SpaceRace Jimmy at TedOntarioEd
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Charles Dickens didn’t attend TedXOntarioEd last Friday (and thank goodness, ‘coz he’s dead, and kind of a downer), but his words rebound in my thoughts 7 days later. If you attended, you might be feeling a bit like I am. Now that the brilliance has sunken in, I hope that this is the best of times. The presenters made me feel that way. Yesterday’s disengaged, rebellious, and undeniably creative learners have grown into leaders, with, as the TED mantra goes, ideas worth sharing. Brave souls, navigating our connected, wired world. Democratizing the institution of education, developing professionally at no less than light speed, and it’s all happening before our eyes. Are you watching? You should. It’s time to tune in.
Despite the rare, occasional flash of brilliance and insight (spoiler alert), Canadian education appears to be lagging in innovation and clinging to policies built for the baby boomers and their predecessors. In some cases, early 20th century farming communities. The TDSB (Canada’s largest public school district) enforces an archaic and out of touch cell phone/smartphone policy, banning the very devices that can connect students and heaven forbid, with the right applications, engage them to experience and create content. The very devices that many predict will be our society’s main outlet of connectivity within a few short years. If you’ve seen teenagers, you know it’s already happening.
So I shouldn’t invest in an iPod Touch for my seven year old, then? Hmmm. I’m going to do it anyways. I’m going to do the opposite. I’m going to Costanza what the public education system mandates to my future participatory citizen.
First major lesson learned at TedXOntarioEd: the formidable and wonderful ideas expressed throughout mostly resulted from their perpetrators doing the opposite. The opposite of conventional wisdom, the opposite of policy, and the opposite of past practices from well-meaning educators.
Your child might have the good fortune to be taught by one of these leaders (and that’s a heavily stressed might, since ours has yet to come across anything resembling connectivity, creativity, or engagement in our local public school). Someday, she might encounter an innovative program or technology created by one of the TedX-sters. But it’s the worst of times because she might not. As a glass half-full kind of parent, I’m betting on the indies.
And that’s where I come back to doing the opposite. Conventional wisdom be damned, and flogged with a wet noodle.
Lee LeFever captured our unfortunate reliance on over-explaining concepts. Textbooks are guilty. Curriculum is guilty. Why can’t a science lesson about clouds be presented in a visual, concise, and distilled 2 minutes of fun? CommonCraft is a revelation, no matter what you’re trying to get across.
Jesse Brown’s BitStrips is the culmination/revenge of a classic comic kid, disengaged with his teachers and lessons. Jesse spoke of stilted creativity, and the necessity of faking attention (after learning to fake attention as a learning strategy) to get through the grindstone/milestones of his educational experience.
If conventional wisdom points toward the self-contained, closed door classroom, then consider Danika Barker’s forward thinking forays into using Ning to connect classrooms geographically, but also through English literature themes. The image of an enthusiastic student participant, garbed in Gatsby, was enough to make this writer long for a Marty McFly encounter and to go back and experience (okay, be) the Wife of Bath in engaging , relevant, social networked circumstances.
And one last big moment, in a night of many, was Alec Couros. I follow Alec, some would say avidly, on Twitter. He is my go-to for ed-tech. I’d nudge anyone who asked me to apply to his program at the University of Regina, just to experience the creativity and box-less thinking of the man (who does such a mean Trololo-guy impression that it stands alone in surreal comedy). And not just because I’m a Saskatchewanian myself. Despite some technology issues, Alec’s presentation struck its strongest note when demonstrating how he confronts firewalls. No YouTube allowed? No access to Facebook? This innovative educator actually goes out and purchases and enables USB drives on his students’ behalf. This, my friends, is the open web. This is the future, and the only hope, of education. *note* Here is Alec’s updated preso. Watch it.

There is much, much more to say about the event. Don’t even get me started on Tim Long’s lofty, but plausible claim that procrastinators shall inherit the earth.
The venue was impeccable. The glitches? Handled with class.

Well done, TedXOntarioEd. And thank you for swaying this participant in favour of the best of times…
I needed that.