Keynotes and Featured


Keynote speakers are the focal point of each day’s program and showcase leaders extending the frontiers of education. While these sessions vary in topic and theme, all bring to the stage inspired visionaries committed to the future of teaching and learning.

Temple Grandin

Monday, March 7
Helping Different Kinds of Minds Solve Problems

Temple Grandin
Professor of Livestock Behavior & Welfare,
Colorado State University

There are three basic ways that people think differently when solving problems. They are photo realistic, visual thinking like Temple, pattern mathematical, which is the way most engineers think and word verbal thinking. When projects are being designed, people with different ways of thinking have complementary skills.

Ayah Bdeir

Tuesday, March 8
The Role of Maker Ed in Schools

Ayah Bdeir
Founder & CEO,

In this fireside chat with Education Week Editor Sean Cavanagh, littleBits Founder & CEO Ayah Bdeir will discuss the role of maker education in classrooms, libraries and makerspaces. Using examples of students solving real world problems using littleBits and other maker tools, Ayah will argue that maker ed should push beyond career preparation and strive to create active and creative citizens of the world. The session will conclude with an important announcement about a new initiative.

Jane McGonigal

Wednesday, March 9
How to Think (and Learn) Like a Futurist

Jane McGonigal
Director of Games Research & Development,
Institute for the Future

Best known for her work as a pioneering game designer and author of the bestselling books Reality is Broken and SuperBetter, Jane McGonigal, PhD, has also spent the past decade working as a futurist. In this playful one-hour master class, you’ll learn the three most important techniques of future forecasting, while taking a tour of five of the most surprising potential futures for education in the next decade. The final 15 minutes of this session will be devoted to playing a collaborative future forecasting game that Jane has designed just for the SXSWedu community—you won’t want to miss it!

Featured Sessions

Featured Speakers are broadly aligned with trending topics discussed at the event. Featured Sessions headline each hour of programming and are celebrated daily to highlight prominent voices that will deliver engaging insights on a variety of leading issues in education.

Effective SEL: From Classroom to Community

Jessica Berlinski Jeremy Richman Joan Duffell Joseph Erardi

Jessica Berlinski CIO, Personalized Learning Games
Jeremy Richman CEO, The Avielle Foundation
Joan Duffell Executive Director, Committee for Children/Second Step
Joseph Erardi Superintendent, Newtown School District

Kids come to school with a lot of feelings: fear, anxiety, abandonment and confusion. Educators teach SEL skills like empathy, persistence and problem-solving to support them, but too often kids find themselves on playgrounds, sports teams and even in homes where these skills are not valued or modeled. In this session, the panelists will share the four key components of Spark, a community-wide SEL initiative currently being implemented in Newtown, CT, including in-person SEL training, game-based assessment and personalized skill-building, community and parent training and brain health education. They will share how the components work together, how the speakers are ensuring they work and how these tactics can work for you!

Scott Ellis

Indiana Jones and the Journey of Innovation

Scott Ellis
CEO, The Learning Accelerator

America is on a journey of innovation to catalyze blended learning in schools nationwide. Join Scott Ellis, CEO of The Learning Accelerator, for a discussion of the progress we have made and what comes next: we have cultivated the enablers for scale like Internet connectivity and professional development, and over the coming months the focus will be on transforming teaching and learning in the classroom and then measuring impact. Bonus: discover how Indiana Jones will show us the path forward!

How Universities are Crowdsourcing Innovation

Bernadette Gray-Little Chancellor, University of Kansas Mark Becker President, Georgia State University Michael Crow President, Arizona State University Paul Fain Editor, Inside Higher Ed

Bernadette Gray-Little Chancellor, University of Kansas
Mark Becker President, Georgia State University
Michael Crow President, Arizona State University
Paul Fain Editor, Inside Higher Ed

There was some eye rolling when 11 major public research universities (a sector normally competing in rankings and football) announced they were going to come together and share their successes and failures in order to scale innovation. Collaboration in education has often undelivered. But two years later, these 11 schools have developed a proven method to source and scale innovation. Come learn how 11 seeming “frenemies” are closing the innovation gap to serve their students. They’ll talk about how they’re quickly testing new technologies and approaches, sharing what’s working, and deploying successful ideas across some of the largest universities in the country.

Can the Finnish Education Miracle be Replicated?

 Saku Tuominen Pasi Sahlberg

Saku Tuominen Creative Director, SCOOL
Pasi Sahlberg Professor of Practice, Harvard University

For over a decade the Finnish education system has been a destination for thousands of practitioners, researchers and politicians. They have visited Finnish schools to find out what makes Finland one of the best performing education nations in the world. In this session, panelists will explain the basics of Finland’s educational success, consider what others can learn from the Finns and introduce HundrED, an ambitious education project creating 100 scalable educational innovations and sharing them for free with the world.

