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What EdTech Stakeholders Are Talking About: Lessons from SXSWedu 20

Nausheen Farishta

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.


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.

In this changing world, K-12 education is seeing a lot of change while the future for higher education looks bleak. How do we equip students with what they need to succeed down the line?

What’s more, Generation Z is shaping up to be far more risk-averse than the Millennial Generation preceding it. This post 9/11 generation is comprised of kids who may also have seen their parents take financial hits through job loss during the recession. Whereas, previously, parents were the ones who questioned the return on investment of a college education, Gen Z is now turning the tables.

What does this mean for the edtech industry? For starters, higher ed is ripe for disruption. Investors are pouring more funds into career and technical education programs, and it is worth exploring how to build upon such initiatives.


3. Where are the CTOs, Chief Teacher Officers?

Working teachers make up less than 1 percent of top edtech companies on Forbes. There is a tendency to treat teachers as our end users when marketing education technologies when, in fact, they are not. Teachers are practitioners. They find ways to solve education and edtech problems in the classroom. They hone their crafts and add or remove tools based on their students’ needs.

In any other industry, we tap into experts and look to them to lead. In education, there is an inclusion problem when it comes to teachers in leadership. No, not necessarily within the schools themselves; rather, have you ever considered paying a teacher to sit on your edtech company’s advisory board? Is a working teacher involved in improving your product or your approach? At most companies, this is overlooked. Don’t let this be the case at yours.


The education industry is digitizing, albeit at a slower pace than other industries. The timing is ripe for edtech unicorns to emerge, chiefly by addressing the various concerns surrounding integration and engagement.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Walker Sands is helping education companies talk about these trends, contact us.