TEDxNYed: This is bullshit

Here are my notes for my talk to the TEDxNYed gathering this past weekend. I used the opportunity of a TED event to question the TED format, especially in relation to education, where — as in media — we must move past the one-way lecture to collaboration. I feared I’d get tomatoes — organic — thrown at me at the first line, but I got laugh and so everything we OK from there. The video won’t be up for a week or two so I’ll share my notes. It’s not word-for-word what I delivered, but it’s close….

* * *

This is bullshit.

Why should you be sitting there listening to me? To paraphrase Dan Gillmor, you know more than I do. Will Richardson should be up here instead of me. And to paraphrase Jay Rosen, you should be the people formerly known as the audience.

But right now, you’re the audience and I’m lecturing.

That’s bullshit.

What does this remind of us of? The classroom, of course, and the entire structure of an educational system built for the industrial age, turning out students all the same, convincing them that there is one right answer — and that answer springs from the lecturn. If they veer from it they’re wrong; they fail.

What else does this remind us of? Media, old media: one-way, one-size-fits-all. The public doesn’t decide what’s news and what’s right. The journalist-as-speaker does.

But we must question this very form. We must enable students to question the form.

I, too, like lots of TED talks. But having said that….

During the latest meeting of Mothership TED, I tweeted that I didn’t think I had ever seen any TEDster tweet anything negative about a talk given there, so enthralled are they all for being there, I suppose. I asked whether they were given soma in their shwag bags.

But then, blessed irony, a disparaging tweet came from none other than TED’s curator, dean, editor, boss, Chris Anderson. Sarah Silverman had said something that caused such a kerfuffle Anderson apologized and then apologized for the apology, so flummoxed was he by someone coming into the ivory tower of TED to shake things up with words.

When I tweeted about this, trying to find out what Silverman had said, and daring to question the adoration TEDsters have for TED, one of its acolytes complained about my questioning the wonders of TED. She explained that TED gave her “validation.”


Good God, that’s the last thing we should want. We should want questions, challenges, discussion, debate, collaboration, quests for understanding and solutions. Has the internet taught us any less?

But that is what education and media do: they validate.

They also repeat. In news, I have argued that we can no longer afford to repeat the commodified news the public already knows because we want to tell the story under our byline, exuding our ego; we must, instead, add unique value.

The same can be said of the academic lecture. Does it still make sense for countless teachers to rewrite the same essential lecture about, say, capillary action? Used to be, they had to. But not now, not since open curricula and YouTube. Just as journalists must become more curator than creator, so must educators.

A few years ago, I had this conversation with Bob Kerrey at the New School. He asked what he could do to compete with brilliant lectures now online at MIT. I said don’t complete, complement. I imagined a virtual Oxford based on a system of lecturers and tutors. Maybe the New School should curate the best lectures on capillary action from MIT and Stanford or a brilliant teacher who explains it well even if not from a big-school brand; that could be anyone in YouTube U. And then the New School adds value by tutoring: explaining, answering, probing, enabling.

The lecture does have its place to impart knowledge and get us to a shared starting point. But it’s not the be-all-and-end-all of education – or journalism. Now the shared lecture is a way to find efficiency in ending repetition, to make the best use of the precious teaching resource we have, to highlight and support the best. I’ll give the same advice to the academy that I give to news media: Do what you do best and link to the rest.

I still haven’t moved past the lecture and teacher as starting point. I also think we must make the students the starting point.

At a Carnegie event at the Paley Center a few weeks ago, I moderated a panel on teaching entrepreneurial journalism and it was only at the end of the session that I realized what I should have done: start with the room, not the stage. I asked the students in the room what they wished their schools were teaching them. It was a great list: practical yet visionary.

I tell media that they must become collaborative, because the public knows much, because people want to create, not just consume, because collaboration is a way to expand news, because it is a way to save expenses. I argue that news is a process, not a product. Indeed, I say that communities can now share information freely – the marginal cost of their news is zero. We in journalism should ask where we can add value. But note that that in this new ecosystem, the news doesn’t start with us. It starts with the community.

I’ve been telling companies that they need to move customers up the design chain. On a plane this week, I sat next to a manufacturer of briefcases last week and asked whether, say, TechCrunch could get road warriors to design the ultimate laptop bag for them, would he build it? Of course, he would.

So we need to move students up the education chain. They don’t always know what they need to know, but why don’t we start by finding out? Instead of giving tests to find out what they’ve learned, we should test to find out what they don’t know. Their wrong answers aren’t failures, they are needs and opportunities.

But the problem is that we start at the end, at what we think students should learn, prescribing and preordaining the outcome: We have the list of right answers. We tell them our answers before they’ve asked the questions. We drill them and test them and tell them they’ve failed if they don’t regurgitate back our lectures as lessons learned. That is a system built for the industrial age, for the assembly line, stamping out everything the same: students as widgets, all the same.

But we are no longer in the industrial age. We are in the Google age. Hear Jonathan Rosenberg, Google’s head of product management, who advised students in a blog post. Google, he said, is looking for “non-routine problem-solving skills.” The routine way to solve the problem of misspelling is, of course, the dictionary. The non-routine way is to listen to all the mistake and corrections we make and feed that back to us in the miraculous, “Did you mean?”

“In the real world,” he said, “the tests are all open book, and your success is inexorably determined by the lessons you glean from the free market.”

One more from him: “It’s easy to educate for the routine, and hard to educate for the novel.” Google sprung from seeing the novel. Is our educational system preparing students to work for or create Googles? Googles don’t come from lectures.

So if not the lecture hall, what’s the model? I mentioned one: the distributed Oxford: lectures here, teaching there.

Once you’re distributed, then one has to ask, why have a university? Why have a school? Why have a newspaper? Why have a place or a thing? Perhaps, like a new news organization, the tasks shift from creating and controlling content and managing scarcity to curating people and content and enabling an abundance of students and teachers and of knowledge: a world whether anyone can teach and everyone will learn. We must stop selling scarce chairs in lecture halls and thinking that is our value.

We must stop our culture of standardized testing and standardized teaching. Fuck the SATs.* In the Google age, what is the point of teaching memorization?

We must stop looking at education as a product – in which we turn out every student giving the same answer – to a process, in which every student looks for new answers. Life is a beta.

Why shouldn’t every university – every school – copy Google’s 20% rule, encouraging and enabling creation and experimentation, every student expected to make a book or an opera or an algorithm or a company. Rather than showing our diplomas, shouldn’t we show our portfolios of work as a far better expression of our thinking and capability? The school becomes not a factory but an incubator.

There’s another model for an alternative to the lecture and it’s Dave Winer’s view of the unconference. At the first Bloggercon, Dave had me running a panel on politics and when I said something about “my panel,” he jumped down my throat, as only Dave can. “There is no panel,” he decreed. “The room is the panel.” Ding. It was in the moment that I learned to moderate events, including those in my classroom, by drawing out the conversation and knowledge of the wise crowd in the room.

So you might ask why I didn’t do that here today. I could blame the form; didn’t want to break the form. But we all know there’s another reason:


* That was an ad-lib

  • BudP

    Wow. The current education system akin to the current newspaper system. Lots to think about as the director of a grade school. Thanks.

