ASU+GSV, the “Go-To” Conference for PreK-Gray

By Rachel Langenhorst, Instructional Coach and Tech Integrationist, Rock Valley School District (IA)

View from the audience at an ASUGSV 2021 event

There is nothing quite like San Diego. You can’t beat the perfect weather, the sun-soaked beaches, and delicious local foods. That is, until you bring the ASU+GSV Summit to this California paradise. Normally hosted in April, but bumped this year to host a vaccinated August crowd, the ASU+GSV Summit brings together people from all sectors of business and education.

Before my first Summit, I had no idea what sort of benefit a conference of this nature would have to a lowly educator from the Midwest. I went. I presented. I toured. I engaged in the conversations. And you know what? People listened. They cared. Together, we were a force for change. Four years later, I can’t imagine what life was like before ASU+GSV. Yes, it really is that great.

After being held as an online-only event last year, we eagerly anticipated the chance to see human faces in person. By adhering to strict protocols that met or exceeded state and national guidelines, the ASU+GSV team worked tirelessly to provide top-notch programming, even during ongoing pandemic concerns. This allowed me to safely participate in a game-changing conference responsibly. I was still able to have the conversations, meet new people, experiment with new education products, and listen to extraordinary speakers who are, in myriad ways, changing the planet for good.

I had several key takeaways from this year’s program. My head was spinning with keywords like “digital fluidity,” “as-if experiences,” and “upskill” all centered around workplace readiness and the fallacy that a college degree guarantees a great employee. Over and over, presenters spoke of experiential learning and landed on the idea that the best way to create the workers we want is by training them ourselves to be the workers we want. Didactic methods and daily learning are key to growth from the ground up, but it can come with or without a college diploma.

The real training is boots-on-ground and requires focused work on specific skill sets. This work could be further pinpointed through “calendar auditing,” which was a suggestion of one speaker. By determining how your time was allocated, you could examine whether or not your tasks align with your goals. Make small changes to your daily habits by utilizing the technology in your hand (Thanks, Apple, for iPhone Focus Mode). 

The overarching theme was the dynamism and rapid acceleration of change due to the pandemic, which has employees and educators alike scrambling like never before to make learning meaningful, timely, and flexible. We learned a lot about ourselves and our work and school environments over the past year and a half. Many will never step foot in an office again. Some students found that online learning better met their needs. School systems and businesses are, quite honestly, being forced to take a hard look at old practices in favor of practices that are significantly more efficient and best utilize the people they serve. More passions, less inboxes. More projects, less checkboxes.

Happiness comes when people are appreciated for pushing for their potential. This coincides with the work of Shawn Achor, a Harvard researcher, who came to the conclusion that happiness comes when we stop setting our happiness bars to the next big thing, just beyond our reach. Everyone can make small changes now, whether in school or at work, as a student or a CEO, to ensure their own success.

Some of this passion and career-oriented work was witnessed in my ASU+GSV-sponsored school tour. Educators and education leaders are given the unique opportunity to participate in a school tour as a part of our Summit experience. My choice was a Cajon Valley middle school. Being early August, I was a little unsure if, perhaps, I’d be walking into an empty building. To my delight, the building was bustling with summer school students diligently completing tasks in alignment with their career passions, interests, and standards.

I had the opportunity to engage with these students. This was no smokeshow prepared for planned guests. These students were articulate, conscientious, and able to answer pointed questions about what they were doing and why. They demonstrated a keen awareness of what makes them tick and what they hope to accomplish in school and life. Through experiences like this, ASU+GSV has afforded me the opportunity to peer through the lens of an accomplished district and take away fresh ideas, inspiration, and motivation.

Beyond the celebrity speakers and high-powered business owners, you’ll see a smattering of start-ups and entrepreneurs trying to make waves of their own. This particular facet of ASU+GSV is, honestly,  a genius business move. Investors come seeking innovation and profits. Entrepreneurs come seeking backing and connections with end users. Educators have the opportunity to offer perspective and product ideas while also getting that early peek into what’s up and coming. Everyone wins with this approach. In my various roles in K-12 and higher ed, I hunt for companies offering a solution that fills a niche that is, in my opinion, underserved or underdeveloped. 

Communication tools and personalized career-prep education platforms had my eye. Of particular interest were Beable, a 2021 SIIA Codie Winner, which touts itself as “K-12’s first life-ready literacy system.” In short, it’s a literacy acceleration and content mastery platform that uses the RIASEC model to help students identify possible career paths and awareness of their social-emotional needs. I had the chance to see this in action at Cajon Valley and was able to ask students about specific details of the platform and tasks they were completing. The feedback was resoundingly positive. Since that time, I’ve already dug into my own demo, set up by an extremely helpful and responsive staff.

Another company that definitely piqued my interest was a communication tool recognized as a part of the Amazon EdStart Accelerator Program. This channel-based social network, cleverly named Flathat after the mortar board, brings together all of a district’s education stakeholders into a tidy platform that provides all of the image shareability of Instagram and the timely communication of Slack, all without the data mining and privacy breaches of public social networks.

What was especially appealing to me was the fact that this was the brainchild of someone in the trenches. Jodi Fox, a 20+ year teaching veteran, saw a need and made Flathat happen by joining forces with her app-developer husband and edtech investors, Laura and Dirk Taylor. Today, Jodi and Laura, with the support of their husbands, are leading the way as women entrepreneurs who have developed a robust, streamlined communication tool for schools. 

All in all, ASU+GSV is the go-to conference if you’re interested in advancing “pre-K to gray” education and innovative practices in the world of work. Rarely do these two strands intersect in such beautiful mutualism. Add on a stellar line-up of difference-making celebrities, thought-leaders, activities, parties, and meet-ups, and you’ll be sold, just like me.


Rachel Langenhorst is an instructional coach and tech integrationist in Rock Valley, Iowa, and also serves as an adjunct professor for Northwestern College. A 20+ year teaching veteran, Rachel presents nationwide, focusing on technology integration strategies and best practices. She serves as a contributor for Mackin Educational Resources, edWeb.net, and Education Talk Radio. Find Rachel on Twitter @rlangenhorst or reach out to her on LinkedIn.