“It seems undeniable to me that the most critical ingredient to improving learning is a well-supported and caring teacher. Professional development must remain a high priority to help positively impact teaching and learning.” – Ron Reed, USA

What started in 1987 as a fledgling music festival, South by Southwest (SXSW) has grown into a must-do event for creative people, businesses, and now, educators. SXSWedu—the newest part of the conference, which launched in 2011 – plays host to the leaders in education and technology as they discuss the current state of education across the country. I was fortunate to be a part of the event last March, where I met Ron Reed, the executive producer of SXSWedu.

“Our vision for SXSWedu is that it continues to grow as a platform for an elevated conversation about innovations in learning, for all learners, from early childhood through college readiness to career development,” Reed said. “Education is a critical topic that crosses multiple audiences, certainly learners and education professionals, but also business, industry, legislative, and policy leaders. We hope to engage them all in a positive discourse about best practices and successful strategies.”

They appear to have struck a chord. According to Reed, after only two years, attendance at SXSWedu grew 250 percent, with over 2000 registrants this year. “Clearly there is a hunger for innovative solutions to the many pressing challenges in efficient, empowered learning.”

One aspect of SXSWedu that stood out to me is the shift from debate to construction. Importantly, they are focusing on how educators, administrators and policymakers can take the tools of the industry and make a constructive difference in the classroom.

“One of the objectives for this year is to drive towards meaningful outcomes as opposed to just aspirational conversations,” says Reed. See for yourself, as Reed and I discuss the future of SXSWedu, the trends he sees, and how he believes the changes occurring in Texas can impact education globally.

Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced  innovation in education?

I’m proud of the work I was involved with many years ago, in the late 80s, with Optical Data, to revise textbook laws and processes all around the country to permit and encourage technology-based alternatives to traditional ink on paper textbooks. I was also proud to work a few years back with a small start-up company and the State of Texas to make available an online resource for all 150,000 high school teachers in the state to better address the needs of English Language Learners. Most recently, I’m so very proud of SXSWedu and our work to highlight innovations in learning, helping host education thought-leaders in powerful and important conversations about modernizing teaching and learning.

How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?

Be persistent, be patient, remain passionate. Driving change is a marathon, not a sprint.

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

SXSWedu embraces a number of forward-thinking tools to help engage our community and improve the conference experience for all our attendees. As a case in point, we have an online session proposal tool, called PanelPicker, that not only facilitates the submission of programming ideas, but permits the public at large an opportunity to provide their comments and reactions. We’re really sincere in our belief that SXSWedu is a community event…one that we’re proud to host, but one that is driven by engaged and passionate stakeholders that all share a desire for positive change.

What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?

Throughout the nation, there are several important conversations going on in education. From high-stakes assessment in K-12, to the cost of college in higher education. These are further being driven by the pace of innovation and deployment of increasingly affordable technology platforms. After 20+ years of anticipating a modernization of education, I honestly feel we’re finally in process…

What is your region doing well currently to support education?

I think Texas – and several other states, too – are doing excellent work to leverage technology to better connect teachers, and more efficiently provide professional development and support. I’m encouraged to see the extent to which greater flexibility is being provided to local districts to address their specific and unique needs, goals and objectives. And I’m frankly excited about the attention, not only in the Southwest, but all over the country, that is being paid to better supporting English Language Learners. Given national demographic trends, it seems to me this issue is especially critical if we’re sincere in our commitment to close the achievement gap.

What conditions must change in your country to better support education?

It seems undeniable to me that the most critical ingredient to improving learning is a well-supported and caring teacher. Professional development must remain a high priority to help positively impact teaching and learning.

What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?

Personally, I’m particularly interested in mobile access. It seems to me that this technology permits so many around the world to leap-frog over the challenges of access that have been the focus of educational technology and innovative learning conversations for the last two decades.

What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?

The trend that I think holds most promise for learners is the focus on personalizing learning. The conversations and models of blended learning or flipped classrooms are important, and worth having. The trend that I fear too often gets in the way of learning is the excessive amount of time devoted to preparing for and administering high-stakes assessment. While it’s important to know where students are in their arc of learning, it seems there have been unintended consequences that I fear have narrowed the curriculum.

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

Internet access and a portable device, to put the world at their fingertips and permit them to engage always and everywhere.

About Ron Reed
@sxswedu

Ron Reed, independent sales and marketing consultant in K-12 publishing, and Executive Producer of SXSWedu, has been involved in educational publishing and technology since graduating from the University of Texas. He helped launch Optical Data Corporation in the mid-80’s and was responsible for pioneering the first state-adopted technology alternative to traditional textbooks in Texas. Ron subsequently joined Publisher’s Resource Group (PRG), an Austin-based curriculum development company creating print and electronic materials for instructional content providers, ultimately serving as Vice President and General Manager. In 2006, he established R L Reed Consulting, an independent consulting firm specializing in strategic K-12 sales and marketing. In that role, he produced several educational panels at South by Southwest Interactive, focusing on digital instructional content and open education resources.

The experience led him to launch SXSWedu in 2011, a convergence event focused on innovations in learning, for an audience of key stakeholders including education professionals as well as representatives from business and industry, and the legislative and policy arenas.

SXSWedu’s inaugural year highlighted Project Share, a statewide education portal with more than a half million public education account holders, developed and managed by the Texas Education Agency. Visit SXSWedu.com to learn more.

  • Birthplace: Morristown, New Jersey
  • Current residence: Austin, Texas
  • Education: BA, University of Texas, Austin
  • Website I check every day: sxswedu.com
  • Person who inspires me most:  My Dad, a hard working guy, son of orphans,
    who achieved a lot and valued nothing more than family…
  • Favorite childhood memory: Early mornings, riding my red bike (fast as the wind!) through the neighborhood to Fourth Ward Elementary School in Paris, Texas!
  • Next travel destination (work or pleasure): New York City
  • When was the last time you laughed? Why? Breakfast this morning with my wife and youngest son…he has a fantastic sense of humor! He’s staring his career and consequently moving from Austin to Midland, Texas to work with their airport facility…he was saying “Of course I’ll miss y’all, just not likely as much as you’ll miss me!” He’s correct, of course.
  • Favorite book: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, or perhaps The World According to Garp, by John Irving.
  • Favorite music: Old, classic rock including The Rolling Stones, The Who, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen…showing my age here!
  • Your favorite quote or motto: “As my daddy used to say…” is a turn of phrase I use often. My dad had a million great sayings and pithy remarks…one of my favorites remains: “I feel more like I do now than I did a little while ago!”
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