Why I’m feeling none too exciTED


On Tuesday, there was an announcement from TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) about the launch of TED-Ed, its latest initiative/mission ‘to capture and amplify the voices of great educators around the world’. Sounds great, but of course in reality it’s all about hosting short video clips of teachers lecturing students. So yet another case of ‘New technology, Old Learning‘. Though, to be fair, at least the TED videos, unlike most of the blackboard-based Khan Academy ones, involve the production of a good quality visual experience that makes the content more accessible, understandable and memorable. And they do at least ask the audience questions and promote curiosity. Which is great if you are following an intellectually academic pathway, but not so helpful if you are a different type of learner.

Now I’ve no objection to this as such, provided of course TEDEd continue to fund high production values and not rely on free second-rate contributions from Sunday afternoon wannabe video directors – but given the vast, incalculable number of ‘facts’ there are these days that they are going to need to cover, that seems somewhat inevitable.

But what really concerns me is the extraordinary enthusiasm with which this (and the Khan Academy) is being greeted by teachers, as if it’s the best thing since the invention of the ‘chalk and talk’ blackboard approach to education, and somehow heralds the start of the great learning revolution we’ve all been waiting for since, er.. the invention of the blackboard. So when we’re informed that:

– Video does indeed have a powerful role to play in education.
– It allows great lessons to be shared online with vastly bigger audiences.
– It allows teachers to show things that would be hard to show live in every class.
– It also can allow kids to learn at their own pace (hello, replay button).
– The best length for a video to be used in class is under 10 minutes.
– The best videos often use animation or other visualization techniques to deliver better explanations and more compelling narratives.

It’s as if back in the 1980s I had never thought to wheel the TV set and VCR into the classroom and showed my students a short video clip or programme that in somewhat enhanced the content of the lesson. At the time we also curated a video library that students were able to access and watch anytime, anyplace. Or that I had not been producing short ‘bite-sized’ audio-visual ‘slide-shows’ delivered over college networks for a FE publisher back in the mid/late 1990s. So what exactly is new?

But the real danger, as I keep going on about in this blog, is that the the process of learning becomes increasingly seen and understood by the public, and promoted by the politicians and media, as being about getting students to sit and passively watch knowledge-based video clips produced for free by enthusiastic teachers, followed by a series of computer-generated and marked multiple choice questions to supposedly assess ‘ability’. This may be more cost-effective, but isn’t education.

Meanwhile here’s what Tony had to say about TEDEd in a recent email…

‘Learning is not (just) ‘sage on the stage’ knowledge transfer. And even if it was, it is not linear (press play sit back and absorb with no interaction or changes in direction), and it is different when you record it as it stops being a living experience. It’s not even the difference between a live performance or a film of the live performance, or a film inspired by the live performance – you had to be there. It’s humming it on the way home and trying to play it and deriving new stuff from it, and painting to it and dancing to it.  It’s a starting point in an active process of doing and creating something of your own, not just a cerebral card collection of other people’s ideas.

And even if you can ignore this unforgivable misunderstanding of the learning process, the really evil thing about it is that it completely denies the existence of the learner as a participant with any contribution or difference or value or purpose of their own. How arrogant. It is the worst form of educational imperialism performed as monologues when at the very least it should be a structured dialogue, and at best an improvisation.’

Oh, and it’s good to know it’s not just Tony and me. Here’s someone else who has some some doubts:


2 comments on “Why I’m feeling none too exciTED

  1. You may want to re-evaluate some of your assumptions.
    ” and not rely on free second-rate contributions from Sunday afternoon wannabe video directors” actually a lot of some of the most popular TED talks are from ‘partner’ organisations that are neither funded or organized by the central TED organisation. It’s precisely this emergent phenomenon of alternative content that otherwise would not be seen which makes TED an interesting platform for content and self learning.

  2. I’ve no problem with alternative content contributions from ‘partner’ organisations, providing the quality is good enough. In my experience though, many teachers who are very effective when ‘live’ in the classroom are not so good at producing ‘remote’ resources that work well for others. Also, while you and I might enjoy using TED for self-learning, it’s mainly a very high-level conceptual academically-orientated experience that does not appeal to everyone.

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