Viewed one way, it's just the release on YouTube of a dozen short videos created for high school students and life-long learners. But we're committed to growing this archive to hundreds of videos within a year, and I thought it would be helpful to jot down a few personal notes on why we're doing this... ...because there's a right and a wrong way to interpret today's launch.
The wrong way is to imagine that we believe this to be some kind of grand solution. "TED claims its new TED-Ed videos will transform education"! Er, no. We don't.
The right way is to see this as our reaching out to teachers and saying: Can we help?
Teachers are heroes. That's pretty much the founding principle of TED-Ed. TED's core mission is to spread great ideas and teachers are right there at the deep end. They've dedicated their lives to helping shape the minds of the next generation. There is no more noble or important work -- and it is scandalous that it is not better recognized or remunerated.
One of the most thrilling developments at TED in the past few years has been seeing some of the world's best educators (in the broadest sense) reaching the size of audience that they deserve. The talk of education reformer Sir Ken Robinson has been seen on all platforms more than 11 million times... and is still being viewed by more than 10,000 people every day. Indeed every talk we post now on the ted.com home page gets viewed by tens of thousands of people in its first few hours online. But most of these talks are aimed at adults. And even though many of them are being used in classrooms, at a typical 18 minutes length, they simply displace too much class time.
And so the question we've been asking with increasing urgency the past couple years is: could we do something similar to TED Talks that would work better in schools? Something that would give teachers a useful new tool. And more than that, could we create a platform that would allow teachers to share their best lesson to a much wider audience?
15 months ago we hired Logan Smalley, a TED Fellow with a proven passion for teaching and technology, and together we've spent a lot of time this past year listening to educators, and members of the TED community, and figuring out what TED could best offer. Here is some of what we heard.
- Video does indeed have a powerful role to play in education.
- It allows great lessons to be shared online with vastly bigger audiences.
- It allows teachers to show things that would be hard to show live in every class.
- It also can allow kids to learn at their own pace (hello, replay button).
- The best length for a video to be used in class is under 10 minutes.
- The best videos often use animation or other visualization techniques to deliver better explanations and more compelling narratives.
- Teachers who are great coaches can invite to their classrooms, via the web, and without cost, the perfect instructor to ignite interest in a topic or to meet a specific child's needs.
We also heard that the deepest desire of many teachers is not to prepare their students for an annual standardized test, but to inspire them to become life-long learners.
And so, our vision gained clarity. TED should invite great teachers to help us create a new video collection, made up of short, memorable lessons. We should not try to recreate what Salman Khan of the Khan Academy and others are doing so brilliantly, namely to meticulously build up entire curricula on video. No. TED is known for its ability to evoke curiosity, wonder, and mind-shifting insight. That should be our prime goal here. Short lessons that spark curiosity. That deliver memorable "aha" moments. That make learning thrilling. If we contribute just one iota to doing that, it would be a worthwhile project.
But how to populate them? Our strategy at TED on all projects we take on has become one of "radical openness". Any internal skills we have are vastly outweighed by people externally, and so we should simply seek to empower them. (See TED Open Translation, TEDx, etc.)
So that's what today's TED-Ed launch is. An invitation to teachers across the world to help us dial up the effectiveness of video lessons. As an initial offering, we have posted a dozen lessons that we think show promise. And now we're ready to assist teachers in creating hundreds more.
Most of the examples in our launch collection rely on animation to amplify the educator's words. We think this works. One way to think of the potential of animation is to ask: what could a teacher do if you gave her or him a magic blackboard -- one which could display literally anything that would assist in an explanation (and in holding the attention of the class)? Would that help ignite understanding and excitement? We think the answer is Yes. Check out, for example, Mark Honigsbaum's talk on pandemics.
At TED-Ed we have hired a lean, mean team of talented animators and producers who are now standing by to turn teachers' best lessons into memorable films. We are also reaching out to animators worldwide who wish to offer their services in this regard. The pairing of great teachers and animators offers amazing potential for spreading knowledge in the YouTube era.
As well as our in-house team, we have signed a contract with Cognitive Media, the groundbreaking animation team (led by Andrew Park) who are behind the wonderful RSA Animate talks. I wanted to experiment with them on how to do short videos specifically designed to catalyze curiosity. So (tapping into my boyhood obsession with Physics) I tried writing a couple of scripts, and Cognitive developed a wonderful new style of animation to turn them into a short series called. "Questions No One Knows the Answer To." Here's the brief intro.
A further massive impetus to our launch came in our partnership with YouTube. They offered us significant financial help to accelerate our production plans, so that we are now looking to build this new archive into more than 300 videos within the first year. YouTube have also done a really smart thing to get round the fact that many schools block their content. They've created a special YouTube For Schools program (which we are part of) that schools are now white-listing. They've also been great in working out with us limited commercial intrusion, including, importantly no pre-roll ads, and no advertisers inappropriate for children. In fact a teacher should be able to show these films in school without showing any ads at all. By launching initially on YouTube, we are giving these new videos their best possible chance to shine and attract an audience.
This is the first part of a two-part launch. The second part comes next month when we open up a new section of ted.com devoted to TED-Ed and offer some powerful new tools to teachers. But for now, I would love you to watch some of the initial sample of videos, ponder the opportunity TED may have to contribute to education, and give your feedback and insight in the comment section below. And, most important of all: if you know a great teacher or animator, please send them to TED-Ed. We would love to hear from them, or from you!