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Could TED be a model for 21st century schools?

by Neil Finney

Technology, Entertainment and Design. These are the three spheres that collide in TED.

In essence, video clips capture the essence of a presenter and media is used to convey ideas in an entertaining manner.

Ideas are spread – through media – as a way of sparking thinking, ingenuity and problem solving. In a public forum, the speakers share their learning process from inception to presentation and the audience is a voyeur. Until the point when the presentation ends and what each person does WITH the content is up to them.

Is it feasible to model our teaching a similar way?

 Sure, we have many educators using KhanAcademy as a method of flipping the classroom. By using the videos to teach content and “lessons” as the follow-up for next steps and facilitated exploration of new, integrated ideas – new paradigms for learning are taking shape.

But what if we allowed our students to share their knowledge, expertise and skills in areas as the “hook” of our lesson? Rather than just showing a video via the web, we invite our students to take center stage – so that our classrooms are communities where these student-experts could push each other to discover, take risks and collaborate – to form new learning experiences?

Could our students demonstrate the same confidence and intuition to design a learning process that meets their style and needs from the ground up and capitalizes into an explosion of human potential and academic prowess? I think so.

Allowing our students to enjoy “self-directed learning” opportunities could provide them the space needed to make the big decisions.

Here are some excellent starter questions to assess your students’ readiness for SDL opportunities…

 What matters to me?

  1. What do I want to learn about?
  2. How can I gain the skills I need to make my mark on the world?
  3. What drives me? Excites me? Inspires me? Challenges me? Keeps my attention?
  4. How do I spend my leisure time? Could this somehow translate into a future career?

If nothing else, we could begin on a new pathway to understanding our students in ways that a traditional lesson fails to yield. At best, we shape new learners using collaborative methods of engaging and harnessing the potential for success in our very own classrooms.


Have you ever used “student-experts” in your classroom? What did you find out about yourself and your students through this experience?

Do you think that your students are ready for new “self-directed” methods of learning? 



During Neilʼs 10 years of teaching experience, he has taught in London, England; Ontario; public and private schools; elementary and secondary; junior; intermediate; core french; developmental skills; and junior gifted (grades 4,5,6). He is a Reading Specialist that has been incorporating technology in his practice consistently throughout his career. Neil has recently published his first book entitled “Ignite. Incite. Inspire.” – Examining 21st Century Issues in Education, which is a collection of teaching articles and posts written from January to December 2011.


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