A not-so-quiet giant, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a force in education reform and education technology. So Bill Gates’ closing keynote was closely watched at the SXSWedu conference in Austin, an event focused on education and technology.
Though it had some new observations, as I write in my GeekWire column, the keynote broke no new ground. What was most interesting is that it provided a lens through which to view both Gates’ efforts and a core SXSWedu trend: the growing importance of education data.
Gates spoke as the better-known SXSW (“south-by-southwest,” for the uninitiated) conferences on the interactive, film and music industries were about to begin, with shrink wrap freshly applied to lamp posts and bus shelters to prevent damage from the coming posters, paint and — as locals matter-of-factly informed me — urine.
A couple of interesting tidbits about Gates’ talk that I didn’t capture in my GeekWire piece:
- Gates received an unusual standing ovation from sections of the packed ballroom — but it came after he was introduced by SXSWedu’s Ron Reed as “an Edison of our age” and took the stage. Three was no equivalent ovation as he left.
- Gates took no questions after the keynote. This, too, was unusual for a SXSWedu speaker. Even former Pearson CEO Marjorie Scardino, who keynoted last year, took a number of questions. And Pearson arguably is as controversial in education as the Gates Foundation.
For a more general overview of SXSWedu and the role of data in education, listen to the GeekWire Radio podcast as I co-host with GeekWire’s Todd Bishop and feature guest Chancellor Jean Floten of WGU-Washington. WGU is the fully online, accredited Western Governors University and a pioneer in web higher education. Floten provides a good perspective.
Finally, a caveat. That Reuters story about SXSWedu and data? While I’m quoted in it, my quote actually had nothing to do with the main thrust of the piece, the Gates-funded student data initiative inBloom. The reporter and I didn’t discuss inBloom but we did talk about the overheated space of technology startups in education, and my comment wound up where it did when the story was edited. Still, in a general startup context, that quote is worth repeating here:
“The hype in the tech press is that education is an engineering problem that can be fixed by technology,” said Frank Catalano of Intrinsic Strategy, a consulting firm focused on education and technology. “To my mind, that’s a very naive and destructive view.”
With that as a caution in light of the very real positive potential of education data and technology, read my column, “Bill Gates at SXSWedu: the future of education is data,” at GeekWire.