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  • Writer's pictureSara Schapiro

Innovating Together: Highlights from ALI at SXSW EDU 2024

Updated: May 2

This year, Alliance for Learning Innovation members and fellow education advocates attended SXSW EDU 2024 in Austin, Texas and gathered to celebrate the early achievements and growth of the coalition. More than 70 leaders from across the education R&D ecosystem came together for this event.


Celebrating the Growth of ALI


A slate of notable speakers shared their hopes to see the coalition continue raising awareness and shape policy to improve education R&D infrastructure. Featured speakers included Deputy Secretary of Education Cindy Marten; Roberto Rodríguez, the Department of Education’s Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development; Michael D. Smith, AmeriCorps CEO; and Denise Forte, President and CEO of the Education Trust. 


Speakers acknowledged ALI’s efforts to create a learner-centered, equitable, and effective education system reinforced with robust and collaborative R&D. In particular, Assistant Secretary Rodríguez stressed the need to work together to infuse education with evidence-based strategies and praised ALI for building a results-oriented, bipartisan community.   


“You have ALI supporters at the federal level,” he said. “We have a big agenda to steward and steer forward in the Biden-Harris administration, but it’s always wonderful to steer that forward together.”



Roberto Rodríguez, Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development in the Department of Education, shares closing remarks at ALI gathering during SXSW EDU



The Power of Partnership


The theme of partnership extended to sessions like “Why Education Needs More Big Bets,” where speakers called for an ambitious approach to innovation, underlining the need to keep pace with other sectors in mobilizing bolder, concerted investments in R&D. John Bailey, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, stressed the current moment of rapid technological development as an opportune one for bringing new voices into the fold, like those in the for-profit community. “If we ever needed a moment in education for a big bet, it’s now,” he said. 


Assistant Secretary Rodríguez further advocated for agile R&D that capitalizes on partnerships to drive experimentation and fuel inclusive innovation—an approach better suited to meet the evolving needs of the teaching and learning community.


“We need a new approach around R&D that’s more nimble, that allows us to test, evaluate, and scale these new solutions, and one that invites in innovators, invites in entrepreneurs, invites in others that are in the field, closer to our educators, schools, partners,” Rodríguez said. 




"Why Education Needs More Big Bets" panel addresses SXSW EDU audience. Panelists from left to right: Titilola Harley (Senior Program Officer, Research and Development, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation); Roberto Rodríguez (Assistant Secretary, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, U.S. Department of Education); Klinton Bicknell (Head of AI, Duolingo); and John Bailey (Nonresident Senior Fellow, American Enterprise Institute). 


In “How Federal Partnerships Are Transforming Ed R&D,” speakers addressed the need to leverage multi-sector connections to strengthen innovator capacities, pool larger investments for greater impact, and ensure that breakthrough solutions reach all learners. 


“We need products out there that will actually move the needle for the problems that are the most challenging and for the most vulnerable learners,” said Sound Town Founder, Aparna Ramanathan.


James Moore III, Assistant Director for the Directorate for STEM Education at the National Science Foundation, added that “talent exists everywhere, but opportunities don’t prevail. So, it’s important that we research some of the most vulnerable places in America.”



“How Federal Partnerships Are Transforming Ed R&D” panelists from left to right: Benjamin Motz (Assistant Professor, Indiana University); Joanna Cannon (Fellow, Walton Family Foundation); Aparna Ramanathan (Founder and CEO, Sound Town); and James L. Moore III (Assistant Director, Directorate for STEM Education, National Science Foundation).


Join the Dialogue


ALI members and friends made appearances on SXSW EDU stages throughout the week to discuss topics such as personalizing learning, increasing access to STEM education, and designing inclusive technology. As the ALI coalition reflects on the insights learned during SXSW EDU, it looks forward to working toward a more innovative, collaborative, and equitable future for education R&D. 


Missed SXSW EDU? Check out this ALI SXSW EDU guide, which features panel descriptions and, for some sessions, links to the audio or video recordings. Sessions highlighted in this guide featured ALI coalition members and/or addressed topics related to ALI’s work.

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