  • You are reminding me why I have not returned to college. Thank you.

  • Adam Glenn

    Yes!! Smartly put. It’s not about what you know but about how you think. A favorite quote, appropos, from A. Einstein: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

  • Great text, thank you!
    I wonder if you know the documentary “Incubators of the future. How Schools in Germany Succeed”.
    Your thoughts are very much connected to the intentions presented there.

    http://www.archiv-der-zukunft.de/Filmuebersicht/Treibhaeuser-der-Zukunft-internationale-Edition.php (I could send you a copy.)

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  • As the mom of a 6 year-old I dispair at the state of our education system. (I’m Canadian.) Our current government has been talking about reforming our education system. I wish they would talk to you Jeff.

    • Hendri Ma’ruf

      Though your (Canadian) system is much better than ours (Indonesian), this confirms my belief that education system is one of the hardest part (among nations) to change.

    • Kara ZorEl

      I feel the same way of the US public education system. We can’t afford private school, so I’m planning to homeschool kindergarten next year until I come up with something better.

  • Interesting post. I actually wrote a post on the very same subject a few days ago, with the title; Why do we have exams? http://sse4m.wordpress.com/2010/02/25/why-do-we-have-exams/

    I’m a master student at Stockholm School of Economics, Marketing and Media Management and I have thought about the way we measure performance at Universities. Why measure knowledge as something we know at one single point in our lives? I agree with you and believe that we need to change the view on education – it should not be based on the same system that was invented more than a hundred years ago. Surprise, surprise, but the world has actually changed.

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  • Rich R

    It is not just about how you think. What you know is equally important (the NYT magazine this weekend has an article on this interplay in teaching – substitute ‘how you teach’ for ‘how you think’).

    If you have no basic facts, no starting point, knowing how to think gets you nowhere.

    A balance is needed.

    (your article discusses this – this is mostly in response to one of your replies)

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  • TED may not be perfect, but it sure seems to be a window to a lot of great content and it has probably generated discussions spanning “ways of thinking” that have never intersected before.

    So I’ll quote from my own blog here regarding the “lecture” question.


    …it isn’t that lectures are “evil” — it’s the “memorize what I say in the lecture and regurgitate it on for the test” mindset of many educational institutions that is the problem. And besides, TED lectures are part of something much much bigger. Yes there are ideas on the stage but they are surrounded by all the networking of the people in the room, all the sharing into the future (Wiley’s open versus closed), and all the simultaneous backstories in social media.

  • “In the Google age, what is the point of teaching memorization?”

    A strategy of “They’ll find it when they need it” doesn’t take into account that people often don’t know they need information until it’s too late.

    Internalizing some information is a mark of an educated person, and having facility with some store of internal knowledge can contribute to a deeper ability to understand.

    • Tom

      As the father of a bright 7th grade girl, I would say:
      1. Math
      2. Grammar & rhetoric
      3. Scientific Method
      4. What interests you?

      • Hugh Brown

        Wow. I would love to spend an evening talking to someone who knew the words to any Keats or Robert Frost poem, any Shakespeare sonnet, the US Declaration of Independence, any part of the Western canon over someone who can find it on google. Seriously, how can a culture commit suicide by refusing to know its literature, political institutions, and history?

        • You don’t have to memorize it to know it.

      • This is really in response to the following, but there was no reply link below that post. I’d actually much rather spend and evening with Keats or Frost or Shakespeare than someone that could recite what these authors created. I can read the works of these authors any time I want; I’m only going to be interested in talking with you if you have something original to say and it need not be as insightful or as poetic as any of those authors. I don’t care even if you are only semi-literate, give me something real; not intellectual balderdash that passes all too often for intelligence.

  • Chris

    Pretty interesting. In many ways, the North American education systems already do encourage variety in learning, especially if compared to the system in France, where so much more attention is given to basic knowledge acquisition (words and numbers) and very little to creativity, learning by experience…
    While I was in university (still in France), one teacher actually told us that at the end of our semester with him: “By the way, forget about everything you learned from my class this term. You are here to learn how to learn, not to absorb some content.”
    I think this still resonates with me in my eternal quest for knowledge…

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  • Todd

    Little is harder to move than American education. It is rooted (i.e. firmly stuck) in outdated, ineffective practices. Too many teachers are reluctant to change, and they are backed by status-quo-protecting unions. IMHO, we need to scrap it entirely and start from scratch.

  • John Warren

    I think this model works well for getting the best out of people that know how to find information and are able to think for themselves. However, if we leave what is learned to the people themselves, we may end up with creationism being taught as science, for example.

    There need to be some sort of standards, otherwise the results will be all over the board, some groups will end up being the leaders and thinkers of the future, and others will end up in the 14th century.

    As far as news, again, most people are not aware of the world around them. They’re too busy trying to work as many hours as possible so that they can purchase the latest gadget that might make them look cool, so they can eventually get laid. When they get home from work, most people are looking for escape, and that’s what today’s news gives them… entertainment.

    If you’re talking about such a format for classes at MIT, fantastic idea. As a way forward for the masses? I’m inclined to think not, although it makes me sad to say that.

    • Dman

      Regarding the need for standards, it really depends what standards you set. The current push for “Common Core Standards” recommends: “Allegory of the Cave” from The Republic by Plato (380 BCE) translated by G.M.A. Grube and “Address to Students at Moscow State University” by Ronald Reagan (1988) for middle school kids! Too often standards are overly prescriptive and end up stifling creativity and general interest in learning from kids (and teachers).

  • This is why I read you. This is why. Fricken awesome, Jeff. I’m sorry this isn’t a meaningful post, but it’s just me saying that I read you all the time and I forget to tell you that.

    • Thanks much, Chris. And thanks for the tweetlove.

  • Beny Schonfeld

    Awesome! Dying to see the video. Lot’s of great thoughts to ponder, and lessons to apply to my business and life:

    “Instead of giving tests to find out what they’ve learned, we should test to find out what they don’t know. Their wrong answers aren’t failures, they are needs and opportunities.”

    “Life is a Beta”

  • kwixson

    After reading your notes I am confident I heard what I thought I heard from you, and so I’m also confident in what I took from George Siemens’ talk at the TEDxNYED event, in which he responded directly to your presentation and called you out by name.

    For one, he is dismissive of the notion of education adopting the 20% rule from Google because, he says, Google copied it from education in the first place. No need to go to the video on that one — he made that claim in his Tweets [http://twitter.com/gsiemens/status/10086842430].

    From a certain point of view he is right that the educational systems use the 20% rule. To get your PhD you have to do research and produce an innovative product you dream up yourself. But graduate level and post-graduate work aside, he is completely, conceptually wrong. Undergraduates are not encouraged to innovate, or to produce anything that isn’t assigned, much less grade-school level students. It isn’t until *after* students have already been stamped out as educational widgets with bachelor’s degrees in the way you describe that they are seen fit to finally innovate. You were clearly saying that the educational system should incorporate the 20% rule into the entire educational process from the start, as a educational philosophy. It seemed that way to me, and so it seemed arrogant and unfair, or else incredibly out of touch, for him to call you down on that point. He seemed to me to be willfully misconstruing your point in order to puff himself up as superior.

