It takes half a day to fly 5,000 miles from London to Austin for SXSWedu, a significant investment in terms of time and money.
I went to SXSWedu in 2012 when it was still new and pretty chaotic but the keynotes of Dame Marjorie Scardino and Arne Duncan were great. In 2013 I had to rely on secondhand reports that it was a better organized and of Bill Gates’s polarizing keynote. These three are hard to top, so going the celebrity route with Jeffery Tambour (no one from outside the US had any idea who he was), says a lot about where SXSEedu is going wrong.
My hopes for 2014 were high and I yet I came away so dissatisfied that I won’t be booking for 2015. Why?
My view is that SXSWedu was an American attempt to translate their dominance of edtech into a wide-ranging thought-leadership event, along the lines of the defunct Learning Without Frontiers; a counterpoint to massive B2B extravaganzas like BETT, ISTE and FETC where you go to see product, customers and contacts.
So what went wrong?
- Like so many edu conferences, it’s bloated with too many sessions where the content and presenters (often both) are weak
- It looked at edtech and education through an almost exclusively US lens
After day one I abandoned the scheduled sessions and spent my time meeting people and networking at the venues, coffee shops and eating establishments within a 10-block radius. SXSEedu Social was also a great tool to connect, although probably less than 25% of the delegates I met knew about it! SXSWedu parties were also a great way to meet and connect, and the one I co-hosted with StartUp Weekend EDU, edsurge and hireedu, on Monday night at Easy Tiger was amazing with 450 people, many of whom had abandoned Amplify’s far more expensive corporate shindig across town.
I am still looking for where I want to go in 2015, it may be ASU GSV Education Innovation Summit or something in Australia or China, but it won’t be in Texas.