5 Ways That I Will Get the Most out of #SXSWedu (or any world class event)

When people ask me to describe this one-of-a-kind event, I explain that it is an ideal place to have an action-packed immersion into some of the most promising, innovative and interesting educational efforts and experiments. It is education meets entrepreneurship. You’ll find educational difference-makers, edupreneurs, people who love to geek out on educational policy, educational futurists, and a mass of social entrepreneurs who focus on education as the sector where they want to have a lasting and significant social impact.

How do you get the most out of such an event? I’m convinced that everyone has to answer that for himself or herself, but I’m happy to share my plan. Perhaps it will spark a few ideas for you. Or, please share some of your own tips, thoughts or plans in the comment area.

I’m going to remind myself that this is an intellectual and social buffet…a very good one.

I remember the first time that I ever saw an amazing buffet. It was one of those 24-hour spots in Las Vegas: lobster, lamb, steak, a hundred or more sides, and a mountain of desserts. With so many options, it is easy to get too much of a good thing. The wise browse, pick a reasonable amount of what they want, and they enjoy it. Perhaps you’d love to try everything, but that doesn’t turn out so well. As such, I give myself permission to treat SXSWedu like a buffet. Taste test. Pick a reasonable about of “must try” things, and be content leaving the rest for others.

I’m going to remember that this is about people as much or more than presentations.

Yes, there are presentations along with some other neat and interesting formats for presentations (even an unconference). There are exceptional presentations, a few that might even evoke an intellectual awakening in your thoughts about education. As such, I will certainly be checking out my share of sessions. However, at almost every event, my most memorable experiences come from the conversations and connections with brilliant, interesting, innovative people. Introvert, extrovert or somewhere in between, people here really love talking about their passions and work at this event. Every conversation is chance for mini and sometimes massive aha moments, not to mention a chance to build partnership and connections that will last long after SXSWedu is over. That leads me to the next one.

I’m going on a story collecting adventure.

Innovation starts with listening and learning. Paul Tillich noted that, “The first duty of love is to listen.” Thoreau explained that, “It takes two to speak the truth; one to speak and another to hear.” SXSWedu is a wonderful place to hear and learn from some amazing stories of social entrepreneurship and educational difference makers. Some presenters lead with stories, but there are some amazing stories under the surface of almost every presentation, every education startup, and every person at the event. If you have the courage and the opportunity, it is great fun to ask people about their story or stories. It gives us a glimpse into more than what they do. We get to discover why the did it, and there are some wonderfully moving and compelling whys behind many of the products, companies, and people. We also learn more about the real-world pathway to some powerful movements and organizations in education. As such, I’m planning to collect some great stories, and I’m ready to share a few as well.

I’m going to use this as a launchpad for something of significance.

You’ve probably read the research. If you want to remember something from this event, it is best to do something with it soon after you get back home. As such, I treat SXSWedu as a collection of experiences that I hope to shape and inform one or more projects and possibilities that will occupy my thought and energy for months, even years to come. Ideas are great, but it isn’t until we move from ideation to execution that we get to see the exciting social impact that many of us educational entrepreneurs crave.

I’m going to provide a candid glimpse into my brain along the way (and probably after the fact).

There will be some major neural activity at this event. One way I try to make sense of the non-stop activity in my own brain is by writing and reflecting. I always have an idea book handy along with a laptop. So, while I don’t plan to sit in a corner alone, blogging about my experiences instead of having them, I am planning to set aside 30-minute moments to slow down, think on-screen, and share a few of the things mulling around my brain. Expect to see some of that on my blog, and feel free to follow along.

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About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is an author, professor of education, Vice Provost of Curriculum and Academic Innovation, podcast host, and blogger. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, The Pedagogy of Faith (editor), Adventures in Self-Directed Learning, and Digitized: Spiritual Implications of Technology. He is passionate about futures in education; educational innovation; and social entrepreneurship.