    Speaking of his tweets, one such he made during your speech was “too many softballs are being thrown out. wrong,, wrong, wrong.” [http://twitter.com/gsiemens/status/10086808485] — His response to your presentation was to elaborate on how you were wrong. Of this on-stage response I told you: “@jeffjarvis @gsiemens also seemed to be saying that you needed to have a teacher to provide a single, correct answer for understanding.” [http://twitter.com/kwixson/status/10091073432] to which he responded to me by saying “@kwixson not my statement at all – i.e. single/correct answer with knowledge: see (.pdf) http://bit.ly/10XCeL” [http://twitter.com/gsiemens/status/10091219506]

    I would call attention though, to the parts of his response where he repeatedly referred to the “consistent narrative” he said was necessary for “deep understanding” and which only be provided by a teacher as creator instead of curator. To be a curator instead of creator, and to allow students to innovate in their pursuit of knowledge and answers (which might lead to a diversity of answers, as you rightly point out) he rejects as advocacy of, if I recall correctly, “private world syndrome” in which individuals have their own, independent realities. The video from TEDxNYED will validate my recollection I think.

    He most certainly did directly reject the notion of curator not creator when he tweeted, “@willrich45 do you agree with that? I don’t think I do. – i.e. curator instead of creator” [http://twitter.com/gsiemens/status/10086593019] He was speaking directly to your presentation when he said, “‘The solutions to the problems of education concern me more than the problems themselves'” [http://twitter.com/willrich45/status/10089337834]

    He is being dishonest, then, when he claims he said he didn’t suggest he advocated “single/correct answer with knowledge” because I don’t know what other point he could have been making when rejecting the curator-not-creator notion and talking about a “consistent narrative”, warning of the dangers of “private world syndrome”? What else can “consistent narrative” mean?

    In my tweet, where I said, “Watching #TEDxNYED and I’m confused by George Siemens’ words; incensed by his attitude. What’s his problem with Jeff Jarvis?” [http://twitter.com/kwixson/status/10090047191]

    • kwixson

      grrr…. {premature submit}

      Anyway, I was confused by his remarks because –I’m convinced– he was trying the trick of dazzling with BS in order make people think, “I don’t understand what this guy is saying, so me must be smarter than me”. I tried to read his stupid PDF and it’s more of the same. I can’t find a cogent argument in there anywhere. So, I get really put off when people do that to me. I don’t like when people *try* to talk over my head just so I’ll defer to their obviously superior intellect. I especially don’t like it when people also then trash someone else {unfairly} for dramatic effect.

      He didn’t need to say anything about you or your presentation. He could have gone on with his prepared remarks and it could have stood in contrast to your presentation on it’s merits — and he could have left it to us to sort out and reconcile. His on-stage rebuttal was unnecessary, bad form, arrogant and self-serving.

      • thanks for your account. Didn’t he also argue that I was advocating for corporate v. civic citizenship? (which would be his straw man; I’m not)?

      • @kwixson2 – it’s ok to say, directly, that you think Jeff is super-fantastic-awesome. You don’t need to distort what I said in order to make that remark.

        To say that I support single/correct answer learning is the equivalent of saying Jeff supports a return to paper-based journalism. Even a passing familiarity with Jeff’s work would put that notion to rest. The same holds true with my work.

        Given your references to “dishonesty”, “BS”, “arrogant”, “self-serving”, I conclude you are trolling, not interested in genuine discussion. If you choose to remove the bluster from your comments, I’ll happily engage with you.

        In my presentation, I made direct reference to Jeff’s comments. As Jeff is aware, our pre-conference correspondence from organizers *encouraged* debate and disagreement with other speakers. At no point did I attack Jeff – I reacted to his ideas.

        Here’s how I think this unfolded:

        You posted a strong reaction to my comments, stating that you were incensed. Jeff took the bait. Your position-taking activities required you to a) retract your comments (subsequent tweets), or b) you could move forward with more aggressive language in order to defend your views. Your subsequent comments have been more about preserving your initial position than they have been about my response to Jeff.

        If Jeff opts to view the recording, here’s what I said:

        1. Education is not here to emulate corporate activity – education serves a unique role in society of preparing individuals for the “vital combat for lucidity”.
        2. The solutions being offered to education’s problems are starting to worry me more than the problem of education
        3. Teachers are a critical part of the educational process, or, as I worded it, teaching is a beautiful profession, serving a vital societal role.

        Now, to say that I misrepresented you, Jeff, is interesting. I spoke to the same audience that you spoke to ~30 minutes prior. How can I misrepresent you or distort your words when the audience – an intelligent, passionate group – would readily be able to form their judgement on this.

        This is an interesting experience of gossip and emotion over first-hand account…

        • And my point to you, sir, is that I did not say taht “education is here to emulate corporate activity.” That is what misrepresents me.

      • kwixson

        First, apologies to Mr. Jarvis for mucking up his comments.

        At the risk of being called a troll again, let me just conclude with these remarks.


        From my first tweet to my overly long post above I have been honestly expressing my personal reaction to two speeches I heard. The first, by Mr. Jarvis, I connected with. It made sense to me. I got something out of it.

        The second was by Mr. Siemens. I didn’t like the speech. The reason I didn’t like it had mostly to do with the tone in which it was delivered. It was disagreeable and contemptuous in my view. That is my emotional reaction to the tone. I think it is probably a mistake to discount an emotional reaction, for surely emotional reactions are a component of communication and education. What was also probably a mistake was for Mr. Siemens to respond to the emotional reaction of any one person. For all he knows, I could be a loon, or at least alone in my assessment. If there was anyone to take bait …


        To the substance of the Siemens speech I reacted with confusion. It didn’t make sense to me. In that way and to that extent it failed to communicate. Judging by the tweets from other people, people who were actually in the room at the time rather than just watching the live video as I was, there were other people for whom his speech failed to connect as well.


        Mr. Jarvis has not endorsed my statements in any way. He seems to me to be waiting to see the speech by Mr. Siemens himself before making any kind of substantive reaction. I don’t think he’s taken any kind of bait. His exchanges with me have been largely to ask for clarification. To the extent he has failed to dismiss me out of hand I take as merely being polite.


        As Mr. Siemens rightly points out, my use of emotional language, like “arrogant,” etc. is not conducive to a dialog with him about his speech. But I’m not interested in a dialog with him (or with Mr. Jarvis either, for that matter.) so that’s okay. Similarly, I think elements of Mr. Siemens speech (even apart from his general attitude) were not conducive to inviting discourse on substantive issues. I think rather than responding to the Jarvis speech, the Siemens speech largely exploited the Jarvis speech, by appealing to that audience’s visceral feelings toward large corporations for instance. I think it is certainly possible to shape an audience’s perception of a speech they heard earlier, and to make unfair associations and representations of the earlier speaker’s words regardless of how intelligent or passionate the audience. They usually don’t have perfect recall.


