Saturday, August 4, 2012

Technology, Teaching, and TED

I wrote earlier about the value of riffing on, rather than condemning, the Khan Academy open-source content model. Others will no doubt take the idea and run with it, and who better than TED, the much adored clearinghouse of “riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world”?

Ted has created a body of educational videos now available in Beta. At this point, most are TED footage of inspiring people giving talks and seem shoehorned in to this purpose; a smaller number are animated shorts illustrating  a smattering of interesting but decidedly noncentral concepts described in voice-over. The resulting selection is high quality, but odd--supplemental pieces to be used in the classroom to add dimension and whimsy to a topic.

TED gives kudos to Khan, as it should, but these videos, idiosyncratic as they are right now, are far more engaging and effective than the Khan ones. Their pedagogical surround is also excellent--especially the essay-answer style thinking prompts.  They ask for true critical thought, not irrelevant connections or evidenceless opinions that plague so much response work kids are asked to do. Viewers must think about the video, think about something else they know, and draw specific and thoughtful conclusions. And viewers can open and close the material seamlessly while watching the video, a sensible design that makes a fantastic difference in ease of thoughtflow and workflow.

If you register, you can “flip” a video, by which they mean, in this context, that you can customize it with  your own links and questions, and you can share your “flipped” video with other teachers. (It’s confusing that these proponents of "flipping the classroom"  are introducing a different use for the term “flip” here; I wish they’d thought of a different term.) You can also track the number of views, and kids get instant feedback on the multiple choice questions, though I'm unclear on the logistics of student interaction, such as log-ins and saving answers.

Really, it’s quite good. It’s exciting. And I’m not among the throngs of adoring TED boosters.
I’m a bit confused by TED. I like the talks. I don’t love them. They lack depth and…I don’t know. Substance? I know they’re supposed to be inspirational, visionary—not nuts and bolts—but they come off a bit like marketing to me, like the speakers are trying to sell an idea or a product. And I find the surround at once self-important and breezy.

That said, TED, dedicated to visionary ideas as it is, is ideally suited in many ways to participate in re-envisioning school, and TedEd seems an exciting, promising start. A bit random in topic—so far—it’s in beta—but substantial and thoughtfully crafted in content and usage. And! It’s all free.

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