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Posts Tagged ‘talks


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Takaharu Tezuka is the architect who designed what TED calls the “world’s cutest kindergarten”. It was designed in 2007, but only took the world by YouTube and TED storm recently.

The kindergarten was not designed to be safe, soft, and spongy. Quite the contrary. Tezuka mentioned several times in his talk how kids learnt from falling down, getting scrapes, and bumping their heads. As for water play, he said:

… you should know that you are waterproof. You never melt in rain. So, children are supposed to be outside. So that is how we should treat them.

The kindergarten was also intentionally designed to be open and round. Why?

There is no boundary between inside and outside… there is no boundary between classrooms… When you put many children in a quiet box, some of them get really nervous. But in this kindergarten, there is no reason they get nervous. Because there is no boundary.

… if the boy in the corner doesn’t want to stay in the room, we let him go. He will come back eventually, because it’s a circle… they leave and come back.

Tezuka noticed kids liked running around and doing so freely. He noted how kids learnt best by doing and experiencing. So he designed a school around such behaviours.

Perhaps Tezuka’s point is this: There is much to be learnt about how to teach kids by watching and learning from them. It is less about curriculum and instruction, and more about how they think and act.


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I do not know anyone who hates John Green. If they do, they probably are not worth knowing.

Green is an author, YouTuber, and amongst many other things, TED speaker.

After sharing his passion for maps, Green described himself as a student:

I was a really terrible student when I was a kid. My GPA was consistently in the low 2s. 

And I think the reason that I was such a terrible student is that I felt like education was just a series of hurdles that had been erected before me, and I had to jump over in order to achieve adulthood. And I didn’t really want to jump over these hurdles, because they seemed completely arbitrary, so I often wouldn’t, and then people would threaten me, you know, they’d threaten me with this “going on [my] permanent record,” or “You’ll never get a good job.” 

I didn’t want a good job! As far as I could tell at eleven or twelve years old, like, people with good jobs woke up very early in the morning, and the men who had good jobs, one of the first things they did was tie a strangulation item of clothing around their necks. They literally put nooses on themselves, and then they went off to their jobs, whatever they were. That’s not a recipe for a happy life.

He sounded like a student that most adults would write off early in life as a future also-ran or has-been. So how did he become so successful? Here are some choice quotes from his talk:

  • I became a learner because I found myself in a community of learners.
  • A lot of the learning that I did in high school wasn’t about what happened inside the classroom, it was about what happened outside of the classroom.
  • It wasn’t a formal, organized learning process.
  • The most interesting communities of learners that are growing up on the Internet right now are on YouTube.
  • I know that YouTube comments have a very bad reputation in the world of the Internet, but in fact, if you go on comments for these channels, what you’ll find is people engaging the subject matter, asking difficult, complicated questions that are about the subject matter, and then other people answering those questions.
  • As an adult, re-finding these communities has re-introduced me to a community of learners, and has encouraged me to continue to be a learner even in my adulthood.
  • I’m here to tell you that these places exist, they still exist. They exist in corners of the Internet, where old men fear to tread.

Green reminds us that learning does not happen only in the classroom. In fact, it mostly happens outside of it. One of the most powerful learning communities and informal classrooms is YouTube.

Both Tezuka and Green made references to being outside. The benefit of being there means you do not have a teacher’s blind spots. Sometimes those blind spots land squarely on what teachers need to focus on: The learner and the processes of learning.

But these are the very places teachers need to go to recover their sight. Are they reacting, as Green put it, like old men and women fearing to tread?

My reflection today is about open access and learning even though it might not seem that way.

When one the presentations I created got some attention in SlideShare, I concluded that it was likely the visual elements that got the attention.

After all, it is quite easy to play the SlideShare game to get a presentation noticed. Frankly, you can get away with more style than substance.

The slides were from a PDF I created from the original Google Presentation (and here is why I prefer that tool over others).

I left the Google Presentation open for critique and I received a comment from someone who actually analyzed the slides for substance. In response to slide 6 (see screencapture):

I heartily disagree with the idea that talks are boring. Sure, some of them are. But if the speaker is someone who knows a lot more than I do about, or offers a fresh perspective on, something that I am interested in—and if the speaker makes the effort to prepare and organise their talk so that I can follow their argument or story—then I’m sold. I think it’s valid to say that on this occasion you prefer to deliver/conduct/take part in a chat, but I really don’t like this overgeneralization.

In the context of what I was trying to do that day (model changes to a keynote speech), I used the “talks are boring” to inject some humour into the proceedings and to justify my methods.

In hindsight, I agree that the statement might come across as a generalization. Perhaps I could have said some or most talks are boring.

But judging from my own experience as an audience member of one too many talks and the nodding heads of my audience that day (in agreement, not in falling asleep), I stand by my statement that talks are boring.

They are boring because sometimes the audience does not really want to be there. They are boring because the audience is not more actively involved. They are boring because not everyone has the natural charisma or well-honed skills of a master presenter.

They are boring because they are losing relevance in this day and age.

How is my reflection about open access and learning?

If I had not made the Google Presentation open and available, I might never have received that comment two months after the keynote and from someone who bothered to share his thoughts.

Now I blog openly about this exchange. Doing this might result in comments in Twitter and Facebook because I crosspost there.

I am not likely to get comments here though because blogs do not seem cool any more. Some blogs are about as cool as a lecture theatre warming up for a talk…

A week ago I presented at a local conference. If a full room and folks pulling in extra chairs to sit at the back is one indication of success, then the session was successful.

However, my co-presenter and I were not as prepared as we could have been. My co-presenter was ill and I was swamped with other commitments in the run up to the conference.

Sure, we had pretty slides and I dare say we did a good job presenting. But I did not put in as much work into that presentation as I normally do with others.

Over the last few months I have been giving backchannelled talks. At one conference where the participants were given a choice of parallel sessions to attend, I did not get nearly as many folks attending mine. When there are many more empty chairs than full ones, something is wrong! I had prepared disproportionately well for that one.

So is the hint to not prepare as much or as well? I think not.

The problem is similar to a teacher who does the same thing with two different classes. One class responds well while the other does not. Any teacher will be able to relate to what I am saying.

I have come to realize that titling an event and pitching it well before you present are key. Building up your reputational capital also helps.

Talks are not effortless. They take a lot of preparation but it is not just about content and delivery. It is also about marketing and managing it.

I do not know what it is about the latter half of 2012. I have been asked to do quite a few talks.

Maybe I should not have declared publicly that I do not like giving talks. It is the Universe’s way of getting back at me.

I admit talks are still a popular way to get a message or two across. So I try to have fun by turning them into chats or preparing slides like the ones below.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This sample is for a keynote that I am preparing for in September. These are not the only slides, of course. I have drafted an entire outline but I am still refining it.

I am also hoping to create a backchannel AND provide an alternative activity for my audience should they prefer to do something else.


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