        That either of these two academic luminaries in NYC are addressing the comments of some random nobody from Kalamazoo, Michigan is interesting and was completely unexpected – and ironically, it speaks to the concluding point Mr. Jarvis made in his speech. Ego is a powerful force indeed. (So is Twitter, apparently.)

        With that in mind, I’m done now. If Mr. Siemens cares to get in the last word, that’s fine by me.

  • Terrific post. I suspect we’re moving to a time when the “knowledge middlemen” — the managers, the teachers, the speakers — become coaches.

    Think about that head-shift, if you are a manager. This means you no longer manage people (aka tell them what to do, and what they need to improve upon), you coach them (listen to their ideas for how to get things done, and help guide them, and the mission, toward success.)

    Same goes for presenters, as you suggest. I believe the morph toward this model is happening now.

    There are new tools (ie Weave, in beta) that help us move away from the normal “speak, dismount, applause” – to one which is more valuable to everyone involved before, during and after “the presentation.”

    — Polly Pearson, VP Strategy Engagement and Employment Brand
    EMC Corp

  • Kirsten Gronberg

    Good teachers already know they shouldn’t just preach, and good classes are hardly ever entirely lecture-based. However, teachers must lecture to lay down their objectives and to establish a groundwork from which to build classroom discussion. It is also important to develop the students’ abilities to listen/discover, the starting point for any solid thought process (as well as for any strong media strategy).

    • Adam

      I agree. This is probably not a real world problem, just an argument where one of the speaker has a slightly different way of describing their ideal learning/teaching-situation. Where would we draw the line between discussion and lecture, and would anyone want to use just one of them?

  • I went to a local TEDx event. It was just like the Big TED which was entertaining but disappointing because I was hoping the local events might be a bit different, more experimental, the ‘x’ in TEDx…

    And yes, it is not a conference. You could be sitting at home watching. Very little interaction, which is a strange set up these days, where I get used to the podium shrinking and becoming lower. But at TED, the podium stands tall and unassailable.

    Here was my take: http://www.siliconvalleywatcher.com/mt/archives/2009/11/tedxsf_conferen.php

  • cm

    Jeff, what you’ve written is pretty much exactly why we’ve home schooled our kids. One is now getting to university/college age and I’m wondering how much use university will be.

    Schooling really serves two useful functions:
    * Programming up kids to a certain level of function so that they can perform some useful tasks.
    * Daycare… A dumping ground to keep the kids out of our hair while we go to work.

    The programming of the kids unfortunately has the effect of reducing their ability to solve novel problems and their natural curiosity and ability to do independent learning. It was that a university/college education then re-programmed the kids to “learn how to learn” – undoing some of the damage of school – but now it is just a further level of programming so that kids emerge with the skills required to perform higher levels of function.

    When I look back on my education during the 70s and early 80s, pretty much nothing of the specific skills learned then are obsolete.

    The most important part of education is to help foster the “learn to learn” skill rather than specific hard-wired skills. That’s not something I learned in school. I learned that doing my own research in hobbies etc.

    • “One is now getting to university/college age and I’m wondering how much use university will be.”

      As someone who was homeschooled from kindergarten through high school, I can say from experience that college will be a huge benefit to your kids if you’ve done the homeschooling right. My parents’ method of homeschooling taught me how to teach myself, which has served me immensely well in my college education. (I’m currently getting my master’s at Arizona State’s Cronkite School of Journalism.) But as pointless as most of my undergraduate degree was, the experience was invaluable. I had opportunities I never would have had if I hadn’t gone to college. And, of course, job advancement is practically nil without one or more fancy pieces of paper.

      It sounds arrogant, but I knew more than my professors in most of my major’s classes. But some of those professors had valuable ties. So don’t necessarily get hung up on what your kids might learn in college. Who they might meet is the important thing.

  • Here is a more formal idea for the internet that may have a stronger framework for conflict, transparency and collaboration that we seem to crave:


  • There will always be people who actually love bullshit, and having gone through the experience of being marginalized by the education system myself I don’t mind if bullshit persists for their sake — but only as one area within a much more heterodox education unsystem.

  • Simon Hawkin

    True for adults. Children, however, need to learn how to learn. I mean, they need to be taught how to learn. And other good habits (perseverance, etc).

    The same seems to be true with sports, music and other similar skill sets, especially at the beginner’s level.

    So there is some room for one-way teaching, mostly of the “training” kind.

    • Cliff

      I disagee with your point

      “I mean, they need to be taught how to learn. And other good habits (perseverance, etc).”

      I did not teach any of my kids how to learn how to walk they just learned how to walk because I gave them the space and opportunity to do so. There was no time limit there were no classes or tests. Just plenty of practice. They learned perserverance by attempting to walk after they had fallen down. I provided guidance and tried to protect them but eventually they walked on their own. Same with talking and in my opinion any other activity a person genuinely wants to learn. Any person sufficiently motivated can learn anything. We don’t have to teach people to learn we just have to get out of the way provide guidance and let it happen.

  • Susan Young

    Amazing insights and right on target. As a former news reporter I thought I may disagree with you as I was reading, but you are on the dime. We are in an interactive age—Walter Cronkite talking at us thru our TV’s every night is long gone. We need stirring dialogue and ideas. As long as we continue to allow tenured stale teachers and administrators with their stale way of thinking and talking down to students (and often parents), and TV news execs who are funeral directors because they refuse to change and grow—we must endure it—even if it is a slow painful process. Incubators, the design and education chain….thank you for an outstanding post.


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  • I’m not sure I’m ready to throw out the whole of the traditional classroom, but I am in agreement with you and Seth Godin in your argument that the classroom is still designed to turn out industrial age workers–a serious flaw.

    However, there are strong movements to adjust these practices. One of your points jumped out at me as a case in point:

    “Instead of giving tests to find out what they’ve learned, we should test to find out what they don’t know. Their wrong answers aren’t failures, they are needs and opportunities.”

    This is precisely the premise of formative assessment and I see it being practiced in my school district (I’m a Board of Education Trustee). I’m proud of many of the things we’re starting to push through. Step into a progressive public or private primary education classroom and you might be surprised–smartboards, Internet, Skype, blogs, collaboration, differentiated learning, etc.

    We have a lot to do, but don’t assume it isn’t happening.

  • Billakbar

    With all due respect, the lecture is not bullshit but can serve as one method of delivery among many. The lecture should never be construed as being the One Truth from on high, unchallenged and unassailable. It’s only one person’s observations, presented for debate and possible criticism, even dismantling. Knowledge is tenuous and elastic. Mr. Jarvis, standing before an audience or here online, insisting that such a format is bullshit or on what education and media are “for”, may be missing the irony.

    • Perhaps you are missing something. I said that the lecture has a place — please read my words again, carefully — but that there is no point in thousands of people rewriting and redelivering the same lecture for the purpose of inflating ego. It is a waste of educational resource that can better be put toward teaching.

  • Jeff – Thank you again for shining some light on anachronisms. As a higher ed practitioner, I take great joy in hearing you rail against the current paradigm and urge people to adapt it to the 21st century. Many of us are trying to do this, but there there’s great inertia to overcome.

