Author Archives: James Rena

Letters From the President: What the Popularity of TED Talks Means for Education

The ever-increasing popularity of TED Talks is, to say the least, an interesting reflection on the state of education today. The talks provide a unique opportunity to learn from the best and the brightest, experts in a wide range of fields. We of course, have the internet to thank for enabling these large scale discussion forums. But what does our general enjoyment of these miniature lectures say about us?

First of all, I think it presents a quite refreshing outlook on our sense of curiosity as human beings. TED Talks almost didn’t happen simply because the concept was deemed too intellectual for the general public, and yet over 140 of their lectures have over a million views each. Which is a massive figure considering what they are. This is people seeking out knowledge on things they’re interested in or don’t know much about, and sharing this knowledge. It’s an avenue of creating a more educated and well-rounded public – absolutely incredible! And I, for one, take comfort in the knowledge that we have not been so desensitized by information access on the internet that we still seek to learn more.

It is also interesting to note that the most popular TED Talks are not only those that are longer, but those that address huge and risky questions. The current state of the world presents a lot of problems, especially in the case of education, and we are being given a way to open these issues up to general discussion.

The TED Talks which address education, education technology, and education reform are among the most interesting. Education is, as it should be, one of the most important aspects of society. It is the preparation of future generations for their inheritance of the world. And yet, it seems to my a highly-undervalued topic of conversation. That’s why talks like Sir Ken Robinson’s on schools killing creativity are so monumental in their potential. There are aspects of the American education system which aren’t the best or most efficient or as productive as they could be, and the only way we can root out the problems and improve is if we start talking about it. And I don’t mean bureaucrats – I mean teachers, administrators, students – those who are facing the issues on a local level. Bureaucrats have their place, but it may not necessarily be within these discussions.

In short, I equate the general public watching and conversing about TED Talks to trying to solve a puzzle and finding the answer after talking it through with someone else. Dialogue has the potential to reform education, and it may do just that if we let it.

Letters From the President: Why Content is Key

Allow me to introduce myself. My name is James Rena and I am the head honcho over here at Standard Deviants. You may applaud. Or not. Do whatever you wish, really. This post will be the first of my own series of posts giving you my perspective on edtech goings-on as someone who has been in the business for quite awhile. So, let’s begin.

A recent article on TeachThought detailed the ways in which education technology will improve in the year 2013. It asserted a few essential points, but mainly that technology is advancing very rapidly, an amazing rate. Moore’s Law plays into education technology as much as it does any technology. An easy point to agree with. My only problem, therefore, with the article is that it fails to discuss content.

The general public has a tendency to be very excited by the shiny object – technological devices with bright screens and loud speakers and a few particularly shiny bits. These are cool, of course, but the very nature of this article points out a fact which many ignore: we read and hear almost nothing about creating better educational content versus creating a better platform to present it on.

Technology, specifically in education, is primarily a tool to augment the teaching. It may be a lot less shiny to discuss designing better ways to explain different concepts, but it’s a much bigger issue at hand. If newfangled devices are being used to present the exact same information, in the same way, excepting a brighter and bigger screen, than who’s to say learning is in fact improving?

People forget we’ve basically been learning the same way for thousands of years. Yes, that’s right, since the time of cavemen and ice ages we have fundamentally been teaching the younger generation in the same way. Technology today allows for slightly better interactivity, perhaps a bit more efficiency, and allowing for increased customization, but we’re still learning in the same way. We have improved our interactivity, and our reach, but not the learning process itself.

This article doesn’t talk about how technology is improving the learning process, we don’t talk about it. And maybe that is because when we get down to it, it’s really not. What it all comes down to is content. Forget the window-dressing, we ought to be focusing on teaching better and we can teach better by offering students better content.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I agree with everything the article said. It simply left me saying: “So what?”