Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Technology, Education, and Dreams

Today in Monterey, California, a group of luminaries have gathered at an exclusive annual conference called TED and, contrary to its title, sessions are given by various experts in “any subject area offering something fresh and important”. I first became aware of the TED conference (short for Technology, Entertainment and Design) a few years ago via a posting in the blog of Steven Levitt, a TED presenter and author of Freakeconomics. The purpose of TED, according to its web site, is for participants to “gain an understanding of how your own work fits into the larger web of knowledge." The event is quite pricey, and the 2008 conference is already sold out. Apparently, it’s that powerful of a conference.

Lucky for us little people, TED has become accessible in other ways. There is an accompanying blog and fabulously designed web site. Many of the 18 minute sessions (known as TEDTalks) are now available for download from iTunes and are archived on the TED web site. Attendees are also sent a series of important books as part of the TED membership; see a sampling of titles here.

For RSS aficionados interested in tracking TED this year, I suggest visiting Google News, searching for TED or TED 2007, and then hitting the RSS link on the left-hand side of the page. You’ll get any news updates regarding TED (and probably anyone named Ted) delivered to your newsreader of choice. This also works when using Google Blog Search.

Last week, noted New York Times columnist and TED speaker David Pogue appeared as a workshop leader and keynote speaker at the Illinois Technology Conference for Educators, and he joined a group of fellow Apple Distinguished Educators for supper one evening. This is the first time I’ve encountered a TED attendee, and I couldn’t resist grilling David about his experiences at TED. Interestingly, he cited Al Gore’s speech as one of the most powerful and well-executed talks of the 2006 conference. David also mentioned the TEDPrize, an annual award given to innovative people in order to help turn their visions into reality. Ever the idealist, it is heartening to me that lofty endeavors are celebrated and rewarded.

The format of TED and the hype surrounding the conference fascinate me. Why is TED such a success? Is it the glamour of intellectual power wrapped in exclusivity that attracts movers and shakers to this yearly event? Is it the opportunity to be surrounded by like-minded people in a seemingly increasingly mediocre world? How does it feel to be surrounded by 999 other people who want to change the world and more importantly, probably feel empowered to do so? What sort of relationships are forged here that produce partnerships that do, in fact, change the world? Are TED attendees really able to put their ideas into motion, and if so, how do they accomplish this?

It has occurred to me that there doesn’t seem to be much representation in TED specifically from the field of education. Perhaps education is not an “it” field of study. The essential questions for me, as an educator interested in innovation, then are: If education does not fit into the Technology, Entertainment and Design schema, is there a similar event for people deeply involved in our field? If not, what would an similar education-oriented event look like? Is there great interest by others in radically rethinking educational practices? Is there a conference that showcases stellar examples of innovative practices related to the academic, physical, social, and emotional growth of children?

I will go out on a limb here to say that I believe American education is indeed stagnant, and it would be inspiring to have the not only the best, but the most innovative, minds in education and related fields exchange ideas. Like TED, I would like for those passionate about education to have the opportunity to view all the pieces of the puzzle at once, and to reflect on what their own work brings to the table of change. Thinking outside of the traditional education box is critical as we attempt to educate 21st century students.

I am getting off my soapbox for now, but again, I am curious as to what other educators think. If you were to assemble a dream team of conference presenters/discussion leaders with the express purpose of rethinking American education, who would you choose? Who inspires you? Who are the icons, geniuses, and mavericks in our field? What do you think needs to change in our field, if anything? Also, take a look at the TEDTalks in iTunes. Who’s your favorite TEDster and why? Jump in and join the conversation!