News and Insights

The Issues, Methodologies and Tech Defining the Future of Education

April 10, 2023

FINN’s PreK-12 Education Practice Brings Keynote, Workshops and Exhibits to SXSW EDU

One of the nation’s largest and most influential education conferences, SXSW EDU took place in-person for the first time since lockdown in early March 2020. Each year, the EDU conference convenes nearly 8,000 of the world’s leading educators, academics, school administrators, policymakers, nonprofit and EdTech leaders to discuss the future of education. Attendees are encouraged to ask themselves: What do we want the future of education to look like? And, how do we get there?

With a diverse portfolio of clients, FINN’s PK-12 Education Practice is plugged into a wide range of education issue areas, from curriculum development to STEM education to cutting-edge EdTech and this year’s SXSW EDU featured a number of our clients in high profile roles. Our SXSW EDU team included PK-12 Practice lead Marina Stenos (Senior Partner), as well as Morgan Livingston (Associate Vice President), Isa Perales (Account Supervisor) and Madi Carzon (Senior Account Executive). 

Protecting Kids’ Brains: Of Digital Drugs and Adolescent Brain Development

We kicked off the conference with a workshop on “digital drugs,” as presenters have dubbed smartphones for their potentially harmful role as a gateway to technology addiction. The standing-room-only session featured research, real-world classroom insights and parent perspectives on the harmful long-term effects of excessive device use on adolescent brain development. 

Jim Winston, Ph.D., champion of the Winston Family Initiative and clinical psychologist with a specialization in addiction; Rosa Li, a teaching professor in the department of psychology and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and outreach coordinator for the Winston National Center on Technology Use, Brain, and Psychological Development; and Kelley Brill, a middle school science and technology educator from Miami Country Day School, showcased the addictive power of smartphones and the devastating psychological and neurological effects they can have on today’s youth. 

Across their fields of expertise, the trio have observed changes in interpersonal relationships, difficulty with basic social interactions, a rise in mental health issues, stunted critical thinking and decreased academic performance, among a host of other negative consequences. Their collective theory is that we are living with an unfolding and accelerating crisis as children are being handed smartphones at younger and younger ages. 

Jim, Rosa and Kelley argue that educators and parents are at the forefront of this crisis and can play a pivotal role in protecting children’s brain development. To support educators in this critical task, they developed a media digital literacy curriculum that empowers students to build healthy relationships with their devices, and have issued a call to action to ban smartphones from K-8 schools. 

Legends on Education: Frank Gehry and Doreen Gehry Nelson in Conversation

We supported Doreen Gehry Nelson, creator of the Doreen Nelson Design-Based Learning (DBL) Methodology, as she joined her brother, world-renowned architect and longtime FINN client Frank Gehry, for a keynote session moderated by Liz Willen, executive editor of The Hechinger Report, which was attended by nearly 2,000 participants on the ground and several hundred more virtually. During the keynote, Doreen, Frank and Liz discussed the intersection of design and education, the importance of curiosity and creativity in learning, the power of learning by doing and the importance of nurturing individual expression. 

In today’s classrooms, educators are facing myriad challenges, including burnout, staffing shortages, a “parental-rights” movement, COVID-19 learning recovery and an urgent student mental health crisis. Doreen shared how her DBL methodology empowers teachers as trusted professionals and reignites a passion for teaching, focused on building a city of the future as a vehicle for learning. As educators often find themselves under attack, with their expertise and professionalism called into question, Doreen’s message resonated with the EDU audience who applauded and gave her a standing ovation.  

The conversation even included an unplanned appearance of one of Doreen’s former students, Portia Stots, who was in the first DBL classroom in 1969 and is featured in the DBL documentary, Kid City. Portia, who went on to become a nurse, shared the impact being in that classroom had on her life and inspired the audience with a touching tribute to Doreen, who remains a key figure in her life 50+ years on.

Following the keynote, Doreen signed copies of her book, Cultivating Curiosity: Teaching and Learning Reimagined, at a SXSW EDU-sponsored book signing. Doreen and Frank also recorded a taped SXSW EDU interview hosted by TV personality Kari Byron that touched on a variety of topics from the importance of civics education to the need for more creativity in the classroom. You can stream the interview here

On Wednesday, March 8, we supported Doreen and the DBL team as they led an interactive workshop that gave attendees a chance to build a “City of the Future” and experience Doreen’s methodology firsthand. The session was taught by Dave Cameron, a seasoned high school chemistry teacher from San Gabriel Unified School District who currently uses DBL in his classroom and leads DBL professional development across the District. 

As attendees built their “Austin of the Future,” they worked together–sharing ideas, listening and supporting each other’s creativity and innovation. Admiring the City they built, attendees experienced the power of the methodology in action. The DBL methodology, rooted in the spatial domain, gives students and teachers the space to be creative – naturally fostering curiosity – while teaching all required standards across disciplines, but most of all it creates a sense of self-expression and builds students’ confidence in their own innate abilities. 

SXSW EDU also provides unique opportunities to make connections and explore potential partnerships. During the conference, we were able to secure Doreen an introduction with the U.S. Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, EdD, opening the door for future collaboration.

Anatomy Comes to (Digital) Life

SXSW EDU is a major convener of EdTech pioneers who display and offer interactive experiences during the EDU expo. Our client Anatomage brought anatomy learning out of the textbook into 3D with their Anatomage Table. The Table provides the most technologically advanced 3D anatomy visualization and virtual dissection tool for anatomy and physiology education, allowing students and educators, at the secondary and post-secondary level, to visually explore the human body and its systems in exhaustive detail. 

Anatomage also recently launched its new software, which includes the world’s most comprehensive 3D model of the female reproductive system. The booth, which features technology that is paving the way to build more equitable and inclusive healthcare systems, was one of the most popular on the show floor and created several leads for our clients. 

See more highlights from SXSW EDU 2023 here.

TAGS: Education