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This is the 16th IAE Newsletter
in a series on Credibility and
Credibility and Validity of Information
Part 16. Keeping Up: Ted Talks as a Personal Example
Emeritus Professor of Education
University of Oregon
“I have made this letter longer than
usual, only because I have not had the time to make it shorter.”
(Blaise Pascal; French mathematician, physicist, and religious
“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
(Isaac Newton; English mathematician and physicist; 1642–1726.)
As Blaise Pascal so eloquently pointed out, it takes much more work to
communicate concisely than to merely ramble on and on about a topic.
And, Isaac Newton reminds us that a great many people are working to
advance human knowledge. To keep up in and/or advance a field, we need
to build on the work of others. But, whose work—and what parts of their
work—are credible and valid?
I spend considerable time trying to keep up in my professional fields
of study and writing. I look for concise, credible, valid sources of
information that meet my personal needs. I feel great pleasure when I
discover such an information source.
Of course, I belong to various professional societies and browse their
publications. These give me a sense of what the professionals in my
fields are doing. Frequently the articles are way over my head or so
specialized that they lie outside my interest areas.
To a large extent, however, I find I need much more than just the
professional society publications. Thus, I spend a substantial amount
of time using other information sources. I subscribe to a variety of
“popular” science-oriented magazines such as Scientific American, Science News, New Scientist, Smithsonian, and MIT Review.
These provide an interdisciplinary overview that I find particularly
valuable. And, of course, I read a variety of Web-based “news briefs,”
blogs, and other short publications. These tend to give me a handle on
what issues the media and others think are important.
As an aside, educational researchers know quite a bit about the typical
student’s span of attention. The attention span of precollege students
receiving individual tutoring is discussed in a report from The Student
Coalition for Action in Literacy Education (SCALE, n.d.). A summary of
some of the research on college students is given in Are You with Me?
Measuring Student Attention in the Classroom (Bunce, et al., 2010).
Teachers (and parents) know from experience that young children have
quite short attention spans.
With practice and increasing maturity, attention span increases.
However, even college students are well served by breaking 50-minute
lectures into much shorter segments, with students engaging in small
group discussions and/or in whole class discussions that provide both
time and a vehicle for “digesting” the information that is being
presented. One of the advantages of viewing the TED Talks discussed below on one’s own computer or other device is the ability to pause and reflect as needed.
The Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED) Talks are one of my favorite sources of information. Each TED Talk
is generally 18 minutes or less in length. The 1,900 talks presented
since TED began in 1984 are available free on the Web, and have had
more than 2,000,000,000 views (About TED, 2015; Hochman, 3/7/2014).
I consider that the TED Talks
I select as relevant to my personal areas of interest meet my criteria
as useful and reliable resources. The talks are brief and they tend to
be credible, valid, and up-to-date.
Typically, I browse through the titles of recently presented TED Talks
until I hit one that “grabs” me and I am intrinsically motivated to
look into the topic. Intrinsic motivation is a very valuable idea in
teaching and learning. When our informal and formal educational systems
create situations in which students are intrinsically motivated,
students make great progress.
Almost always, a topic I select is one that I know something about. I am not using TED Talks as an introduction to topics that are completely new to me. Rather, I am using TED Talks as a quick and up-to-date overview designed to refresh and extend my current knowledge.
Here is another aside. Constructivism is a learning theory based on the
idea that learners build on and extend their current knowledge. I
select my learning materials based on a combination of my intrinsic
motivation and my having appropriate prerequisite knowledge. The
plethora of Web-based and other materials now available to students can
help create this situation for all students.
MA TED Talk by Fei-Fei Li’
I will illustrate using Fei-Fei Li’s TED Talk,
How We're Teaching Computers to Understand Pictures (Li, March, 2015;
Moursund, 4/13/2015). It caught my attention because it is about an
important and challenging component of artificial intelligence (AI), a
topic that has long been of interest to me. The very first book I read
about AI was Feigenbaum and Feldman’s 1963 anthology, Computers and Human Thought
(Feigenbaum & Feldman, 1963). It provided an introduction to the
field through a sequence of articles that were near the “cutting edge”
but accessible to lay people. I suppose it was mainly just plain dumb
luck that I happened to encounter this book—a book that kindled my
initial and continuing interest in AI.
What this means is that, as I view a presentation about an AI topic, I
can do mental “fact and idea” checking. I am able to judge validity
based on my extensive background knowledge, and I am apt to catch major
errors in the presentation. In addition, I can fit some of the ideas
into what I already know, and I can tie the new ideas to my
The Presenters and Presentations
TED has a presenter selection group process designed to find
well-qualified presenters. They are open to suggestions from outsiders.
When I go to a TED Talks on the Web, I can read the credentials of the presenter. If I am curious, I can look up the presenter on the Web.
For example, Fei-Fei Li is Director of Stanford’s Artificial
Intelligence Lab and Vision Lab, and she has a doctorate from the
California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech). Stanford is one of the
leading universities in the world, and it is well known for its work in
AI. Cal Tech also is a prestigious university. Wow, these are
impressive credentials! Since her presentation topic is within her
field of expertise, I consider her to be a very credible information
The Ted Talks videos are
filmed before a live audience, and some of the talks have had millions
of online viewers. This live audience and the potential huge number of
online viewers put considerable pressure on the presenters to be well
prepared. Most of the TED Talks
presenters I have viewed are quite experienced speakers and make good
use of well-designed visuals. This is certainly true for Li, who has
both teaching and administrative duties at Stanford.
Each TED Talks video includes
a transcript available online along with the free video. Thus, I can
read the transcript at my leisure. I find the transcript helpful in
reviewing details from the presentation and also useful if I want to
quote from the presentation in an article I am writing. An Activity to Do with Students
Here is an activity that you might want to carry out with middle school
and older students. Ask your students to tell you about the sources
they use in exploring and finding information about a topic that they
currently find very interesting. (For example, they might be interested
in the latest “hot” music or the performance of current and past great
athletes.) Then ask about their insights into the credibility and
validity of the information sources and the information they are
retrieving. This activity can be used effectively in a classroom
setting, with students working in pairs or small groups.
“Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a
subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.”
(Samuel Johnson; British author and father of the English dictionary;
Our schools are moving toward providing all students with good
connectivity both in and outside of school. The Web is already by far
the world’s largest library, and it continues its rapid growth. Aids to
interacting with the Web and finding information continue to improve.
A good education and a good educational system provide students with
the background knowledge to “look it up” and to understand the
information one finds. It helps students learn to separate the wheat
from the chaff—valid information from information that is questionable,
biased, or just plain wrong. In addition, it helps students learn to
learn on their own and to become responsible for their own learning.
Think about the previous paragraph in terms of how we are currently
trying to assess student learning through state and national
high-stakes tests. At the current time, this assessment system is
certainly not aligned with the types of educational ideas discussed
David Moursund is an
Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, and
coeditor of the IAE Newsletter.
His professional career includes founding the International Society for
Technology in Education (ISTE) in 1979, serving as ISTE’s executive
officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship publication, Learning and Leading with Technology.
He was the major professor or co-major professor for 82 doctoral
students. He has presented hundreds of professional talks and
workshops. He has authored or coauthored more than 60 academic books
and hundreds of articles. Many of these books are available free
online. See http://iaepedia.org/David_Moursund_Books. In 2007,
Moursund founded Information Age Education (IAE). IAE provides free
online educational materials via its IAE-pedia,
IAE Newsletter, IAE Blog, and books. See http://iaepedia.org/Main_Page#IAE_in_a_Nutshell.
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