April 28, 2023

Dispatches from SXSW EDU with Joey Tanaka and Beth Williams

This March, Bertschi faculty Joey Tanaka (digital learning specialist) and Beth Williams (second grade teacher) attended the SXSW EDU Conference & Festival in Austin, TX. Joey and Beth had packed days of speakers, roundtables, and workshops covering eye opening, challenging, and exciting topics from Reimagining Culturally Responsive Development to The Promises & Perils of Artificial Intelligence, and a moving discussion with National Teacher of the Year award winners.

We asked Joey and Beth to share what they learned, what’s exciting, and what they hope to bring back to Bertschi from the conference.

Can you talk a little bit about the discussions you had with the other participants in the AI group? What stands out?

Joey: Two absolutely riveting sessions on AI, including one titled Teaching & Learning in the Age of AI by the CEO of, Cameron Wilson and Terah Lyons of the Stanford Institute for Human Centered AI, kicked off by showing just what GPT3.5 (which has now evolved to 4.0) can do, including lessons plans on a subject focused on a specific state standard. Then creating activities to learn this for a class and explaining a key concept in simpler terms. Finally, translating all of this into Spanish. Other examples included summarizing a lengthy article or even a youtube video, into 10 key points, with 3 quotes and 1 take away - all in seconds.

The second session was led by the Stanford, Leticia Britos Cavagnaro and Arlam Mogos and hands down, was the most hands on, insightful session of the entire conference. In true Stanford fashion, we jumped right into how bias can creep into the large datasets in AI by working through a simulation where a sudden teacher shortage required the US to “draft teachers,” much like we draft soldiers during war. What began as a simple simulation soon opened up the complexities of designing rules for AI that determine what makes a “good teacher” and how nuanced and complex the process can be.

Any tangibles from the conference you'll be bringing (or hope to bring) to Bertschi in the near future?

Beth: I was introduced to an exciting app that allows you to draw a basic game (like a maze) and when you input it into the app, it becomes animated and you can play it. While there are some challenges with this particular app, it has some exciting possibilities. I also met with a designer that created a platform that allows students at different schools to share their projects with each other. Schools that may not have the funding to similar technology can also receive money through this platform-very crowdsourcing. It found it interesting because it gives students an opportunity to see something creative or innovative that someone their age did and they can be inspired to do the same. As many schools do not have the funding to try out new technology, this platform is interesting in that it rewards schools for sharing their ideas and in the same process, gives a percentage to schools who need funding to try those ideas. I'm curious to see where it goes.

It seems like advances in technology move faster than ever before. How do you approach these technologies and teaching about the digital world with your students, knowing that the next thing is just around the corner?

Beth: There is always a curiosity about what the next app or machine can do, whether it is saving time, money, or giving students personalized instruction. There is a lot of thought that goes into bringing in technology for student use between trying it out to see how young people are able to use it (convenience or ease of use) or wondering if it is just to be used for fun or if it holds promise of solving a problem that isn't solved another way. There is also a balance to not use tech and have kids ignite their curiosity with paper and cardboard; and feel the same sense of accomplishment there as they do when completing a level of a math game online. I do appreciate when tech companies are able to start thinking about a variety of learners and make adjustments to their apps to allow for more students to either feel seen within those programs or feel successful.

Final thoughts?

Beth: Technology is helping lead education these days and finding ways for every type of learner to succeed and challenge themselves. The trends show that even SEL is finding its way into apps and curriculum. A focus on understanding what gets people motivated and how to keep them motivated can be really helpful within any educational premise.

Interested in experiencing a part of SXSW EDU for yourself? The keynote and featured sessions are available to watch on YouTube.

Read all Bertschi news