Max Ventilla Founder and CEO, AltSchool

Silicon Valley + Education = Real Change?

Max Ventilla
Founder & CEO, AltSchool

Why does Silicon Valley think it can impact education? With over $1.6 billion invested in EdTech companies in the first half of 2015 alone, leading technologists and venture capitalists are placing a big bet on education. Max Ventilla, Founder/CEO of AltSchool, will discuss applying a startup mindset to schools, empowering educators to become 21st century knowledge workers, bringing entrepreneurism into the classroom, and using technology that’s not screen time.


Education, Development, and Peace in Afghanistan

Sakena Yacoobi
Founder and CEO, Afghan Institute of Learning

Laureate of the 2015 WISE Prize for Education, Dr. Sakena Yacoobi will share her inspirational experience in rebuilding Afghanistan’s educational landscape in the past two decades. Blending storytelling and lessons learned, Dr. Yacoobi will unveil a fascinating and challenging life story, which echoes that of her country and people. From working in refugee camps in Pakistan to supporting underground schools during the Taliban regime until today, Dr. Yacoobi’s groundbreaking and visionary approach has empowered 12 million Afghans through education.

Can Hip Hop Save Us? Youth & School Culture

James Miles Brian Mooney Audra the Rapper John Robinson

James Miles Fresh Professor, Urban Arts Partnership
Brian Mooney Educator, Scholar, Poet, Teachers College, Columbia University
Audra the Rapper Emcee, Concept Artist
John Robinson Emcee & Producer, Water The Plants / Hip Hop Motivation

Regardless of one’s nationality, ethnicity, and/or social class, everyone is familiar with, and has knowledge of, hip hop. Yet, hip hop culture, which is youth culture, is stigmatized, marginalized and prohibited from school settings. If youth culture is deemed irrelevant, does that affect their academic achievement and their self worth? Is there a correlation to the high school graduation rate? This panel includes teachers, professors, and popular rappers who will pose this essential question: Can hip hop’s presence in social media and pop culture be leveraged to prepare students for careers and college?

Tim King

10 & Change: Changing the Narrative for Black Boys

Tim King
Founder & CEO, Urban Prep Academies

In 2006, Tim King opened the first Urban Prep campus with a simple goal: improve the educational outcomes for African-American males. Since then, Urban Prep has achieved a 100% college acceptance rate for its graduates, grown from one school to a network of schools, created an innovative program supporting college students, launched a workforce development program and served over 2,000 young African-American males. On the 10th anniversary of opening the first school, Tim reflects on his journey as an educator, what it took to build the country’s first network of public charter high schools for boys and the secret to Urban Prep's success. (Hint: there's no secret)!

Igniting a Practice Revolution

Barbara Jenkins Superintendent, Orange County Public Schools Damon Williams Senior Vice President and Chief Education Officer, Boys & Girls Clubs of America David Coleman President and CEO, The College Board Sal Khan Founder and CEO, Khan Academy

Barbara Jenkins Superintendent, Orange County Public Schools
Damon Williams Senior Vice President and Chief Education Officer, Boys & Girls Clubs of America
David Coleman President and CEO, The College Board
Sal Khan Founder and CEO, Khan Academy

As with any endeavor a student pursues – chess, violin, or skateboarding – the key to success on the SAT is dedicated practice. At SXSWedu 2014, the College Board announced plans for a new SAT, including an unprecedented partnership with Khan Academy to offer a free, personalized practice platform. Today, every student with access to the internet has access to world-class tools for focused and productive SAT practice. This has dramatic implications for equity in our world. Join panelists as they discuss how they teamed up to ignite a practice revolution that empowers students with the skills to do their best on the SAT, in college, and beyond.

Steve Mesler

Teaching Students to Think Like an Olympian

Steve Mesler
Co-Founder & President, Classroom Champions

Mentoring has long been known to demonstrably change outcomes for at-risk students. But what if the role model charged with mentoring students was the best in the world at their chosen field? Steve Mesler, three time Olympian and Olympic Gold medalist, co-founded an ecosystem that creates just that. Classroom Champions, an international mentoring and character development nonprofit, flips the classic mentoring model on its head. Steve will discuss how, through partnerships with educators, mentors can create powerful one-to-many mentoring relationships between the world’s greatest athletes and classrooms in underserved communities across North America.

Closing Program

The Closing Program features a lineup of thought-provoking presenters designed to wrap up the many fruitful conversations shared at SXSWedu. This engaging series of speakers highlights a variety of perspectives on the power of education to inspire and impact.

Check back for updates regarding the 2016 SXSWedu Closing Program as March approaches.