biggest names in business and technology (and even a little bit of pop culture), it also provided several valuable lessons. Here’s a look at some of our favorite sessions and key takeaways:

  • Trust your intuition: Professional golfer Jordan Spieth and Under Armour Founder and CEO Kevin Plank discussed how taking risks and honing their intuitions have contributed to their success. In just 20 years, Under Armour has become a major player in the highly competitive athletic wear business. The company made early bets on Stephen Curry, Misty Copeland and Jordan Spieth, all of whom have gone on to become household names. When selecting these athletes, Plank said Under Armour has followed its intuition and selected athletes based on their personal connection and attitudes. This a reminder that when making decisions, it’s sometimes best to simply trust your gut. IMG_5914

    Plank also said the only thing that will get you fired from the company is to say, “But, that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Plank credits this culture of innovation as a core driver behind Under Armour’s success.
  • Question your current process processes: The future of human resources and hiring was another major discussion point at the conference. General Assembly, the global education company specializing in 21st-century skills, educates individuals and helps companies source talent, discussed how companies can unlock access to top talent by focusing specifically on skills-based hiring practices that expand the talent pool beyond those found through traditional screening methods. The two presenters discuss how companies need to blow up the “Top 20 School” paradigm, and explore other methods for finding the right talent. One suggestion was to assess the talent you’re getting differently and look where you haven’t looked before. For example, when dating, singles that look for dates through multiples avenues – social events and organizations, friends and dating apps – increase their chances of finding someone. Similarly, hiring managers that seek talent through a variety of methods – recruiters, references, hiring websites, networking events and educational institutions – open themselves up to a broader range of talent.

    Another panel consisting of Black Girls Code founder Kimberly Bryant, Pinterest’s head of diversity Candice Morgan, and Global Citizen Year founder Abby Falik explored the type of tech knowledge, leadership skills for hiring and managing diverse workforces that companies are going to need in the future. The group discussed a number of challenges holding companies, especially tech organizations, from having a diverse workforce. One challenge they touched on was the confirmation bias, which is when people favor information that resonates with their established beliefs. For example, when an interviewer forms a distinct opinion about a candidate based on information like the college they attended before the actual interview. Based on these biases, some candidates may not make it to the interview or be perceived as less competent than others. To prevent confirmation bias from impacting their chances of hiring great candidates, Morgan of Pinterest discussed how they’ve implemented rules requiring hiring managers to interview a set number of women and a set number of ethnically diverse candidates for each position. By setting these parameters, companies open up their talent pool and gain a more diverse perspective. Morgan said these rules are part of how the company found its new head of engineering.

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Team Spotlight: Erin Jordan

I sat down with Erin Jordan, an account director at Walker Sands and lead of the retail and e-commerce technology team.

Erin has been with the company for almost five years! While she’s busy looking for ways to grow her team’s practice areas, Erin took the time to give me a glimpse into what life is like at Walker Sands for her.

Here’s what she had to say!

1. What is your role at Walker Sands? What does your day-to-day look like?

As the account director for the retail technology team, I ensure my team has everything they need to service our clients and get great results. I also help keep the team constantly up-to-date on trends in our space. Other activities I work on include survey research to demonstrate our expertise and expand knowledge within the retail space, working on new business and coaching my team to help them grow in their own careers.

Erin-Jordan

2. How has Walker Sands changed since you first started at the company?

The company was much smaller when I started. We only had 15-20 people. One of the best things about Walker Sands is that while the size has grown, we’ve maintained the scrappiness and ‘no idea is too small’ mentality that comes with having small teams.

We’ve come a long way in our expertise and great work. We now have the infrastructure and experience to handle bigger team projects. Growth of our practice areas is one things that has led to our success, and it has helped evolve our knowledge across different client industries. It’s also interesting to see how much our digital team and ecosystem of services have grown alongside PR.

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