ICT & Education @ TED

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TEDtalk: Alan Kay (image used according to terms of CC license)  With the buzz from this year's influential TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference (9-13 February) now starting to fade, I thought it might be interesting to re-visit some of the highlights from past conferences on topics related to ICT and education.  While presentations at the conference cover a wide variety of topics, some 'TEDtalks' provide quite illuminating, and sometimes quite provocative, glimpses and insights into how technology *might* be used in various innovative ways to enhance education in the future.  I am regularly amazed at the number of times that people in ministries of education all around the world ask me about something they first learned about through TED. While we were, yet again, not in attendance this year, the conference organizers have done the wonderful (and laudable!) job of making available the 'TEDtalks' through the TED web site for free.

TED participants often have a strong technology bent, and this is reflected in a number of the well-regarded talks on cutting-edge, and just plain cool, technology applications.  Jeff Han unveiled his work on multi-touch technology before the days of the iPhone.  Pattie Maes (& Pranav Mistry) showed off technology that you can wear, turning the whole world into your (or in this case, Pranav's) interface.  Tod Machover and Dan Ellsey demonstrated the power of technology to liberate the music inside people's head, and David Merrill showed off his set of 'toy blocks that think'. (The gasp of delight, and subsequent applause, from the audience, when the blocks appear to perform a math computation on their own is a reminder to many of us why we are involved in the field of ICT and education.)  While not speaking directly to education, Jan Chipchase spoke eloquently about the way we relate to the piece of technology that many of us increasingly carry with us everywhere we go -- the cell phone.   

Richard Baraniuk shared experiences of the Connexions project with 'open source learning', as did Sugata Mitra from the Hole-in-the-Wall project, an experiment from India in 'minimally invasive education' that has strongly influenced (in ways good and bad) the thinking of many involved in working with ICTs in the education sector in developing countries, including many of the proponents of the OLPC project.  The One Laptop Per Child initiative itself has been featured at TED many times; less known to many is the talk that its leader, Nicholas Negroponte, made at TED 25 years ago that anticipates much that has happened since.  In the eyes of many, all those those who work at the intersection of education and technology owe an intellectual debt (consciously or not) to the pioneering work of Alan Kay.

Finally, no list of great TEDtalks would be complete without a nod to Hans Rosling, for you don't have to be a data geek to be alternatively entertained and inspired by his influential talk 'debunking third-world myths with the best stats you've ever seen'.

I look forward to drinking in the flood of 'ideas worth spreading' as talks from the 2009 version of TED (and its sister conferences around the world) are slowly made available online.


(image at the top of this blog post used according to its Creative Commons license; image courtesy of TED)


Michael Trucano

Visiting Fellow, Brookings, and Global Lead for Innovation in Education, World Bank

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