Featured Sessions

Featured sessions greatly fuel fundamental conversations at SXSWedu and headline each hour’s collection of sessions. Broadly aligned with trending topics and themes, these celebrated voices offer engaging insights and perspectives.

Check out the listing of speakers already confirmed for the 2015 event below and stay tuned for session details and additional announcements as March approaches.


EdTech for Educational Inclusion

Dr. Christine Johns
Superintendent, Utica Community Schools

LeVar Burton
Co-Founder / Curator-in-Chief, Reading Rainbow

Jessie Woolley-Wilson
Chair, President and CEO, DreamBox Learning

Sehreen NoorAli
Director of Business Development, Noodle
Founder, EdTechWomen

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Christine Johns

Superintendent, Utica Community Schools

Dr. Christine Johns has served as Superintendent of Utica Community Schools since 2006. Under Dr. Johns' leadership, Michigan’s second largest school district has been at the forefront of implementing educational changes to promote a college culture that is focused on the success of every child. UCS students perform at levels above state and national averages.  All four UCS high schools were recently honored as among the best high schools in the nation by Newsweek magazine and the district’s Utica Academy for International Studies (UAIS) was recognized as the state’s most academically challenging school by the Washington Post.

Under Dr. Johns’ leadership, Utica Community Schools has earned a national reputation for the effective use of technology to leverage teaching and learning in district classrooms.

LeVar Burton

LeVar Burton launched his acting career while still a student at the University of Southern California. Cast in the groundbreaking role of Kunta Kinte in the landmark television series “Roots,” at 19 he found himself on the cover of Time Magazine. A seemingly impossible act to follow, Burton managed to do so in dramatic fashion, achieving further global acclaim as Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge in the iconic “Star Trek: The Next Generation” television series and feature films. But it has been his role as host and executive producer of the beloved PBS children’s series “Reading Rainbow” that he is most proud of. Airing from 1983 to 2009, it was not only one of the longest-running children’s television shows in history, but also one of the most acclaimed, earning over 200 awards including multiple Emmys and a Peabody.

Always committed to improving children’s education through innovative uses of storytelling, in 2012 Burton launched RRKidz, a digital educational publishing company, co-founded with business partner Mark Wolfe. Together they hold the global rights to the Reading Rainbow brand through a partnership with series creator, WNED/Buffalo. Reading Rainbow was reimagined to combine today’s forms of media and technology with the goal of inspiring a new generation of children to love reading. The all-new Reading Rainbow is a digital reading service filled with over 400 children’s fiction and non-fiction books, newly produced video field trips and new content added every week. With over 20 million books and videos enjoyed since launch, Reading Rainbow is the number one educational app on iTunes and recipient of numerous awards.

Most recently, Burton turned to Kickstarter to bring Reading Rainbow to “Every Child, Everywhere” -- especially to classrooms in need. The campaign met its 35-day goal of raising $1 million in less than 11 hours, and became the most popular Kickstarter campaign ever with over 105,000 backers and a final tally of over $6.4 million. As a result, RRKidz will soon be launching a new Reading Rainbow EDU version complete with engaging supplemental learning content for teachers and students.

The honored recipient of 12 Emmy Awards, a Grammy and five NAACP Awards, Burton has demonstrated in his career that he can do it all -- acting, directing, producing, writing and speaking. He is often invited as a keynote speaker at leading education and technology events, most recently speaking at NASA, ISTE, The National Headstart Association and many more.

He now enters his fourth decade in the industry, with millions of fans throughout the world, and continues his mission to inspire, entertain and educate.

Jessie Woolley-Wilson

Chair, President and CEO, DreamBox Learning


Jessie Woolley-Wilson is Chair, President and CEO of DreamBox Learning® Inc., the company that pioneered Intelligent Adaptive Learning™, heralded as a “game changer” in the eLearning sector by nationally renowned academic and technology pundits. Jessie brings nearly two decades of experience in K-12 e-learning to DreamBox Learning. Throughout her career in the education technology industry, Jessie has held several leadership roles in leading education companies.

Before joining DreamBox Learning, Jessie was President of the K–12 Group at Blackboard where she led the company’s growth and development for the virtual and blended online learning market. Prior to Blackboard, she was President of LeapFrog SchoolHouse, the schools division of LeapFrog Enterprises, where she established SchoolHouse as a leader in education technology and one of the fastest growing educational software producers in the United States.

