TED…

My father-in-law put me on to this great site called TED (Technology/Entertainment/Design…though they’ve branched out into other disciplines now). It has short presentations on all sorts of topics (from world poverty to physics) given by experts and public figures, some of whom are rather well known (e.g. Michelle Obama on education). The best part? They’re all absolutely free. I’ve only tapped bits and pieces so far, but what I’ve seen has been very interesting indeed. The catch-phrase for TED is “Ideas Worth Spreading.” Seems to me spreading interesting ideas is a practice worth pursuing.

Personally I’m going to start with this presentation by Alisa Miller on modern news-media, and then this presentation by Ken Robinson on creativity-centred education.

Update:

Well I’ve listened to both talks now. Miller’s was short and she clearly felt a little nervous, but her point was excellent and her visuals particularly drove it home. What she said, in a nutshell, is that the American news-media is almost entirely worthless if one wants to know anything apart from whether or not Britney Spears is sticking with her current diet. This is something I already knew, but it is always worth repeating.

Robinson’s talk was quite a bit longer, almost 20 mins, and was exceptional. His presentation was funny, engaging, and (most importantly) powerful and pursuasive. His point in a nutshell is that we need to radically rethink the way that we approach education. One of the most important and telling truths that he pointed out is that in the modern education system the “best” product that an education can produce is a college professor. Speaking as a doctoral student and somebody who someday wants to be a college professor, this is a very bad thing. It’s not that college professors are not valuable, it’s just that being good with (a very select and narrowly defined part of) your brain should not be the gold-standard for worth in young people (or any person). Performance in school is one of the primary ways that we evaluate a person’s worth in our culture, and with our school systems designed as they are we are doomed to underevaluate brilliance in children who are great at something other than mathematics or language. In any case, this lecture in particular is worth your time.

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Learning…

Bryan Bibb has a link to this excellent essay on pedagogy and the concept of learning.  There are any number of striking and intriguing bits in the paper, and I strongly encourage you to read it whether you are a teacher, student, or anybody else for that matter.  Which parts jumped out at me most strongly?

“Intellectual growth has been characterized as the progression from ignorant certainty to intelligent confusion” (15).  I don’t think I know anybody with an advanced degree or similar expertise in their field who would disagree with that statement.  The whole section in which this quotation is found is about how our attitudes to knowledge and learning change and develop throughout the educational process.  Very interesting stuff.

The other bit that hit me really hard was a the point-by-point comparison of A and C students right at the end of the paper.  There are two tables on pgs. 24-25 that compare the skills, attitudes, and habits of successful and unsucessful students.  After reading these I would suggest that these tables aren’t just about students, but in many ways could be re-applied to a variety of other social situations (the workplace and the home for instance).  What struck me most about these comparisons is that C students generally see themselves as victims and tend to take on passive roles.  This is especially notable in the second table.  Passivity is a major component in every “unsuccessful” box on that table.  This drives home an important truth that I think a lot people generally, and not just students, need to reflect upon.  Your education, your job performance, your family life…you have the ability to affect all of these things.  I’m not so naive as to suggest that these social situations are totally within a person’s individual control, but it’s equally ridiculous to think that they are totally out of our control.  Your boredom with your classes, your complaints about your teachers, your whining about your boss or your co-workers, these are all things that you have the ability to affect.  They are, to some degree, your responsibility.  You will never find, in other words, an A student who doesn not take responsibility for her own education.  You just won’t.

In any case, read the whole article, particularly if you’re an educator in any capacity.