March 26, 2008

Which TED Talks would inspire an education agency the most?

One of the things that people seem to appreciate the most in their working lives is an opportunity to be inspired, feel inspired and then, hopefully, go forth and do inspiring things. I get that inspiration from listening to people like this, a neuroscientist who talks through and analyses the stroke she had, describing what we can only imagine in the first person. I don't know why she inspires me, but she does.

At the moment in Learning and Teaching Scotland, the education agency here, we've had a few weeks of being inspired by different successes in our work and outside it. I'm keen to get more discussion going on around the potential behind simple ideas and help more staff understand that their small everyday actions and attitudes, and big 'impossible' ideas, can make a difference to Scottish education - provided colleagues in-house and in schools know about them. We're hoping for more relationships to be built between our curriculum and technology staff and teachers, relationships built through sharing ideas rather than a closed black book of contacts.

One idea is to hold fortnightly or monthly "Be Inspired" sessions (naff title; suggestions welcome). These would simply be a showing of a TED Talk or Pop!Tech excerpt followed by some offline discussion around the topic, personal experiences, group experiences or what the organisation could learn from the individual giving the talk. Ideally, we would help people move into online discussion and discovering more talks for themselves. It's a book club, but without the books.

The obvious thing to do would be to show Ken Robinson on a loop. But we don't do things in an obvious way.

So my question to you, should you choose to answer it: what would your top five (or top ten) talks from TED and/or Pop!Tech be? Your idea of inspiring as an educator might be different from other TED Talkers. What lessons are there to be learnt by a national education agency from watching particular clips? What are the most inspiring talks you've found on the net? Tough questions, perhaps, to hone down, but another way to help people discover the wealth of goodness out there.


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I'm not sure it's the most inspirational but one that I think offers great fodder for big ideas is Barry Schwartz' Paradox of Choice. To me this speaks to us about how we develop personal and professional filters, how we focus our energies and asking ourselves what is really important and what is not.

I saw this astonishing talk just the other day and, like you, I found it made a big impression on me - so too Ken Robinson's and Barry Schwartz's. Inspiration is an interesting topic and seems to range from the small but significant animation which comes from seeing things connected in a new way - right through to rethinking the big picture. I'll have a think and flag up others which I've found inspiring.

I really enjoyed this talk by Dave Eggers about the homework drop-in centers he's involved with. Not new stuff, but certainly inspiring.

A couple of weeks ago I would say that Sir Ken Robinson’s talk was one of the most brilliant performances of the TED Talks series. However, during the weekend I listened to “once upon a school” story. The best part of it is the fact that this story doesn't only belong to one's imaginations; it is also true. Actually it is not only one story, but a set of stories now. It looks like creativity is bearing its fruits.
Yesterday, I was delighted with another fascinating, motivating, thrilling… account of a man’s dream which is changing lives in South Africa. Neil Turok’s AIMS are a great source of inspiration. It should be an example for any and every national education agency. Re-starting the educational system from scratch would be wonderful; seriously re-thinking the current educational system is needed; finding creative alternatives is something we should all be involved in.
And once again, I have to go back to the poet’s inspiring words: "God wants. The Man dreams. The Workmanship is born" (Fernando Pessoa)


I've had a think about this and, although there are many inspiring moments on TED, I think that anyone would be doing well to top Professor Randy Pausch giving his “last lecture” at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh on 18 September 2007. The title of the lecture is, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” At 76 mins, brevity is not its forte, but I'd defy anyone to remain uninspired or unaffected by this. Moreover, although the circumstances are serious, the overall tone is extremely humorous. It can be seen on YouTube:

Like many of the commentaries, I too have enjoyed TED and therefore my students have also been subjected to my favourite TEDTALKS. What I would add however is, my favourites were not always as enthusiastically received as I had hoped. Although not my personal favourite, Richard St John was almost always well received by the students, especially the 'mom' gag. For what its worth I am always inspired by Hans Rowling. Not the content but the presenter.

I agree with all above comments and would add Larry Lessig's 2007 TEDTalk regarding creative freedom and pre-digital intellectual property laws. Thanks for sharing Pop!Tech as I'd not learned of that resource.

Hi Ewan,
I'm a big TED talks fan and my EFL students too have been subjected to some TED talks; in addition to some of the already mentioned ones (Rosling, St John, Bolte Taylor, I've used David Pogue's When it comes to tech simplicity sells; Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Next Dilemma, Theo Jansen's The art of creating creatures; and Pamelia Kurstin's Theremin, the untouchable music - I find them all inspiring and students loved them too. I like the fact that there is often a transcript available, very helpful for those who need it.
Warm regards from Nova Gorica

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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