Friday, November 20, 2009

TEDxEDUcn – Accolades and Observations

The inaugural TEDxEDUcn was held last Saturday at International School Beijing (ISB). It was jointly organized by Western Academy Beijing and ISB. As an official TEDx event it followed the usual requirements of including the opening TEDx video, and playing some online TED talks interspersed with live TED talks, of which there were many! It had about 100 people in attendance.

I was enthralled with speakers such as Yang Jia, Chinese college professor, Harvard graduate, and disabled by a degenerative eye condition that left her blind in her 20’s. Her message was inspiring and including, ‘compete with yourself’ as well as ‘compete with others’. Then there was Andrew Lih who talked about ‘deliberative adhocracy’, and encouraged China to look at the benefits of using social media, not as a threat to deliver democracy.

James Landay, professor from University of Washington, on sabbatical in Beijing, shared as a quick and dirty animation program to use with Tablet technology. This reminded me of the old Palm handheld software the Elliott Soloway at GoKnow developed called Sketchy. I asked James if this ‘k-sketch’ was going to be made available for smaller mobile devices, and he seemed to think this was possible. It seems like in the pursuit of ‘more and new’ the wheel is re-invented often. However I like what James was doing and saying about students constructing their own answers and solutions using simple to use animation rather than having to learn the ‘over-weight’ programs such as Flash (Adobe).

I was inspired by David Kay who has the Yuenfen New Media Art Space here in Beijing. Like many other speakers, he shared his varied life story and encouraged us to follow our dreams.

The theme of the TEDx event was ‘Courage, curiosity and creativity’ and we certainly were presented with speaker after speaker who talked about creativity, piqued our curiosity and shared their personal courage in getting to where they are now. However, despite the amazing stories and inspiring life examples, I came away from the event with mixed feelings. For the entire day we were ‘talked to’ with little opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations based on the topics presented or in fact with the speakers themselves. Yes, we were given regular breaks, in fact the ‘afternoon tea’ break was in fact longer with verbal encouragement to seek out further conversations. However we are not always willing, unless directed, to move out of our comfort zone and embark on a group discussion with people we do not know.

But, there was something missing! From the start we were asked NOT to use laptops but to sit and listen (!). I was amused, a little bewildered, but complied….thinking if I get my shiny orange covered MacBook out I will be singled out for ridicule. Where was the backchannel? Where was the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations as a sub-set to the main stage? I really missed this! I also missed the opportunity to explore presenter backgrounds and web resources as they were speaking.

So, in the interests of providing constructive comments that organisers can take and deliberate on before hosting the next event here are my suggestions:
  1. It does not make a lot of sense not using laptops, therefore I suggest allowing people the choice during and between talks. At the very least the laptop helps with note taking, and if connected online (the ideal) it provides a bridge to online spaces that further connect the listener to the presenter and to the audience as a whole.
  2. Plan for and implement strategies that mandate conversations between participants who do not know each other. As a suggestion, between each talk give the audience 3-5 minutes to turn to the person(s) sitting near them to debrief and share ideas and feelings. Another strategy is to provide breakout session times where 1-2 presenters lead a group
  3. Create an online learning community around this event e.g a Ning, that allows for ongoing discussion and interaction and knowledge sharing.
In conclusion, accolades to organisers from ISB and WAB, it was a great day! However, let's start using the power of the tools we have in hand and foster more meaningful connections and learning through setting up network opportunities that will sustain until the next event.

1 comment:

amazingsusan said...

Hey Julie, interesting post. FYI, I'm posting TEDx talks by women speakers on my website. Have already posted Miao Wong's here:

For a list of all those posted on, see here: