Earlier this month, the streets of Austin, Texas buzzed with innovation and creativity as the global community converged for the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) festival. Artists, technologists, entrepreneurs, industry leaders, and enthusiasts of all stripes enjoyed nine days of discovery, celebrating the latest in tech, film, music, education, and culture.

Ahura AI had a presence at SXSW this year as well. It was an incredible opportunity to engage with trailblazers in the AI and edtech sectors and explore the emerging trends, challenges, and opportunities that are shaping the future of education – from K-12 to university and beyond.

Our own co-founder and COO, Alex Tsado, and our Director of Learning Experience Design, Maria Laws, had the privilege of participating in the SXSW EDU conference and were also featured on the Grit Daily podcast on site. Here are some highlights and insights from their time at the festival!

Empowering Future Leaders Through AI Education

During his presentation titled “Building the Next Gen of Black AI Leaders,” Tsado discussed the importance of engaging diverse learners to bridge the AI divide between richer and poorer countries and communities. This AI gap otherwise threatens to exacerbate wealth inequality and racial and other inequities.

In his work with Alliance4AI, an organization dedicated to promoting AI adoption and innovation across Africa, Tsado aims to foster education and policy development for marginalized communities everywhere. He and his team developed an approach – backed by research and real-world insights – that revolves around six key concepts:

  1. The best way to learn is to teach. Studies show that students who teach their peers demonstrate increased levels of confidence, motivation, learning satisfaction, and academic performance.
  1. Book clubs transform learning outcomes. It doesn’t have to be just about books, however. What’s important is to get together with peers to discover new content and new ideas and genres, gain a sense of accountability, and hear others’ perspectives and interpretations – which ultimately deepens understanding.
  1. Global networks unlock incredible opportunities. Using apps and online platforms (even something as simple as Facebook groups or Zoom calls) to facilitate international connections enables students to drastically expand their learning opportunities and professional networks. In this way, geographical barriers can be overcome.
  1. A mentor’s belief in their students is invaluable to the students’ success. There’s an extra level of support that mentors provide to those they believe can do well. Some strategies that can help: a) encourage learning as a journey, with positive, future-oriented feedback; b) celebrate milestones of progress, not just outcomes; c) join communities of practice and identify when biases emerge so you are able to reverse them.
  1. Self-motivation delivers growth. Nurture students by teaching beyond conventional subjects to include inspiring historical narratives – particularly those of leaders and innovators of color that are underrepresented in history books. Showcase the achievements of a diverse range of contemporary AI leaders as well, to help fuel motivation and ambition.
  1. When students are motivated, don’t slow them down. Get out of their way! It’s never been easier to innovate – so let them explore, apply their knowledge, make mistakes, and try again.

The ultimate goal is for young people and underserved groups across the globe to emerge as AI leaders of the future, building creative AI solutions and transforming their communities for the better.

Bringing Impact to the Real World

Another crucial element in the realm of K-12 / university / workforce learning is proving the efficacy of educational tools and strategies – and then implementing them in the real world with an eye toward impact and equity.

At SXSW, Maria Laws participated in a roundtable session called “Leading Impact-Oriented Research.” One discussion point was how researchers can partner with industry to create better, more accessible tools that deepen learning among all age groups and backgrounds. Laws was one of the four university education researchers SXSW Mentors that led the session.

There was much to talk about with respect to AI-powered edtech – and also how to develop AI leaders and champions from both educators and executives. Often there are obstacles to engagement that must be identified and navigated around.

Laws and Tsado covered this topic, among others, during their appearance on a special episode of the Grit Daily Startup Show podcast recorded live at SXSW.

Demystifying AI and Cultivating Confidence

As Laws pointed out on the show, there’s “a lot of unease around AI.” When talking with business professionals and K-12 education leaders in her work with Ahura AI, she and the rest of the team would often have to address the “elephant in the room” – that is, acknowledge people’s anxieties about AI, so they can envision its promise for the future.

But getting over that first speedbump invariably proved fruitful. When people are given “time to sit, breathe, and work with AI,” Laws noted, they “start to brainstorm and unpack and apply it with their teammates, [and] go from there.”

Tsado added, “It’s from trying out the [AI] tools that they actually get convinced that these tools can provide enough value for them to start using them. And there’s also bigger ‘aha’ moments for them when they learn that it’s not just ChatGPT – there [are] so many more tools out there.”

The fast-paced advancements in AI technology and the constant expansion of AI tools open up continuous learning possibilities. Laws summed it up nicely:

The beauty of emerging technologies is [that] it’s a very democratized space. There isn’t one single expert. […] You want this to be a door opening, a start to a pathway – a mindset that really matches what AI is. It’s not a set of directions to use a tool; it’s a conversation. We’re wanting you to be in conversation with each other and in conversation with the technology.

It’s truly about investment: investing the time and effort, and being vulnerable, to try new and challenging things and engage in open dialogue and exploration – which is what learning is all about.

Leveraging AI for Learners of All Ages

These conversations at SXSW echoed a panel discussion that Laws contributed in previously, called “Tomorrow’s Skills Today: Preparing Students for an AI World”, as a K12 education expert/thought leader to share insights specifically about AI within the K12 ecosystem.

Along with host Morgan Joseph of K-12 curriculum resource company Wayfinder, Laws was joined by business strategist Packy McCormick of Not Boring and Nathaniel Manning, co-founder and COO of AI-powered insurance firm Kettle and Senior AI Advisor + Presidential Innovation Fellow at Wayfinder.

The panelists touched on topics and themes similar to those at SXSW. For instance, they talked about curiosity, collaboration, and adaptability; being a lifelong learner; finding purpose in the age of AI; identifying and developing the skills that people will need to be successful in the future; and how to make learning accessible to everyone.

In particular, conversation centered around how AI can be leveraged to help learners of all ages improve their critical thinking skills and understand complex topics through highly engaging, personalized instruction.

The Power of Inquiry in AI Learning

As Manning put it, “The best thing that kids can take away from education now is how to ask questions.” Figuring out what to ask and how to ask it is a fundamental skill that will take learners far, both in the classroom and beyond – especially when engaging with AI.

One standout message from the panel was the importance of teachers helping their students become adept at using AI tools. As Laws expressed, kids “don’t have to wait until they’re in the workforce.” In fact, it’s crucial for them to “lean in and build those skills now.”

She expanded on this idea, noting that there’s a similar need for business leaders to embrace becoming learners themselves. As AI continues to disrupt the world of work, business leaders need to “understand the power of [AI] and have strategies around it” moving forward.

Transforming Learning: From Classroom to Boardroom

The insights from SXSW 2024 highlighted the potential of artificial intelligence to redefine learning and educational paradigms.

At Ahura AI, we stand at the forefront of this transformation. Our personalized AI-driven education platform is accessible to all and enhances key skills like digital literacy, critical thinking, and adaptive leadership. These competencies are vital for global impact and for equipping individuals and businesses to navigate the challenges of the future.

We invite you to discover what our AI-based learning platform can do for you. As we prepare for an AI-integrated future, let us embrace this journey together and shape a world where everyone, everywhere, can thrive in the AI era.