Friday, March 18, 2016

3 Takeaways From the SXSWedu Conference

Digital courseware and other tools that aim to "personalize" the college experience were all the talk at the SXSWedu conference here last week — along with at least a few voices warning that colleges have so far failed to adequately inform students of how those innovations are being used to track students’ activities. The four-day event, an offshoot of the popular South by Southwest music and film festival, brought together some 10,000 participants from all walks of education: teachers and professors, administrators and policy wonks, and publishers and ed-tech company officials. There were even a few actual students in the mix.

Here are three trends that emerged from conversations among people attending: 

Colleges Need to Better Explain New Data Tracking Colleges are using courseware and advising systems powered by tools that track student activities electronically as they work their way through a course — and in some cases, around the campus itself — via their student IDs. But the norms of the new learning environments are still evolving. That’s true for how the systems interact with students, with professors, and with the designers of courses. 

"What’s the contract that actually exists between the institution and the learner" that spells out "what is shared and with whom and how?" asked Phillip D. Long, associate vice provost for learning sciences and deputy director of the center for teaching and learning at the University of Texas at Austin. In a session on data in education, Mr. Long said colleges have "failed miserably" in letting students understand how deep the "the wake of their digital presence" runs. "We have the obligation to make this more transparent."

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