A tale of two TEDs

I will start with a disclaimer: I fully realize how lucky I am to have had the opportunity to speak at a TEDx event. I feel honored, mostly unworthy, and very rewarded to have spoken at TEDxStanford. Most days, I am just horrified by my presentation, wishing I hadn’t done it, or wishing I had said a million different things. Other days, I have a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. There is very little in between. So, here is the video of my short presentation and all of the videos from that day can be found here (I’ll share my favorites at the end of this post).

AND I will also say that TEDxStanford was a truly lovely event. The speakers were impressive and passionate people who give a damn about really cool things. I like that. A core part of the TED experience, for most of us, was the opportunity to meet and talk to people with really good ideas. I enjoyed the pre-TED dinner with my brilliant colleague Allison Okamura, talented dancer and choreographer IJay, the provocative performer Denae Hannah, and the effervescent podcaster Miles Traer. I bonded with the beautiful and whole-hearted Natalia Duong as we nervously waited our turns to speak. I had the chance to speak to various people about their ideas for online learning and, following the event, met with several who are moving their inspirational online learning ideas forward. It really was a special weekend.


I struggle with the TED umbrella as a whole. I have seen incredible and inspirational TED(x) talks (Brene Brown tops that list) but I have also seen sales-pitches-poorly-disguised-as-impassioned-goodwill talks. I have seen TED(x) talks being used for good reasons—to spark discussion, to inspire, to illuminate injustices, to highlight not-so-mainstream research (elephant communication is rockin’)—but I have also seen them used for less positive reasons, in the vein of pseudo-scientific research used to promote inappropriate solutions to “problems” (Bad Science-style). And I think that Audrey Watters makes good points in her post “Hacking at Education: TED, Technology Entrepreneurship, Uncollege, and the Hole in the Wall,” where she argues that TED talks seem “unassailable” because they are framed as “ideas worth spreading,” not as “ideas worth challenging.”

That’s where my TEDx experience becomes a tale of two TEDs. There is TEDx and there is TED. TEDxStanford, and similar grassroots-organized TEDx events, are community-based events, made strong by the lived experience of those in the community. We were together in that space, part of a group that largely felt connected, welcoming, and accessible. We laughed together, we cried together, we ate meals together, we held our breaths together when a presenter seemed to stumble on a word, and at the end, we hugged complete strangers like we were leaving summer camp…together. Then there is TED, the expensive, “unassailable” events. While I am sure that some TED attendees feel some of the things TEDx folks feel, TED looks from the outside more like an exclusive social club than summer camp.

Being involved with TEDxStanford led me to the great sense of gratitude I expressed above and concern that my talk would be used to promote the very things I pushed against in my talk (e.g., solutionism, with only the powerful at the table).

So, to keep the better tale alive, here is what I hope comes out of my TED talk:

1. Dialogue: Agree with me or disagree with me, I don’t mind either way. But let’s talk about what’s happening in education beyond the M-word hype. Open online is not new, but people who weren’t so keen on it before are now willing to talk about it. So, let’s talk. What does it mean for an academic institution or for a professor to be open? Is it the UK’s Open University model? Is it the ds106 model? Is it the OER model? This great video with Jim Groom, Philipp Schmidt, Audrey Watters, and Joran und Konsorten is an excellent discussion starter. Of course, Mike Caulfield writes brilliantly about these questions on his blog.

2. Toe-dipping: Immediately following my presentation, I received a series of emails from folks, mostly at Stanford, who want to give open online learning a try. If even a handful of those projects actually take shape, I think we will accomplish good things. I realize sometimes more than toe-dipping is needed. Let’s entertain those possibilities as well.

3. More research-to-practice: I mentioned that we are doing some research on distributed flips, trying to draw out design and teaching ideas for re-use of MOOCs in various contexts. I hope that we will see more and more research emerging from and within contexts that don’t traditionally benefit as much from the attention (and resources) of research universities.

4. Teaching as community property: As I said in my talk, one outgrowth of open online learning is more conversation about teaching. Might the blossoming interest in open(ish) online learning finally help us to make teaching community property (as proposed by the great Lee Shulman)?

Please share your (gentle) thoughts.

As promised, here are my favorite presentations/performances from the day:

IJay‘s performance was off-the-charts spectacular and fun

Some of our younger presenters, Michael TubbsDerek Ouyang, and Tara Adiseshan just nailed their presentations

Rachel Kolb‘s inspirational speech brought those in the room to their feet and to tears

Natalia Duong‘s talk made us all want to explore the therapeutic powers of dance

Don’t miss any of the presentations and performances; they were wonderful.

One Response

  1. Amy – I so appreciate you providing this perspective. I do love many TED talks, and the potential IS powerful, but the potential is only realized if we more deeply examine the talk – even as simply as do we agree or disagree and why. I am all about being inspired, but a good discussion about why can only make it more inspirational.

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