    I’ve put some thoughts to blog on this at http://bit.ly/bkRcY3 (“On Jeff Jarvis Calling Lectures Bullshit) in which I make connections between your perspective and complementary work in higher ed. It’s a short post. In that post I link to another I wrote after returning from a recent NSF meeting of people who are trying undo the lecture, as it were (http://bit.ly/a3GOjZ).

    Thanks for validating our work. :) I continue to follow yours with interest.

  • Amazing post, education is close to my heart, and at TED i seen the best education post by sir ken Robinso http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

    Education kills creativity, since it make us all think in patterns, how else can you teach the mind to read and write, one step at a time,
    however, the mind can grasp an entire page in a sec and understand it, without reading word by word…. and why we cant teach how to build a successful company /biz ?

    At the end of the day, its about making your own game, and play with the cards you got. my passion is to enrich other peoples life, and someday down the road i will take more seriously the education part, try to succeed myself and then try to teach others… wish me luck :)

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  • I listened to your talk a bit streamed to Barcelona while I was working on Saturday and followed the tweet stream a bit. I spent a few minutes trying to come up with an alternate wording for this next sentence. Your TedxNYED talk kind of sucked – Don’t expect to be called up to the “TED Big Leagues” based on this performance. Real TED talks are about speakers giving us a path forward toward real solutions – often they are quite narrow glimpses into the future at hopeful solutions that might just generalize and make the world. It is far too easy to go on for 10 minutes cursing about what is wrong and liberally spewing overused meaningless platitudes as your “considered solution”. As a simple example, the phrase “schools as incubators” while fractionally true is no where near a solution. Your talk reminds me of when a comedian runs short of actually funny material usually starts dropping f-bombs and complaining about their past relationships. It works great in a dark club with a three drink minimum or as a shock-raidio talk show host at 3AM. I would suggest that Ted has a higher standard for intellectual discourse and constructive inquiry. I would suggest next time you give your talk and record it and then find how to express your ideas in a more positive and thought provoking manner and focus on real, tangible ideas that you are somehow an individual expert on – and then share that expertise with the audience.

    • Well, nya-nya-nya to me. I have no desire to be invited to the TED Big Leagues. God forbid.
      I so happens I am running an incubator at my school. It’s quite real to em.
      Higher standard for intellectual discourse? Like this? Really?

      • Nice response Jeff. Made me smile. I would so love to take down the your talk points one at a time – but I will limit myself to just one take-down per post. I am glad to hear that you are running an incubator at your school and I bet it is wildly successful and wonderful for your students. You go way too far concluding that the way you approach your students is the “one true way” for education. The great irony is that one of the great contributors to the success of your approach in its tiny niche is the fact that your incoming students learned lots of stuff the old-fashioned way – so when they came into your world – they were prepared to blossom. So in a sense – the very approaches you criticize are what makes your really great approach work “in the small”. If your approach was applied “in the large” your incoming students would be complete bored with “incubation” and they would have no “in the box skills” to help them navigate when you take them “outside the box”.

        • Well, we disagree: I think schools should encourage creation, not memorization.

        • jason

          here here , how about teaching our children, something that they can really use, like how to get some. because all said and done we don’t give a flying fuck about, how the universal is holographic or is dark matter what ever what ever. u know u want to fuck that that hot 19 yrs old college girl, so fuck u just admitted it, if not other wise , give me the Grand Unified theory of the universes.

      • Charles – Get your head out of the industrial age and the ‘if it was good enough for me’ mentality. What Jeff is saying is backed up by load of research. You are offering no alternatives. Please contribute to the discussion in a constructive way as opposed to your destructive way. You have great talents that can be leveraged to returning American higher education to the place it once was on the national stage. Do something productive about it.

  • Amen brother. Kudos to you.

    I’ve been saying this for ages and it’s one of the reasons I developed a talk show (http://heathergoldshow.com) based on inquiry WITH the people formerly known as the audience. It’s also why we have tummelvision on TWIT and why I’m teaching UnPresenting (http://unpresenting.com)

    The most amazing thing about TED it seems to me (though I’ve never been invited to physically be there) is the people. All those brilliant people. I want their engagement to happen in the “presentation” not just in the halls.

    Belonging is a powerful drive. Belonging through inquiry lets us have togetherness without removing challenge or uncertainty which are actually the things that make a “presentation” interesting.

    It is possible to learn to move from presentational to conversational forms.

  • I enjoyed sitting at home and actively participating in your lecture over multiple back channels. There was the the facebook status updates, another chat room, and then we also started using a Google spreadsheet to allow up to 50 concurrent note-takers. Thanks for pushing our thinking on all of this! Here’s a photo of my desktop during the event: http://isenet.ning.com/photo/tedxnyed-desktop The google doc is linked there.

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  • >>>To paraphrase Dan Gillmor, you know more than I do.

    About what?

    While I understand what you’re getting at, let me ask you this: Why did you bother to write a book about Google if you didn’t think you knew something *more* than others about the subject? I’ve never been to a TED — probably never will — but I watch the videos precisely *because* the speaker knows more about subject X than I do.

    And yes, please, I’d like doctors and other such professionals to have proven credentials that make them legally liable for their practices rather than the kind of “Who knows anything?” kind of freewheeling crap hawked by scam artists decades ago. See:

    Charlatan by Pope Brock

    • Mike,
      But I relied on my readers to help me with my book because they do know more. See my chapter on insurance.

    • Mike – I read books and listen to podcast and following people of FB and Twitter and FF not because I think authors are experts but because I think they bring a different (and, I hope, learned) perspectives to things that I think are interesting and important. Jeff’s perspective on higher education is wave-making and totally jibes with perspectives that flow from independent directions.

      I’m not looking to Jeff for inspiration about higher education in the same way I look to a doctor about my health. I’m looking to Jeff because was he says resonates with what other professionals from TOTALLY DIFFERENT realms of higher education are saying. (And their statements are backed by research.) It’s synergy, I guess, and Jeff just has a larger bull horn than some others.

      That’s my perspective, anyway.


  • Eric

    If everyone in the world were as confident as you; if everyone in the world came from a background where their learning and self-motivation were valued; if only people could be more like you in general, well we would have a great world of imagination and creativity.

    However, the sad fact is that many/most people in even our own rich country are sadly undervalued, undermotivated, have never learned to pursue learning for the thrill of learning or for the creativity that self-directed learning can foster.

    How are we going to provide for the education of the great great majority of people who do not read these posts, let alone go to TED?

    Paraphrasing my friend Ira Socol (speedchange.blogspot.com), the problem with public education isn’t that it doesn’t work. The problem is that it is doing exactly what it is designed to do, to maintain the social structure of access/lack of access. Some people emerge from the education system with sufficient confidence to look back at our education and declare it worthless. Others struggle through the system and look for a job at the other end…and don’t find one.

    What google values in a hire is great for all of you who have been carefully groomed to meet those qualifications of creativity, etc. What happens to others, no less intelligent, who never have access to that grooming?

    Unless your New School/Open U/Curated Education model provides for universal education, then all you are doing is furthering an already rigid caste system.



