Last weekend I made a trip to NYC (with fellow Mainer, Alice Barr) to attend the TEDxNYED conference. When I signed up (or should I say “applied” – I have never had to “apply” to a conference before) to this conference, I wasn’t sure what kind of conference it would be. As the date got closer, the speakers were chosen and there became a lot of twitter energy around “TEDxNYED”. I, too, got excited to listen to these speakers – most of which I have never heard in person – and I was very interested in what they had to say as I have followed their words in the digital world.
I was not disappointed. The speakers were terrific. When I first looked at the schedule I wasn’t sure if I could handle the format – each speaker presenting for 18 minutes, one after another, with several breaks in between. But I have to say, it worked. The organizers of this event did a great job with the conference – from the schedule, to the food, to the number of attendees, and of course, to the live video feed which I heard was flawless. (The recorded video of these talks will be posted in a few weeks). It was also the first conference in a long time when I didn’t pull out my laptop. Sure, I was checking Twitter, etc on my iphone from time to time, but for most of the day I scribbled notes with the pen and paper they gave me when I registered that morning.
In reading some of the redux of the conference these last few days I am disappointed in some of the quibbling going on. Some people had a problem with the conference format – that it was against what we are all striving for in the classroom (lecture) and that there was little time for conversation. Yes, I agree to some extent but I thought it worked because we all connected with the speakers and were engaged with the content. (And who doesn’t liked to hear passionate speakers like Lawrence Lessig, David Willey, and Jeff Jarvis). For me, it was reaffirming to hear these messages at this time of year. Yes, they were preaching to the choir but sometimes I need that continued inspiration to remind me why I am pushing for change. Each speaker had a different message (and maybe slightly different solutions) but to me the theme was the same – we need to push education forward, out of the 19th century where it has been stuck since the industrial age.
Here are some takeaways from the day (there were so many great one-liners, I could start a bumper sticker enterprise):
Andy Carvin (NPR) started off the day with the right tone. He spoke to the increased ability for people to organize and rally behind a cause/disaster. He showed the “power of participation” in the newly developed “Crisis Camps” that emerged out of the Boxing Day Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina and more recently the development of openstreetmap.org from the earthquake in Haiti. All fantastic resources.
Michael Wesch sent a great message (one I plan to share with some Administrators) that people cannot “opt out” of the changes brought about by technology. He told a wonderful story about living in a remote village in New Guinea and how that village (its culture, the relationships, and its people) was transformed by the development of the census – houses/huts were knocked down and reconstructed in rows to correspond to “numbering” and people were forced to have a “fixed” names. After setting this stage, Wesch moved on to talk about how this translates in his classroom through several projects: a documentary, where each student is responsible for a small part of it and instead of a syllabus, the students are involved in creating and constantly revising a “research schedule”; in another project,he has students working on a world simulations game where each student is responsible for becoming an “expert” in a region of the world, then they are responsible for coming up with the “rules” of interaction between these countries and cultures. Wesch described teachers roles as helping students move from becoming “knowledgeable to knowledge-able“.
David Willey (of BYU) gave a rousing call for “openness”. He said openness and sharing is a must in education and the best educators are the ones who share the most successfully with students. Right now, we have very powerful technology (technology that makes it extremely easy to share) but we have very outdated thinking. He stated, “(if there is) no sharing, then there is no education”. His notes on his talk can be found here.
Lawrence Lessig hit the stage with a call to enable sharing in a way for people to have a “freedom to create while still maintaining a respect for the creator”. I can’t possible do respect to his presentation by paraphrasing so visit his presentation here.
I enjoyed listening to Jay Rosen’s message from journalism that we “learn best by doing something that is difficult and that knowledge comes out of difficult problems”.
Jeff Jarvis took the stage by storm sans projection/presentation and (after berating the format of the conference) called for us to “move students up the education chain”. Jarvis thinks teachers need to “do what they do best and link to the rest” – we should be using/curating the resources online for our students and turning our schools into incubators rather than factories. Jarvis shares his notes from his talk here but wait for the video on his session, it’ll be worth it.
After lunch there were some great sessions on “practice” by Dan Cohen, Dan Meyer, Amy Bruckman, and Chris Lehmann. All great messages especially Dan Meyer who encouraged the teaching of “patient problem solving” and he summed up his remarks with five suggestions – use multimedia, encourage student intuition, ask short questions, let students build the problem, and be less helpful. I think everyone left wishing they had Dan as a math teacher. Chris Lehmann presented a passionate plea for change. In it he expanded (in a way only Lehmann can) on Alvin Toffler’s statement, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn”. What better way to end the conference?
What now? Well, I have returned to work as usual with no magic bullet for change but I have been recharged with words, wisdom, and connections from this weekend. I will continue to make baby steps toward change, engage in conversations, and keep pushing that rock up the hill!