Day One of SXSWedu - Miss Frizzle Cosplay & Edward James Olmos

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I don't have time to put together a full recap of the day's events. And anyway, there's no shortage of official and unofficial outlets live-tweeting from the back row of every presentation. Instead, I'll just share a few of the more interesting things I experienced on day one of SXSWedu.  

First, I should note that I didn't see everything on day one of SXSWedu.  How could anyone? There's a lot here to experience, and much of it is taking place simultaneously across a number of city blocks. It's like Comic-Con for ed tech people. Sure, it's a bit more subdued in terms of enthusiasm, but in many ways, it feels like Comic-Con without all the cosplay.

I laughed audibly as that thought occurred to me while walking through the Austin Convention Center. Imagine running into a cosplay Miss Frizzle...

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or seeing Edward James Olmos introducing the teaser trailer for his upcoming film, Stand and Deliver Part II: Still Standing... and Delivering.


That movie, Stand and Deliver Part I, is on my mind for another reason. To the best of my recollection, it's a triumphant story of overcoming adversity in the form of unequal access to education in East Los Angeles during the 1970s. I won't get into the specifics of the story because I'd hate to spoil it for anyone how has been meaning to watch it since it came out 30 years ago, but the important thing to note is how little has changed during those three decades. That is, until recently.

I haven't run the exact numbers, but fully one in five (not an exaggeration) of the presentations at SXSWedu directly address inequality in education with particular emphasis on race, gender, social justice, activism, and related issues. I'm a first-time attendee at SXSWedu so I can't say this with any confidence, but this all feels new. It seems like a direct response to recent events that have propelled issues of inequality and social justice to the forefront of the discussion about education. This is only a general observation on that front. I don't really have a takeaway, aside from hoping that all of this conversation will someday translate into the equality of opportunity I think we all want to see.

Another general observation is that very few scheduled talks address the proliferation of "fake news." I had hoped to see that take on a significant role at the event. I think I only noted two talks dealing with media literacy, and neither one directly addressed "fake news." If I had to guess, I'd say we'll see a lot of information about that in 2018. 

I've got another full day tomorrow, but before I wrap this up, I want to share a few thoughts on the most interesting presentation I saw today. I had the pleasure of sitting in on a talk entitled Gen Z is for Sensibility, presented by Alexandra Ellison, Owner of Dunce Academy.

I won't go into much detail since I don't want to steal/borrow too much of her thunder. Suffice to say Ellison succinctly mapped out a number of very important trends in the changing mindsets of today's high school students.

These kids were born after 9-11. They've only ever known a world of relative uncertainty. The optimism of the 1990s does not figure into their perceptions of economic realities. To that point, the financial collapse was their first introduction to economics. Many of them remember their parents being laid off. Some of them had to move out of their childhood homes. 

As a result, these kids are stunningly sensible. They're quite different from the Millenials before them, who dreamed (and often still dream) of being the next Mark Zuckerberg. By contrast, Generation Z is practical. They say things like (and I'm paraphrasing here), "I'd love to work for NASA, but they won't have any funding by the time I'm out of college." Sidenote: reading that should break your heart. 

As a result, Gen Z (which admittedly sounds like a USA Network show about teenage zombies) tends to gravitate toward more clearly defined, traditional trades. They're interested in vocational training. Many of them don't think college is worth the expense. All of these trends are particularly pronounced in rural areas, where economies were hardest hit and slowest to recover.

Consequently, these students are less interested in entrepreneurism than preceding generations. And that's a potential problem. They will be the best educated of any generation to date, brimming with potential to solve pressing problems, but seemingly without the inclination to take the risk to do so. And that could have a significant effect on our economy. Interestingly, these students are interested in learning all the skills associated with entrepreneurism. They're just not interested in becoming entrepreneurs by name.

There was quite a bit more to this presentation that I'm leaving out because it's late. I'm omitting out a whole discussion of an interesting vocational learning program she researched in Switzerland and adapted for students in Nevada. I'm also leaving out all the data that backs up the observations that I've somewhat haphazardly mentioned above. Regardless, I hope you'll take my word that she'd clearly done her research. It was a great talk. 

Following the talk, I had the opportunity to speak with her in a small group of attendees. It was clear that the word entrepreneur has been tarnished - even at an ed tech conference - since the financial collapse. That was one thing that I wish had come up during the talk. I think the zeitgeist in the United States has been steered by the "lessons" of the financial collapse. All the talk of the 99% and the 1% may not have changed a lot of policy in our country, but it seems to have had a profound effect on our kids. They don't want to be the bad guys in the morality play they've seen every night on the news. That was the theory I floated, anyway. The general consensus appeared supportive, but it is possible people were just being polite.

Down the road, I look forward to collaborating on efforts to integrate entrepreneurial education into more traditional education. Today was a reminder why that's so important. In the meantime, we'll do our part to promote entrepreneurs by helping tutoring companies deliver an exceptional test prep experience for the next generation of entrepreneurs.

If you've got questions, I've got lots of notes from the presentation. That said, my handwriting is pretty bad, so you may want to just reach out to Ellison directly. You can find her company page here: Dunce Academy.    

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