Posted on: 3/17/2023

Highlights of SXSW EDU 2023

Creativity as a Path to the Future


Last week I attended SXSW EDU 2023. The conference is one of the premier events for educators, policymakers, and industry leaders to come together and discuss the latest trends, ideas, and innovations in global education. The conference featured an exciting lineup of keynote speakers, panel discussions, and workshops that explored a wide range of topics, from the use of technology in the classroom to the future of education in a rapidly changing world.

One of the keynote speeches I found most interesting was by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry (still going strong at age 94) and his sister Doreen Gehry Nelson, Professor Emerita Cal State Poly and Founding Director of Design-Based Learning at UCLA, about design-based learning. Designed-based learning is a teaching method where K-12 students at any level build a city of the future together. It’s a methodology of self-expression that inspires intuition, self-expression, and creativity. Teachers can use the project to not only teach language arts and math, but to also teach about ecology, the environment, energy, civics, social-emotional learning, and more.

The presentation included great film footage of Frank and Doreen together in a classroom with first grade students in the early 1970s. The students work together to elect a mayor. A helicopter arrives with an injured person. How to get that person to the hospital? The kids think, “oh my gosh, we forgot to include transportation in our city!” Doreen commented, “when you release the creative spirit in human beings, they begin to think for themselves.” Frank had a great quote: “The power to imagine is the path to a better, richer, more equitable society for all.”

The power to imagine is the path to a better, richer, more equitable society for all. 

Frank Gehry

Another highlight of the conference was a series of panel discussions about how the rapid pace of technological change is transforming the world of work and what implications this has for education. A theme throughout these discussions was that the traditional model of education in which students learn a set of skills that they will use throughout their careers is no longer sufficient. Instead, students need to develop “21st-century skills” such as critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration that will enable them to adapt to the constantly changing demands of the workplace, (pointing to the relevance of the design-based learning discussed by the Gehrys).

One of the most exciting trends in education that was discussed at the conference was the use of generative artificial intelligence like ChatGPT and DALL*E 2. ChatGPT can respond to text-based queries in natural language and is being used to write essays and pass exams. DALL*E 2 can create realistic images and art from a description in natural language. Many learning institutions have banned AI, but the presentations at SXSWedu largely centered on what a tremendous leap forward AI is in terms of being an educational tool and how it can be used to ignite creativity. The presenters discussed how these technologies can be used to personalize learning experiences for individual students, providing them with tailored feedback and resources that meet their unique needs and preferences, and how AI can potentially be positioned to be a “smart teaching assistant” in the classroom. They also explored the ethical and policy implications of using AI in education, emphasizing the need for transparency, accountability, and human oversight to ensure that these technologies are used in ways that are fair and equitable.

Overall, SXSW EDU 2023 was an exciting and informative event that highlighted some of the most pressing issues facing education today, as well as the most innovative and promising solutions to these challenges. Whether through the use of artificial intelligence, the development of 21-st century skills, or the implementation of programs to promote equity and access, the educators, policymakers and industry leaders who attended the conference demonstrated a deep commitment to ensuring that all students have the opportunity to think creatively, succeed and thrive in a rapidly changing world.


Elizabeth Garzarelli