Conference Observations and Highlights
By David Bailis, STEM Content Director, Westchester K-12 Publishing Services
Kevin Gray and I recently attended the SIIA conference in Washington, D.C. It was my first time attending the conference, so I did not know what to expect. I was pleased to find the SIIA community is very tight-knit but also quite welcoming. The focus of the SIIA conference is to bring people in the Ed Tech industry together to learn more about what others in the industry are doing, and we were able to meet a lot of important players at this conference.
Fostering the idea of collaboration and building the industry as a whole, we participated in two engaging networking activities. The first was a Speed Networking session (sponsored by Westchester K-12), which was an excellent opportunity to break the ice with other conference attendees. Though the interactions were brief, we were paired with potential clients, partners, and resources, enriching our network and providing an expanded view of the ed tech publishing world. The second session was a curated networking opportunity hosted by Educational Systemics in which we were paired with like-minded companies, either in consulting or client-vendor roles. This session was helpful in facilitating conversations and finding intersection points that we might not have otherwise uncovered.
I thought many of the sessions we attended were both interesting and thought-provoking. There was such a wide variety of topics, including artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, the intricate process of founding an Ed Tech startup company, as well as many others.
One of the sessions we attended was led by Phaedra Boinodiris, the Senior Strategy Lead Ed Tech for IBM and the Watson system. The main topic of conversation was about how artificial intelligence is being implemented in many different ways in education technology projects. One use case Phaedra gave was about how a small school in Texas is using a Minecraft mod to teach the students about epidemiology and the human immune system. Using the game, the students were able to go inside the human body and fight diseases which the software spawned using AI. This amazing use of gaming education was just one of the ways that teachers across the country are using similar applications to teach content in more interesting ways for their students.
Another session on how augmented and virtual reality are being used in education was led by Lisa Casteneda, the co-founder and CEO of foundry10, and Jussi Kajala, the chairman and COO of 3DBear. They shared that many studies have been done which seem to indicate that AR and VR have a positive effect on student performance, as well as student engagement. While the cost of VR equipment is currently high, more and more teachers are using it in their classrooms. Lisa and Jussi also shared some of the many ways teachers are using AR to explore virtually, such as creating a more welcoming school environment or “visiting” a location that would be impossible to experience otherwise, such as the South Pole or Mars!
A third session covered the process through which a startup edtech company could be established. Santeri Koivisto founded MinecraftEdu, a system that helps teachers use Minecraft to teach students a variety of content in classrooms all over the world. He spoke about his experiences coming up with an idea, finding funding, and eventually selling his company to Microsoft. Most of my personal experience is based in creating or teaching content, so it was both interesting and exciting for me to learn how Santeri was able to take the steps needed to make his business dreams a reality.
Additionally, Kevin participated in a break-out session on investing in Content vs. Platform. He shared the stage with Blackboard, myON, and a teacher representative. Each shared their unique vantage points about the buy/build/partner decisions that major players in the market have to make with regards to content creation and online delivery. Having a teacher on the panel also helped ground the discussion in the end users in the classrooms.
Kevin and I found the tenor of the conference was rather collaborative, with the attendees seeking each other out to discover ways to work together to meet their business goals. We came away from the conference with many new connections and potential opportunities to work with companies we hadn’t previously known about, and are looking forward to attending next year!
If you attended the conference, what sessions did you find to be the most informative? Share your thoughts in the comment section below, or email me at David.Bailis@westchesterk12pubsvcs.com.