The Digital Campus

The Digital Campus

SXSWedu – Day 1 Highlights: Online Education & Big Data

Credit: SXSWedu

You might have heard about SXSW. It started out as a music festival and has now grown into an Interactive, Music, and Film mega annual event in Austin, Texas. This year, I decided to attend SXSWedu to focus on education and technology on the eve of the big SXSW interactive conference (March 7-11, 2013).

The conference opened today,  Monday, March 4, and so far the highlights have been the panels on online education and big data.

Online Education: Will it Make us Smarter? The panel included representatives from Udemy, Course Hero, and InstaEDU, moderated by Gigaom’s Ki Mae Heussner. Key messages from the panel:

  • Instructors in these online platforms are not necessarily trained teachers. Platform providers use certain criteria to ensure these instructors have the skills to teach.
  • Instructional designers work alongside instructors, especially those with no formal teaching experience,  to make sure material is fit for teaching.
  • Copyright is the responsibility of the teacher. Platform providers will react to complaints but will not actively review material.
  • Student feedback throughout and after the course is the most important way to rank teachers and courses.
  • Nobody has yet figured out the winning business model.
  • Udemy’s Dinesh Thiru best on two biz models: 1. Users will pay for high quality content; and 2. Accreditation and certification schemes by which a platform’s course is required course for admission, certification, or as a way to gaining credits for graduation.
  • The panel agreed that in the near future the focus will be on building the ecosystem: broadening the reach of content, lowering costs, and improving the quality of the content.
  • Below a quick highlight of the panel featuring Andrew Grauer, CEO of Course Hero.
  • For the nitty gritty details read these comprehensive notes.
Is Student Data Education’s Next Frontier? This was the most interesting panel I’ve attended so far and dealt with the role of big data and the potential benefits it could bring to drive innovation in education. Key messages of the panel:
  • Students could greatly benefit from data to make better decisions about college, course of study, and more. But it’s disorganized and fragmented.
  • Schools could also benefit from student data, but the same problem applies.
  • There are a lot of privacy concerns for student data and making it available.
  • There’s a need for a rational discussion on opening up student data.
  • Inbloom and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have worked very hard to create standards to facilitate data sharing.
  • But there’s great use for aggregated data, as LinkedIn’s Christina Allen pointed out.
  • Linked holds a great deal of useful data for education.
  • For example, it can show students a career curriculum, by which they could see the opportunities available for professional in certain fields.

Richard Culatta from the U.S. Department of Education summarized potential benefits of big data very well in the video below:


Putting all these big questions aside, I kept thinking about Christina Allen’s point (see last bullet above) that concerns all The Digital Campus participants: Prospective students judge your school by the career achievements of your alumni they find on LinkedIn.


  • Are you engaging with alumni via LinkedIn?
  • Are you helping your graduating students set up LinkedIn profiles to help them get jobs and stay connected with your school?
  • Are you enabling connections between graduating students and alumni?
  • Are you educating students on how they can use LinkedIn to help them get an internship or a job?

I leave you with that thought while I look forward to another day full of ideas and brilliant speakers at SXSWedu.

Author: Florencia Prada

Florencia Prada is the Head of Digital Marketing at swissnex San Francisco. While she loves all things tech, she tries hard not to get carried away by shiny objects and new ideas that are all too pervasive in Silicon Valley.

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