  • Jeff, you asked what’s the point of memorization. Fine question, in a Google world.

    But the question shouldn’t be rhetorical, because there really is an answer.

    The answer is that in order to fit new information in, it requires a framework. Franeworks do require problem-solving skills, but they are NOT all process. They are ALSO made up of things you know. Indeed, they depend on that, or else the framework collapses. Which means the new isn’t integrated, just thrown on the wall. And there, alas, goes the value-add of perspective, and much of one’s problem solving capability.

    The black belt in martial arts is the beginning of real learning. Getting there takes a certain amount of rote. And of collision with unpredictable real sparring, so that the rote is integrated and understood.

    The current model for schools, like that of newspapers, is not 100% wrong. Which may be cold comfort if you’re 50% wrong… but “throw away everything” is not, I think, the solution you advocate. The talk could be read that way, however.

    • Joe – But isn’t it possible that rote memorization is overvalued by some pockets of higher education?

      In my experience, rote memorization is the path of least resistance for many teachers. (It’s easier to write a test on, for example.)

      I’m a mathematics teacher, and drill-and-kill is the classic approach to teaching (and to driving people away from the appreciation of the beauty of mathematics). I’ve been working to find reconcile the Jarvis perspective with the benefits of drill-and-kill and it’s not easy. But I believe the most important thing for learners to come to own are the concepts, and rote memorization is not sufficient for that. It’s easiest to teach, but it doesn’t do learning justice.

      Maybe you and I are on the same page.


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  • So let me get this straight: Media has a hard time changing out of its educational-style “talk at you, not with you” model. Education has an even harder time practicing alternative methods than media does.

    Conclusion: With a select few exceptions, journalism education is screwed, man.

    “Instead of giving tests to find out what they’ve learned, we should test to find out what they don’t know. Their wrong answers aren’t failures, they are needs and opportunities.” I had a couple of classes in my undergrad degree that did this sort of thing. The problem was that some of what was on the test was actually pointless (which was the reason I didn’t know it). The testmaker can leave important things off the test, and students will either never know, or they’ll know important stuff is missing and be pissed about it. (I usually go with being pissed, myself, but that’s the German in me.)

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  • Well put. Now if only businesses will incentivise young people to demonstrate alternative thought techniques. Straight-from-university job hunters are often confronted with streamlined HR departments that pre-screen resumes by keywords. Then they tackle canned interviews where, rather than demonstrating mental prowess, they are naming their “five best and worst personal qualities”. This is a system that fits people into a box(cubicle?!), in stead of compelling them step out of it.

    Certainly businesses want the best and brightest young innovators, but they also want steady work horses. I think the problem is defining how to recognize both qualities. There is no single definition for recognizing a “creative, insightful, innovative young mind chomping at the bit to tinker with the curious”, and that is dangerous for businesses which in recent decades have grown up under the stern ever watchful eye of our gargantuan legal system. Though.. even big businesses were, once upon a time, startups where little innovators made big ideas. How can companies re-acquire this tendency? Thoughts?

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  • Shona

    What’s wrong with education in it’s current status is so all encompassing that it’s hard to know where to start.

    As a principal I saw one of the best examples of the basic problem the other day when observing a class. The teacher was running a well controlled class and she was using good think-pair-share activities. She had visual organizers for the students to use to compare and contrast their ideas. It was all good and all wrong at the same time. The students were being asked to compare pioneer life and their current community. Sounds good…but the teacher so was concrete in her teaching that she missed the opportunity to integrate what community is and will be for these students from the point of view of web communities.

    Moving students up an educational chain is only valuable if it’s the right chain. You write :

    But the problem is that we start at the end, at what we think students should learn, prescribing and preordaining the outcome: We have the list of right answers. We tell them our answers before they’ve asked the questions. We drill them and test them and tell them they’ve failed if they don’t regurgitate back our lectures as lessons learned. That is a system built for the industrial age, for the assembly line, stamping out everything the same: students as widgets, all the same.

    The problem is bigger than that…it’s that what the teachers think students should learn is so outdated. The teachers don’t even know that they don’t know.

    • disgusted with American education

      What’s wrong with education: Educators like you can’t even spell the word “it’s” correctly and babble about “think-pair-share activities.” The teachers and administrators don’t know much and they are passing their ignorance onto the students! They’ve already gone to a model like Jarvis describes with activity-based learning, experiential learning, community-based learning, etc. The result: American students are ignorant. They don’t know history, literature, science, or math. Instead of a group exercise where the students compare pioneer life and their current community, the students would be much better off actually learning facts about pioneer life in a manner that they will remember as adults. You say the teacher was too concrete and maybe she was for that particular dumb exercise. But our students need concrete knowledge and skills. Enough already with the babbling about community, etc. Put the kids back to work!

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  • So let me get this straight: Media has a hard time changing out of its educational-style “talk at you, not with you” model. Education has an even harder time practicing alternative methods than media does.

    Conclusion: With a select few exceptions, journalism education is screwed, man.

  • You don’t have to memorize one thing to know one thing. But creativity and innovation come from unexpected juxtapositions of ideas previously unjuxtaposed. Without the strata of knowledge previously laid down (memorized), I’m not sure how often these novel syntheses will take place. A life of biochemistry told Fleming what the accidental mould might produce. I think the important question is figuring out what we do and don’t need to memorize in order innovate effectively.

  • Maciej

    Hm … I suppose that you have to take it to an absurd level in order to make a point — I can understand and appreciate that. The problem is that by doing so you encourage a bunch of absurd people to come to the wrong conclusions. You can already see evidence of this by reading through some of the comments.

    My biggest problem with the article is that there are some things that that are core concepts — you have to know them cold before you can use them in creative thought. I think that a lot of people will misunderstand what you’ve said here to mean that they don’t have to know core concepts any more because they can just google them — and that … is the real bullshit. You know that, but they don’t know that. They don’t know that you can’t be creative about concepts that you know nothing about.

    The team that wrote the suggested spelling system at google was very familiar with all the “traditional” approaches towards solving that problem. In fact, they probably knew all the “traditional” approaches intimately — knew the strengths and weaknesses of each traditional approach. Which is how they knew that none of the “traditional” approaches would work in the first place. And I guarantee you that they all were intimately familiar with google’s indexing system which serves as the basis for their “novel” solution. Your article seems to imply that good problem solving skills and a cheat sheet (ala google) is all you need to solve real world problems such as the suggested spelling system — and you know that such a suggestion is bullshit, right?

    I agree that memorizing something and knowing something are not the same thing. But knowing something and looking it up on google are not the same thing either. You do realize that, right? In order for me to reason about a concept such as PI, I have to know it — I have to know where it comes from, why it exists, how to use it, etc. If I need to use PI in the real world, I either know it or I don’t, googling for it is not going to help me in the real world. Now, if I do know the concept of PI and need to find the value of PI to 100 digits, I can definitely find that using google. But those are two very different uses of google. If you are encouraging people to use google to find out about fundamental concepts instead of learning them in school, then you are encouraging them to become mentally handicapped. Literally … you are encouraging them to handicap their mental activity.