Jessie has also held leadership positions at collegeboard.com, the interactive division of the College Board; MyRoad.com, an e-learning company that helps middle school, high school, and college students prepare for college and careers; and Kaplan, the leading test preparation company in the United States.

As an education industry leader, Jessie serves on boards for several organizations including the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL); ASU/GSV Education Innovation Summit; Camelot Education; and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. Locally, Jessie serves on the boards of Islandwood, an environmental learning center that connects children to the outdoors, and Friends of Waterfront Seattle. Jessie also has served as a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Technology and Education and has presented at TEDx Rainier, SXSWedu and DENT. In 2012, she was named to the Forbes “Impact 15” list for being a disruptor of education and honored as a “Woman of Influence” by The Puget Sound Business Journal for making an impact in the education technology industry as well as the community. In 2011, Jessie was spotlighted as a “Best Leaders to Watch” in EdNET’s “Best for 2011,” a peer recognition program.

Jessie received her MBA from Harvard Business School and her BA in English from the University of Virginia. She is a 2007 Henry Crown Fellow of the Aspen Institute.

Sehreen Noor Ali

Director of Business Development, Noodle
Founder, EdTechWomen

Sehreen Noor Ali develops marketing and engagement strategies that enable socially conscious organizations to grow their user base. She currently leads business and partnership development for Noodle and is the founder of EdTechWomen.

She launched her career at the U.S. Department of State where she served on the core team charged with planning and executing President Obama’s vision for people-to-people diplomacy. Sehreen worked closely with the White House to engage local and foreign partners to support flagship initiatives including the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship, the Public Diplomacy Innovation Fund, and the U.S. government's first ever Global Youth Strategy. She also led the product development of the first digital media tool kit to connect the U.S. government directly with Iranian citizens and was personally recognized by President Obama for her work.

Sehreen is a passionate community-builder and was appointed as chairperson of the Aga Khan Youth and Sports Board for the Northeast U.S., founded EdTechWomen, and served on the Technology Council for the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. She worked with and consulted various organizations on education and community engagement, including The Mastercard Foundation, The Clinton Global Initiative, and Tech@State. Sehreen was named one of the Top 99 Leaders Under 33 by Diplomatic Courier in 2013 and has been a Presidential Management Fellow and a Truman National Security Project Fellow.

She publishes and speaks on education, international affairs, and business in several outlets, including the Aspen Institute; HuffPo Live; The Daily Beast; Mic; Harvard Business Review; and the World Islamic Economic Forum. She's a graduate of Brown University and earned her Master's in International Education Policy from Harvard University.



Shiza Shahid

Empowering Girls and Women to Lead

Shiza Shahid
Co-Founder,
Malala Fund

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Shiza Shahid is an entrepreneur and social innovator of Pakistani origin. She is the Co-founder and Global Ambassador for the organization Malala Fund. Shiza has been named one of Time Magazine's 30 under 30 changers and to the Forbes 30 under 30 list of social entrepreneurs. Her work has been covered in multiple publications including Fast Company, Entrepreneur Magazine, Glamour Magazine, Elle, Parade, Town and Country, Forbes, Time, and on networks like ABC, NBC, Al Jazeera, NPR and CNN.

Shiza is on the steering committee of the 30% Club an organization dedicated to getting 30% representation of women in board rooms and in leadership positions by 2020.

Shiza is a gradate of Stanford University where she received a university distinction for he academic standing, and an alum of McKinsey and Company where she worked across the Middle East as a business analyst.



Employers Need More Than Just a Test Score

Linda Darling-Hammond
Faculty Director, Stanford Center of Opportunity

Stephan Turnipseed
President Emeritus and Executive Director of Strategic Partnerships, LEGO Education

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Linda Darling-Hammond

Faculty Director, Stanford Center of Opportunity

Linda Darling-Hammond is Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at Stanford University where she is Faculty Director of the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. She is a former president of the American Educational Research Association and member of the National Academy of Education. Her research and policy work focus on issues of educational equity, teaching quality, and school reform. In 2008, she served as director of President Obama's education policy transition team. Her book, The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity will Determine our Future, received the coveted Grawemeyer Award in 2012.  Her most recent books are Getting Teacher Evaluation Right: What Really Matters for Effectiveness and Improvement (2013) and Beyond the Bubble Test: How Performance Assessments Support 21st Century Learning (2104).

