TEDxNYED and me

So back a few months ago, before I devoted my life to airplane seat testing, I got a chance to attend TEDxNYED. TEDx events are independently organized small conferences, typically one day filled with invited speakers who, in TED style, speak for a short time about a common theme. This TEDxNYED was held in New York City and the theme was education. It was a great day filled with inspiring speakers and terrific hallway conversations. I had every good intention of writing my reflections about the day, the speakers, and the theme, but time slipped away and I never did it.

Perhaps this is a good thing, because sometimes reflections need to percolate through the brain for a while. Plus, waiting this long means that the videos are all online for your enjoyment! So don’t take my word for it, enjoy the videos yourself!

First off, the facts –

Now that some time has passed, my reflections are coalescing around a few key points:

  • I am hopelessly attracted to people who DO stuff. Yes, thinking is important and I did enjoy some of the more cerebral speakers. But the one I recall most is Andy Carvin, who spoke about how quickly the Internet has changed response to disasters by crowdsourcing information. His talk, The New Volunteers: Social Media, Disaster Response, and You, was terrific. I think that K-12 students could be playing a huge role in completing local databases and maps that could be essential in a crisis. His video is embedded below.
  • I really enjoyed Dan Cohen’s talk, “The Last Digit of Pi”. It was geeky, historical fun. There is a sort of transcript here. But it did have a point about how hard it is to change ideas in education.
  • A couple of favorites I’d heard before: Chris Lehmann and Dan Meyer. Both did nice jobs, Chris talking about why this is all important and keeping the crowd going very late in the day. Dan did a great job of deconstructing a textbook math problem to remove the layers of “help” that it provides for students, and explaining why that “help” is not helpful in the long run. When students ask their own questions about the world (and there is a teacher there who can provide enough of an answer or just a bit of motivation), they become less dependent and more imaginative, critical thinkers. Be sure to watch their videos!

The diversity issue
I had more than one person whisper to me that it was a real shame how underrepresented women and people of color were as speakers. I KNOW the organizers tried, they told me they did and I believe them. What’s worse is that of the three women speakers, two were disappointing to me. Yes, I’ll be brave and name names. My two least favorite speakers of the day were Gina Bianchini, co-founder and at the time CEO of Ning (she has since left the company) and Neeru Khosla, co-founder and Executive Director of CK-12 Foundation. Gina Bianchini gave a generic speech about using technology to connect optimists, and then made a left turn into education, where it was immediately apparent that she knew nothing about the subject. Her idea of taking the “models” of open source software and agile product development and using it for teacher evaluation was breathtaking in its lack of understanding of any of these subjects. But there she was, simply being “optimistic” about it. Sorry, just not good enough. Neeru Khosla, on the other hand, is a woman with a plan, which she repeated over and over again in a relentless sales pitch. Her non-profit has taken textbooks and put them online for free. So without any thought to whether this is a good idea or not, but lots of buzzwords about digital literacy and 21st century skills, she pitched her website to the group. Digital textbooks are certainly worth talking about, and it would have been interesting to discuss if they have relevance or if it’s simply putting an old content model in new delivery system. But no, that was never touched on. It was simply a blatant sales pitch for a free product. Her session unfortunately stood out like a sore thumb for its commercialism and lack of thoughtfulness.

But… back to the good stuff. Here’s Andy Carvin – TEDxNYED Talk: The New Volunteers: Social Media, Disaster Response And You

I hope the upcoming youth-planned and youth-led TEDxRedmond event this fall is just as thought-provoking!

Sylvia

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