    Don’t confuse the purpose of schooling with the purpose of other institutions. Schooling exists precisely to provide a foundation of core concepts for people. Only with a foundation of core concepts can people start using them creatively. If they don’t know the core concepts, there is nothing for them to be creative about — they are missing a critical context.

    I share your frustration with our educational system. I would also like to see a system where creativity is fostered. But, I think that rather than telling people to hit google, I think that our educational system should present to students not the completed product but the journey of knowledge. What I mean is that the way concepts are presented in school makes them seem like ultimate truths that sprang from the minds of geniuses without any effort. In reality, the concepts are simply our best understanding of something at the moment, and that understanding has taken tremendous effort, sometimes an entire lifetime to produce. Students don’t see the amount of effort required to produce something creative and novel — that’s because that effort is hidden from them. So, when they get out into the real world, they expect their first attempt at something creative to be successful, and they give up on their first failure. Your article also fails to acknowledge the tremendous effort hidden behind creative work.

    I’ll stop now since I have to go home :)

    • Patrick

      I think this is a very insightful response from Peter. I love the democratising powers of the web, but amid that energy I think there’s a very dangerous philistine attitude which sees expertise garnered from study (and yes, knowing stuff) as being somehow tyrannical. Like Peter, I’m sure that’s not what you believe, Jeff (the Ted Talk’s a polemic afterall) so I’d like to see you views spelled out a bit more.

    • Eric Gauvin


      You certainly do have a tendency to want to scrap everything and start over — and the google connection to everything is making you look more and more like a fringe nut case. I know you’ll take that as a personal attack and likely delete this comment. Calling things “bullshit” is a very cheap shot for anyone who claims to be a professor and academic — but you did generate some buzz, so I guess that’s all that really matters…

  • Dman

    Great post! Anyone with any sympathy for the views in this post should look at what’s happening with the Common Core Standards currently being pushed. These standards are going to perpetuate the factory model of schooling in the US that not only stifles creativity, but ignores what we know about child development (for instance, that not every student progresses at the same level). We should all be opposing these standards.

    • Dman,
      Is this today’s Times story about a national standard?

  • Andrew Steven

    Some nice ideas, but…

    While Google encourages the 20% rule, they also encourage the 80% rule just as much. And that doesn’t just require non-routine problem solving skills, it requires you to know and deeply understand the routine way to solve problems also. And this comes from learning by rote, standing on the shoulders of the math giants who have preceded you, figuring stuff out from first principles and then realising you were not the first, and all the other effects of a good education, the main one being exposure to smart people who teach you how to think. The “audience” may not be capable of providing you this education, even if they come up with some cool ideas…

    • Andrew,
      I’m not saying we get rid of the 80 percent but today’s that’s all we have: standardized teaching to standardized testing. I’m asking for a break from that.
      I’m not saying the audience teaches; it’s not in there.

  • I like your thoughts and I’m struggling to implement some of them in my classes at UGA, but it requires administrators as well as educators. For instance, I have at least one class each semester with close to 300 students. Of course, this is done for economy rather than pedagogy, but I don’t see it going away soon. On the contrary, I see it increasing along with our financial problems.

    I’d love to give more time (assessment, mentoring, feedback) to my students in this class, but the numbers don’t allow it. Just think of the numbers a little: just 5 minutes/student/week = 25 hours; 10 minutes/student/week = 50 hours. Doesn’t leave much time for class prep, research, administration, or other classes which are all part of my duties.

    I guess my main point is that we need to change the instructional environment as well for any of this to be a success. And that requires buy in from administrators.

    I’d love to discuss some time how these ideas can be implemented in an environment such as I have described which is all too common at our universities. I’ve been trying to do it for over 10 years now.

    Thanks for your blog and always interesting thoughts.

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  • Is google really that big of a deal? It’s a search engine. Is there more to it that I’m missing? It provides a nice service that everyone uses. But is it really so groundbreaking to deify it?

    “What would Google do?”

    It’s kind of silly I think.

    I mention this because you use Google as an example of something creative that “schools” do not create. I think you’re forgetting that Google was created as a research project at Stanford.

    You might not have to memorize it to know it, but you have to know it to memorize it.

    • Mike

      Not true. You’d be surprised at the number of students who can spit back 30 lines of Romeo and Juliet and then have no idea what they just said.

      • They might not know the meaning of what they just said, but they know the words. And if they know the basic tenets of English they can study the meaning of the words, as Elizabethan English is far different from the modern “ttyl lol rofl!”

  • However, I think you make a lot of astute points in your speech that could be fully utilized for positive results.

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  • Eric Gauvin

    By calling things “bullshit” you intend to shock and invite argument, yet, alas, those who are limited to calling things “bullshit” aren’t worth arguing with.

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  • Mike

    This is unbelievable. I am a teacher at a high school in Illinois. I have been trying to push the idea that our educational system is in the same problem mass media is in, and I’ve been watching closely how successful media companies are able to changing their current model to become succesful. We both “sell” information; media companies charge money, we charge time. The paradigm has to shift away from the industrial model that people are so used to. I just got out of a meeting talking about how we can pilot some programs to truly customize the educational experience for today’s learners, and I found out II will be the co-publications advisor next year. The first thing I am doing is moving everything online, and I am excited to see what information I can continue to garner here. Jeff, I know you are an extremely busy man, but any thoughts/advice you might have for a high school publications advisor would be much appreciated, as would your thoughts on ways we can disrupt the current system.

    • Mike,
      Fascinating. I’m terribly disorganized and under water now with health and work stuff but I do want to follow what you do. Let’s talk in a week or so. Email me.

    • John L

      Mike, you’re not alone. Ken’s 2010 TED Talk is focused on the same issue. He articulates the need for education to move from an industrial model to an agricultural model.

      Not sure if his talk is on-line yet. Check in with TED.com now and then and search Ken Robinson.

  • alsyd

    I think most intellectually active people and the elites will opt out. They will either home-school or send their children to expensive private schools like Sidwell Friends. They want to be rewarded for merit, or they simply want power. Its human nature and like all lefties you can’t/don’t understand. You believe humans are infinitely malleable but you are wrong. You are merely reframing the idea of central planning with new words and gestures that mean nothing.

    You are attempting to destroy through nihilism and chaos, alienating souls from any grounding in the great Western traditions of freedom and grandeur.

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  • Jeff, I enjoyed your participation this week at Theology After Google. Good stuff. One of the main themes of TAG was, in fact, “religion as beta.” Always becoming, never arriving. Breaking it to make it better.

    I like the TED format (I’m partial – I go to TED, and even gave a main-stage TED Talk last year). But there are other gathering formats for other purposes, unconferences, etc.. All good. Everything has a place.

    Perhaps my favorite conference format is Renaissance Weekend, where every attendee is an active participant on numerous focus panels (>500 panels in total) over 3 days, prompting continuous debates and self-organized discussions. Everyone literally IS the panel.

