AUSTIN (KXAN) — SXSW EDU officially launched on Tuesday morning, the three-day event preceding the full SXSW conference, specifically tailored for educators across the globe.

The event is being held virtually this year as a precaution due to COVID-19, but the producers have developed a robust schedule filled with keynote speakers and thoughtful presentations on academia and the advancement of learning.

One of the biggest headliners on Tuesday was a discussion with media mogul Oprah Winfrey and child psychiatrist Dr. Bruce Perry as they “explore the impact of childhood trauma on who we become, the decisions we make, and how healing must start with one question: ‘What happened to you?’

Other keynote speakers include First Lady Dr. Jill Biden and Hollywood action star Chris Evans.

Organizers had to scale back the conference to compliment the change to a virtual environment. The number of sessions have been cut to around 150. Usually there are around 500 sessions to choose from. There’s also one less day.

“We know our audience of educators are juggling life and virtual learning and so we wanted to provide a really cohesive experience for them to access the content,” said executive producer and director Ron Reed. “It’s been a fun challenge to re-envision how to support our community online after so many years of bringing them together in person.”

Reed said the conference has added more “intentionality” to its programming. Speakers are focusing on a lot of issues that were prevalent over the last year, including equity and justice, workforce rescaling and emerging tech.

There are sessions which focus on all levels of learning, from pre-k, k-12, higher education, workforce development and professional development.

Some educators told KXAN they were excited SXSW EDU was being held virtually this year. A physics and astronomy teacher in Massachusetts, Greg Schwanbeck said he can participate this year when in years past, he was never able to take time off from his job to travel to Austin.

“Going virtual gives me a one-off chance to attend,” Schwanbeck said. “I want to learn how to better build/support/integrate equity into STEM education, and I want to get a sense of where education is going & what trends are developing, especially post-pandemic.”

Others are missing the opportunity to network in-person, but said they are offered the ability to connect over chatrooms. Each attendee has a personal profile where they can add their contact information and express their personal interests for others to see and react to.

“I think [SXSW EDU is] trying very hard to be flexible which is just like what all of us teachers here at AISD are doing over the past year. It’s about being flexible! It’s about learning on the go and trying your best,” said Joslin Elementary School teacher Alasin Deveny.

SXSW EDU will conclude the evening of March 11. The SXSW music festival is also online from March 16-20.

Reach KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello by email at or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.