Monday, March 15, 2010

With You Be My Tedx Bear?

As the Chronicle of Higher Education reports in "Some Participants Criticize Format of Blockbuster Ed-Tech Conference" not everyone is happy with the TEDxNYED conference, which included Virtualpolitik friends Amy Bruckman and Dan Cohen in their roster of people "examining the role of new media and technology shaping the future of education."

The forum was a regional spin-off of the "billionaires-and-brains edutainment summit in California," as one participant, Dan Cohen, of George Mason University, described the mothership TED conferences and the hugely popular videos of their presentations. The theme Saturday was how new media and technology are shaping the future of education. And the speakers — including Lawrence Lessig, Michael Wesch, Henry Jenkins, Gina Bianchini, Jay Rosen, and David Wiley — each had 18 minutes to deliver what sometimes felt like a "greatest hits" snapshot of their ideas, with the chance for future online glory if the videotaped talks go viral.

In the blogging frenzy that followed the blockbuster conference, that constrained, no-questions-from-the-audience format seems to have generated as much online commentary as the speakers' ideas. Mr. Cohen produced a somewhat critical piece about how the format "pushes speakers like me toward theatrics," and Jeff Jarvis, of the City University of New York, also criticized the setup in harsher language that you can read here (includes profanity). Talks by speakers like Mr. Wiley (Brigham Young University), Mr. Lessig (Harvard), and George Siemens (Athabasca University) are all online. You can also sample dozens of audience reactions by trawling the blog commentary aggregated on this site.

At a time when conferences like the Digital Media and Learning conference" or Trebor Scholz's upcoming conference on Open Learning Technologies include a large contingent of critical voices, TEDxNYED often seemed like a throwback to cyberutopianism complete with media-pleasing clichés.

Although I had to say as I watched the live stream and transcribed my reactions to Twitter that it was "nice to see and hear @dancohen in action showing that academics can do the TED dance too" and that I appreciated "George Siemans talking about how 'the problems of education' may be less concerning than the technological 'solutions' posed," I found myself wondering about speakers claiming that "technology has no ideology" and expressing my belief that "game-ification" should not be a word that people say in public. I was also amused that so much of the conference was devoted to speakers talking about the analogy between the press and the university, a rhetorical trope that I am writing about in my new book. In general, I found myself agreeing more with Jay Rosen on his praise of proximity+creation than Jeff Jarvis on his love of distance+curation.



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