TED-ucation

In Bloomington, Indiana, we are two months away from hosting our first TEDx event. One of the perks that come with organizing a local event is a video stream of the big TED event, currently underway in California. Since I don’t have an invite to Long Beach and can’t swing the $500 needed to buy my own internet stream, it was a pleasure to be able to watch a couple sessions yesterday at the local library.

The Morgan Spurlock and Salman Khan videos-to-be are the don’t-miss talks I saw on the auditorium screen. Spurlock, the human guinea pig best known for a month of eating McDonald’s food, has a new project about product placement. Khan is a former hedge fund analyst who turned a few video tutorials for his math-challenged cousin into an open academy for self-guided learning. While Spurlock’s talk was highly entertaining, Khan moved me to the edge of my seat in providing inspiration.


Sal Khan explains the concept driving Khan Academy

Education reform is a major focus. Soon, TED will be launching a new forum—TED-ED Brain Trust—that will curate a community of visionary educators, students, organizations, filmmakers and other creative professionals to find ways to enrich education for the next wave of learners. On Day Two of TED—the same day Apple released another potential classroom game-changer—guest curator Bill Gates emphasized education as a theme for his session, including Khan and David Christian’s Big History project.


David Christian explains Big History

Khan didn’t just explain his website or his own origin story. He argued for a different way to support learning. There were two key insights I mined from Khan’s talk.

First, successful students learn at varied paces. Khan showed a chart of student achievement in the class, highlighting two common paths to success: the traditional fast-starters who get the material easily and move quickly to establish themselves as experts; and, the slow-starters who struggle to understand a few key concepts before taking off. The latter group wouldn’t be identified as “gifted” in most programs, many of which penalize early failures. In Khan’s self-guided program, failure is part of the process of mastery.

Second, there is value to flipping the role of the classroom to be about the homework and not the lecture. The video instruction of Khan Academy allows students to work through the material at their own pace and in protected and comfortable environments. The application of that knowledge can be shifted from home to class, creating more peer and small-group interaction with the instructor and moving away from a one-size-fits-all delivery of new content.

At the end of last semester, I iterated on my experience teaching Processing to undergrads. I was delighted to hear that Khan Academy is incorporating some game dynamics (energy points, badges) into their self-guided learning programs and classroom tools. If given another chance to teach programming, I may rely on video instruction and in-class coding assignments to better support the individual pace of learning.

I hope Khan’s talk is released quickly. For the moment, you can scratch your own TED itches by watching the Day One talk by Wadah Khanfar of Al Jazeera, on the optimism arising from events in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya: