TED Conversations

Ron Burnett

President and Vice-Chancellor, Emily Carr University of Art and Design


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Are Educational Institutions responding to the challenges of teaching and learning in the 21st Century?

The Digital Age offers all sorts of opportunities for learners ranging from the formal to the informal, from the Web to the classroom and the studio. Why do educational institutions continue to rely on traditional models of learning? Why have schedules, disciplines and departments remained the same as in the 20th Century? Why has the architecture of schools changed so little? How have learners changed?


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  • Feb 19 2011: How have learners changed?

    As a current grade 12 student in Alberta, from my own expiriences, I think students have started to see high school as a necessary evil before they can go to post secondary schooling, and because of technology we are starting to realize that there are many diffrent career oppertunities other than a doctor or a lawer.. ext. Without the internet I would have not known the program I am applying for even existed. Also we don't even really need to pay attention in class because we can google whatever we need to know for the tests, In the final english exam some of my classmates didn't even reread the books they just got a summery of it off of the internet and studied that. For me and many of my classmates some subjects we veiw as a waste of our time, usualy the subjects that we are not good at, this is because we know it will not be usefull any other time in our life, and as soon as the final test is done, all of the information is gone.
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      Feb 19 2011: Ashley, my own feeling is that it is not one subject or even one year that determines whether you have gained value from the learning experience. Rather, it is the entire package, everything from the social context to the materials you encounter that motivates you to learn and change. To me, no subject is a waste because we can always find some value in everything.
      • Feb 20 2011: hahaha, yes. A very valid, wise, point! Thank you for effectivly changing my perception!
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        Feb 25 2011: I'm sure we can all agree that some packages are more valuable than others and the 20th Century Education is lacking in so many ways for vast majority of us, of all ages. As long as there is one curriculum to rule them all, usually enforced by the state, the perception of wasted time and effort will remain.

        The current schools are teaching machines where the learning experience is just incidental. If nothing else the schools should show students how to seek knowledge not how to endure the teaching.
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      Feb 20 2011: Hi Ashley! You seem to be uninspired by your curriculum, but you're clearly interested in learning or you wouldn't be on the TED website. If one of your classes was based purely on TED videos and the conversations, I'd bet you'd ace it - even if most of the things on this site may never be "useful" in your life.

      Good teachers can capture your imagination and make you want to engage with the material. You won't want to take the shortcuts. That's why sites like TED are great - you get to see what it's like when someone is truly passionate about a topic and makes it come alive... whenever I watch a TED talk I always want to learn more.

      The problem is, there aren't enough good teachers to go around. The answer to the problem is to find the best school teachers, the most passionate ones that bring their subjects to life, and make TED-like videos of them. Make enough videos and you'll be able to learn every subject from K-12 from these videos. Now every student can learn from the best teachers. Your "live" teacher then really just becomes a mentor and facilitator - helping you take the lesson to the next level, answering your questions.

      There are several people and organizations trying to do just that... hopefully one day it will be a reality, probably by the time your kids end up going to school!
      • Feb 22 2011: Hi Wes,

        I actually have some fantastic teachers. Most are passionate about what they talk about, and the ones that are not quite as passionate about what they talk about, are passionate about teaching and truly try their best to find innovative ways to teach us and motivate us.

        However I think that the curriculum undermines their best efforts, because the only purpose of high school is to get into post secondary, that's it.

        This is obvious in the way we are taught, our teachers want us to succed ( getting further education ), so they give us the tools that we need. They teach us exactly what is in the curriculum, focusing on areas that are commonly found on the final exam, then they prepare us for the exam by giving us questions similar to the ones found on the final exam.
        Note: this final exam called a diploma in the Alberta education system is worth 50% of our final grade. And is all multiple choice except social studies and english also have a written portion.

        The video teaching is a great idea, a definate start to changing the education system, maybe along the way someone will add a better purpose too.
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          Feb 22 2011: It's a good point to differentiate "uninspiring curriculum" and "uninspiring teacher". However I believe the best teachers can not only prepare you to succeed on the exam but also find ways to make the material inspiring. This is very challenging, and not just from a experience design point of view.

          Teachers are under pressure from many angles to focus on the exam grades as that's what gets measured and compared. Any time spent on "extra" topics is heavily scrutinized. Even if the topics are valuable, parents and other teachers complain that students barely have enough time to do the core work in all of their classes + extracurricular activities needed to get into good schools + social development + jobs etc. Doing anything "extra" comes at the expense of something else... what can be cut?

          The answer is that you don't need to cut. A great teacher will find a new approach to the learning that gets all the students fluent on the core materials while motivating them with the extra materials. But this new approach will look risky to many supervisors (just because it's different) and so unless the teacher is in an environment where they have free reign to experiment (e.g. the school is so bad that anything is better than what they have or the school is an experimental school where this is part of the expectations) then it probably won't happen. At least, that is my experience.
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          Feb 25 2011: Wes, I think you are missing the point. Where is the value in having an inspired teacher teaching uninspiring curriculum? Were do we even get all this teachers? You can't do it in the US, we can't do it in Europe and nobody can do it anywhere. Sure, we might get some in the best schools but what about the rest of the planet?

          Having the best teachers available on the web is great but after countless hours of "wasted" time who wants for more education on the web? As I see it we are well beyond being able to fix the current education system ... it must be revolutionised and it will be.
      • Feb 23 2011: I agree that a great teacher can make a world of diffrence. However the teachers usually are not set up to succed they have many limitations and requirements placed on them. Also there is a great condensing of the curriculum, paticularly in math. This leaves teachers with little time to get through all of the required material. You are right most teachers are not in an environment to be great.

        Another issue with education has nothing to do with teachers at all, it is the lack of purpose behind all of the learning. How can we aply this learning to everyday life? We spend 12 years building up informationfor what? To go to university. I am saying that school needs a purpose beyond getting a better education.

        Maybe we should start school later on at age 9 then only have nine years of schooling and instead of a rigid schedual of do's and don'ts set up a more flexable style of self discovery, to discover talents and such. Now this obviously has flaws, it is only an idea.One can have all of the passion in the world, without a purpose, it is nothing, but passion with purpose equals change.
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      Feb 27 2011: hey sweetie... we had no google but we got by on Coles Notes...

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