Watch Out TED Talks: Here Comes A New Generation

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TED’s educational arm is launching TED-Ed Clubs, an effort to support students who research, write and present and record their own ideas in a TED talk format.

“The goal is to stimulate and celebrate the best ideas of students around the world,” said TED-Ed Director Logan Smalley. TED-Ed piloted the project with 100 schools, focusing mostly on middle and high school aged students. Most of the pilot schools started with TED-Ed clubs held during lunch or after school, but some teachers incorporated materials into the classroom. TED-Ed also offers free guiding materials for 13 club meetings, taking students through the step-by-step process of creating a TED talk.

“It's about sparking the question of what makes a great presentation, both content and how you present,” Smalley said. The program suggests starting with a meeting to talk about what students are passionate about. Each student pursues one idea over the next 13 weeks. In successive weeks students discuss the qualities of a great idea, research their topics, identify good and bad habits in presentations, give feedback to one another and ultimately give a TED-style talk, captured on video.

“Each meeting has a specific deliverable in terms of acquiring and thinking about a certain presentation skill,” Smalley said. The goal is to help students get comfortable with presenting their own ideas and taking ownership of something they’re passionate about. In the process they are researching, writing, working together and learn presentation literacy skills.

Jennifer Scheffer, a teacher and instructional technology specialist at Burlington High School in Massachusetts, ran a small club of five juniors and seniors who met at lunch. Their talks ranged from self-driving cars to creating energy out of anti-matter. “I found myself a lot of the times not saying much,” said  Scheffer. “I’d love to do that in a regular classroom setting, but I think you have to have learners that are coming in with that intrinsic motivation.”


“They viewed TED as an opportunity to do research on a topic they were interested in, but weren't being exposed to in the classroom,” Scheffer said. She was impressed with how well students supported one another, even though their topics were vastly different. They asked thoughtful questions of one another and together honed in on the best approach to each idea. They weren't graded on any of the work the produced in the club, but they put in many extra hours perfecting their presentations. “To say they were impressive would be an understatement,” Scheffer said.

Scheffer's first group of students were familiar with TED talks and had an active interest in improving their public speaking skills. They were an extroverted group that saw the club as an opportunity for personal growth. Scheffer hopes that if she’s accepted to be part of the official TED-Ed Clubs launch she’ll be able to reach out to a more diverse group of students. She’d like to help shy kids find the confidence to present their ideas and to allow students who aren't as academically motivated find a passion to pursue. She’s also interested in networking with other facilitators and students through private Facebook pages.

Connecting students and their ideas to one another is a theme the TED-Ed team would like to pursue. “We want to connect one group and one school with another group at another school to give feedback,” said Smalley. He says the project is exciting because it taps into the creativity of a younger generation and helps bring it to light. “The ideas forming in their minds and their ability to communicate those ideas will literally define our future,” Smalley said.

TED-Ed also plans to create a sub-page on the website devoted to student presentation videos. Club facilitators can nominate student videos to be considered for placement. Smalley is also hoping that the new venture will help the organization identify great speakers for the TEDYouth conference held once a year. TEDYouth is a one day conference with a focus on topics that might interest youth.  A few speakers might be students themselves, but many are researchers, musicians and technologists working on interesting projects. TED live streams the event for free and encourages groups to host regional TEDxYouthDay events in conjunction with the main conference.

"We are going to be exposed to an incredible amount of uninhibited student creativity,” Smalley said. “It typically just happens in the classroom, but this brings down those walls and allows those ideas to oxygenate."