Stephan Turnipseed

President Emeritus and Executive Director of Strategic Partnerships, LEGO Education

Stephan Turnipseed is the President Emeritus of LEGO Education, North America and Executive Director of Strategic Partnerships for LEGO Education. He also serves as the Chairman for The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), a national organization that advocates for 21st century readiness for every student. As part of the global LEGO Education team, he helps to establish the strategic direction for the company, leads advocacy and outreach efforts and is responsible for strategic relationships.  At P21, he leads the council and works with education nonprofits, foundations, and businesses to ensure 21st century education is a reality for all K-12 students within the nation. These skills such as creativity, collaboration, communications and problem solving, are essential for our children to become successful citizens and workers in the 21st century. Turnipseed is a graduate of Auburn University with a degree in electrical engineering.



Higher Education Built by Students for Students

Alisha Fredriksson
Student, Minerva Schools at KGI

Jill Barshay
Contributing Editor, Hechinger Report

Dale Stephens
Founder and CEO, UnCollege

Zak Malamed
Founder, Student Voice

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Alisha Fredriksson

Student, Minerva Schools at KGI

Alisha is a member of the Founding Class at the Minerva Schools at KGI, a new university program reimagining higher education from scratch to be uniquely global, accessible and rigorous. Prior to attending Minerva, Alisha studied at Prince of Wales Mini School and the Mahindra United World College of India. During her two years in India, she pioneered the United World College Project-Based Diploma and completed her IB Diploma, thus becoming a three-time high school graduate. Alisha is a Three Dot Dash Global Teen Leader, a Students on Ice Alumni, and the founder of Seema, a grassroots social enterprise that empowers women in Maharashtra, India through jewelry making.

Jill Barshay

Contributing Editor, Hechinger Report

Jill Barshay is a contributing editor at The Hechinger Report, an independent news service that covers inequities and innovation in education. In her weekly column, Education By The Numbers, she crunches and writes about education data. Previously she was the New York bureau chief for Marketplace, a national business show on public radio stations. Barshay has also written for Congressional Quarterly, The Asian Wall Street Journal, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, The New York Times, the Financial Times and The Economist. She has appeared on CNN, ABC News and C-SPAN and was a podcaster for Slate.

Dale Stephens

Founder and CEO, UnCollege

Dale Stephens is the founder of UnCollege.org. The organization provides gap year programs, workshops, and community resources to self-directed learners. In May 2011, at age nineteen, Stephens was selected out of hundreds of individuals around the world as a Thiel Fellow, a program recognizing the top twenty entrepreneurs around the world under the age of twenty.

Penguin published his first book, Hacking Your Education: Ditch the Lectures, Save Tens of Thousands and Learn More than Your Peers Ever Will, in April 2013. He wrote the book because of his unique perspective on the future of education: he left school at age twelve. He is a sought-after education expert and regularly appears in national and international media including New York Magazine, Forbes, CNN, ABC, NPR, CBS, Fox, and TechCrunch. His writing has been published in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Wired, and Fast Company.

Stephens speaks regularly at high-profile events around the world.

Zak Malamed

Founder, Student Voice

Zak hails from Long Island, New York and is currently a rising junior at the University of Maryland, College Park where he is creating a major in Social Engagement. He is also the founder and Executive Director of Student Voice.



No Struggle, No Progress

Dr. Howard Fuller
Founder and Director,
Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University

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Howard Fuller’s career includes many years in both public service positions and the field of education. Dr. Fuller is a Distinguished Professor of Education, and Founder/Director of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The mission of the Institute is to support exemplary education options that transform learning for children, while empowering families, particularly low-income families, to choose the best options for their children.

Immediately before his appointment at Marquette University, Dr. Fuller served as the Superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools June 1991 - June 1995. Dr. Fuller became nationally known for his unending support for fundamental educational reform.

His prior positions included: Director of the Milwaukee County Department of Health and Human Services 1988 -1991; Dean of General Education at the Milwaukee Area Technical College 1986 - 1988; Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Employment Relations 1983 - 1986; and Associate Director of the Educational Opportunity Program at Marquette University 1979 - 1983. He was also A Senior Fellow with the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University 1995 - 1997.

Dr. Fuller received his B.S. degree in Sociology from Carroll College in Waukesha, Wisconsin, in 1962; M.S.A. degree in Social Administration from Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1964, and his Ph.D. in Sociological Foundations of Education from Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1986.

He has received numerous awards and recognition over the years, including four Honorary Doctorate Degrees: Doctorate of Humane Letters from Carroll College in 1987; Doctorate of Laws from Marian College, Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin in 1992; Doctorate of Business and Economics from Milwaukee School of Engineering in 1995. Doctorate of Humane Letters from Edgewood College, Edgewood College, Madison WI.

He is the Chair of the Board of: The Black Alliance for Educational Options and Milwaukee Collegiate Academy. He also serves on the Board of Milwaukee Region Board of Teach for America, Milwaukee Charter School Advocates and CEE-Trust. He is an Advisory Board member of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and the National Association for Charter School Authorizers.



Preparing Globally Competitive Students

Dr. Dallas Dance
Superintendent,
Baltimore County Public Schools

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S. Dallas Dance, superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) since 2012, oversees the instruction of nearly 110,000 students in 173 schools, centers, and programs, and the work of more than 18,000 employees. Under his direction, BCPS adopted Blueprint 2.0: Our Way Forward, a five‐year strategic plan to improve academics, safety and security, communication, and organizational effectiveness in order to produce globally‐competitive graduates equipped with 21st‐century skills. To that end, Dance is leading the school system’s implementation of Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow (S.T.A.T.), a multi‐year instructional digital conversion, and expansion of world languages instruction to the elementary level.

Since assuming the superintendency, Dance was selected by colleagues in 2014 to serve on the executive committee of the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) for a three‐year term. He also was appointed to the 12‐member board of directors for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and was named one of eight eSchool News Tech‐Savvy Superintendents. In 2013, Dance became one of 10 White House Connected Educator Champions of Change, and in 2014, President Obama appointed Dance to the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans.

Prior to his appointment in Baltimore County, Dance served as one of three chief school officers responsible for the administration of nearly 300 schools in the Houston Independent School District (HISD), the seventh‐largest school system in the nation. Before his tenure in Houston, Dance served in executive leadership positions in Virginia that leveraged his expertise in curriculum, instruction, assessment, school improvement and strategic planning. Dance received his master’s degree in administration and supervision and a doctorate degree in educational leadership from Virginia Commonwealth University. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Virginia Union University.



The Impact of Critical Making

Rosanne Somerson
President,
Rhode Island School of Design

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Rosanne Somerson is a furniture designer/maker, educator, and is RISD’s interim President after serving in the role of Provost and chief academic officer. She simultaneously maintains a robust creative practice, designing and creating furniture for exhibitions and commissions. Additionally, she consults on innovative educational and creative practice for institutions and industry. Her work has been exhibited widely throughout the world and is represented in many prestigious private, corporate, and museum collections. She serves on the board of the Haystack Mountain School, in Maine, the Society of Arts and Crafts, Boston, is a named Fellow of the American Craft Council, and is the subject of an interview that forms part of the Smithsonian Institute Archives of American Art Oral History Program. As a sought-after international lecturer, juror, exhibitor, and evaluator, she applies both local and global perspectives to her work. She has received numerous awards and citations for her work as a designer, artist, and teacher, most recently the Award of Distinction for lifetime achievement in the field of studio furniture by the Furniture Society.



The Learner Driven Revolution

Jeff Sandefer
Co-Founder and Guide,
Acton Academy

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Jeff Sandefer lives a dual life as an entrepreneur and a teacher.  As an entrepreneur, Jeff founded his first company at age 16. A few years ago, he sold the assets of his last company for several billion dollars.

  Business may be his day job, but Jeff’s passion is teaching. As an MBA professor at the University of Texas, Jeff’s students five times voted him the school’s Outstanding Teacher and Businessweek named him one of the top Entrepreneurship professors in America. In 2002 Jeff and a group of entrepreneurs founded the Acton MBA, a program featuring 100 hour work weeks and Navy Seal survival challenges. In 2012 The Economist named him one of the top fifteen business school professors in the world.

  Jeff still teaches in the Acton MBA, but now his full time “day job” is as a middle school teacher at the Acton Academy, K12 school founded by his wife Laura, that is, well, revolutionary. I think you’ll see what I mean in a few minutes.

  Jeff is a graduate of the Harvard Business School, and served for years on boards at the Harvard Business School, National Review magazine and the Philanthropy Roundtable. He is one of the youngest people ever elected to the Texas Business Hall of Fame.