  • “News is a process, not a product.”
    News is what happened and the product is the interpretation of what happened.
    The news must be plain and open.
    “People want to create, not just consume, because collaboration is a way to expand news, because it is a way to save expenses.”
    People want to be entertained, because this is our generation.
    It began with TV which was a one way communication and now with the Iternet we have a two way communication, this is real entertainment, a show in which the public is both spectator and “actor” which is what people like…
    “Instead of giving tests to find out what they’ve learned, we should test to find out what they don’t know. Their wrong answers aren’t failures, they are needs and opportunities.
    We tell them our answers before they’ve asked the questions.”
    To make questions you HAVE to know the answers.
    To say what you think, you HAVE to start from the subject.
    And the subjects are the suitcase of knowledge people before us have reached.
    Every generation hands to the next what they have learned, what they have achieved, so that the new generation can begin where the others finished.
    “It’s easy to educate for the routine, and hard to educate for the novel.”
    It is the same, the second is just letting the door open, instead of closing it.
    “We must stop our culture of standardized testing and standardized teaching.”
    We must go on teaching what is our culture and encouraging people to analyze and correct it where needed.
    “Rather than showing our diplomas, shouldn’t we show our portfolios of work as a far better expression of our thinking and capability? The school becomes not a factory but an incubator.”
    The school must be a factory that teaches how to incubate.
    Life will give the chance to develop what the students learned.
    To be open means no incubator, but complete freedom of expression.

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  • Jarvis Booster

    Thanks for using the word “bullshit,” Jeff. It’s so true.

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  • Tom Grey

    Well said (in the post & lecture)!
    I’ve skipped the 100+ comments.
    I think the New School model is excellent.
    I think more prospective employers will be giving more tests to their applicants, hopefully more open book:
    applicant with notebook and internet and answer…

  • Great article as always, Jeff! (I’m a bit late reading it though.) After finding my Calculus teacher to be inadequate at teaching to pass his own tests, I turned to YouTube U to learn from professors at MIT. I think YouTube U is a step in the right direction, but it needs a way to collaborate with other people and learn together! I’m watching 3 year old lectures, but they will maintain their relevancy for 10+ years (First year Calculus doesn’t really change), but I have no way talk to other people that have been doing the same thing (except comments) and that is a travesty! It almost makes YouTube U just a supplement to the class. Any ideas?

    • vickivanv

      So, what would a more interactive video-learning platform look like? I could almost see a visualization with the primary video as a sort of sphere, with lots of questions, thought-trains, and comments radiating out in different directions from the center, which the lecturer and others could follow and answer or comment back on.

      I could even imagine the sphere bisected by a vertical and a horizontal plane, creating 2 layers of quadrants to provide some sort of organization for the radiating threads. A pattern might emerge between the connections between those threads within quadrants or on either side of certain of the planes.

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  • There is one school that fits into this google age! This is the Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, MA. There are currently over 30 Sudbury schools in the world. Find out why, read the website.

  • Adam Hibbert

    Dissent from the ranks: A quick flick through Page and Brin’s educational records gives the lie to this, at least in the educational setting. Both men did plenty of time listening to and absorbing information from their teachers and professors (Brin’s own *dad* is a maths professor!). Reading books and participating in live lectures demonstrably works – it’s *precisely* what equipped them to imagine Google.

    If there’s a more efficient way for young students to engage with the insights of their predecessors (in order to develop the capability to tackle what’s new), by all means bring it on.

    But don’t mess with it just because we can: following a menu of YouTube snippets seems unlikely to represent progress … if anything, that’s more passive than note-taking and having the potential for dialog with your lecturer.

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  • Olivier

    Great presentation, I’ve enjoyed some great things : ask students what they want to learn, it’s something I’d love as a student for now.

    Schools teach memorization… They don’t teach tools to memorize, they teach stuff to memorize with no method to do so, most of the stuff being taugth isn’t what the student want to learn anyway.
    Some people think that school’s purpose is to socialize(but they don’t bother to use sociometry)…
    An obvious question is to ask the goal of a school. then mesurements such as student tests can be made. I love the idea of tests to see what we can teach, not to see if students/teachers are well exchanging answers for the test.

    In NLP, Bandler says a good teacher will use several languages : for visual people, auditive people, and kinesiesic people, if he use only his language, he’ll have better responses for his kind. And if the lesson is recorded, the teacher can’t change his pace according to responses given to the students…Maybe some NEW multimedia lesson with video, text, exercices in the html page all combined can make it possible for the student to go to his pace, skip things he’d learned already, go deeper, or slower.

    WOW, I’ve just found out about itune U it’s great thanks for your article, it made me learn about it : learning is behaviour change(Bob Pike)

    Sorry for my spelling, the google way for autocorrection isn’t active in english as my second language. It’s not that I disrespect you, I just hope you’ll forgive my spelling.

  • Fantastic piece, but I have to quibble with the way you collapse the multlinear into the unilinear, and smother nuance. Yes, the asymmetric, one-way model has its flaws. Room must be made for the shared lecture model.

    But: there is plenty of room for the old-fashioned authoritative I-know-it and you-don’t lecture. In a non-academic setting the Reith (UK) or Massey (Canada) Lectures are proof of this. Again, the Big Ideas podcast from TVO presents some brilliant one-way lectures.

    The composer Arnold Schoenberg, father of twelve tone (read: hard to swallow) music, said at the end of his life- in a lecture -that “There is still much good music to be composed in the key of C major.” Similarly, there is still much good knowledge to be imparted via the traditional lecture.

    There is also much to be said for your model as well, however.

    Light, as physicists learned, is both particle and wave. A similar duality informs the effective lecture.

    Thanks for your ongoing great work.

  • Great talk Jeff. But… while I agree with much of what you say, you use univalent reasoning at the expense of a multivalent, nuanced reality.

    The traditional authoritarian, univocal lecture has its flaws, no doubt. The plurivocal one you advocate has much going for it. No doubt. There is no reason, however, the two can’t co-exist. There is room for both.

    The Reith (UK) and Massey (Canada) Lectures are examples of high level, from-the-Mount, old-school (pun intended) lectures. The superb Big Ideas podcast from TVO serves up examples weekly. (These are not, strictly speaking academic lectures, which you target. But that doesn’t alter the reasoning.) Hell, as you point out, YOUR lecture is an example.

    A lecture is just a content delivery system. There will be content which the old system serves best. There will be people delivering that content whom the old system serves best. There will also be situations where the different model you describe fits best.

    Take what Arnold Schoenberg, founder of the complex music not even a mother could love (except for Mother-of-Invention Frank Zappa, who did claim to like it), said at the end of his life, in a lecture no less: “There is still much great music to be written in the key of C major.” Similarly, there are many great, old-fashioned “C major” lectures to be given.

    So, yay to the nouvelle lecture. Don’t bury the old one yet.

    Not coincidentally, I am a former University of Toronto Asst. Prof., and I am in charge of the Glenn Gould Lecture series for the Glenn Gould Foundation (glenngould.ca). This subject is on my mind plenty these days. I’m interested in presenting new-style lectures. The question is one of implementation. What does a new-style lecture look like? How do we *do* one? Fascinating problem.

    Thanks for your work Jeff.

    • Ron,
      As I say, the lecture has its place … just not as the basis for the entire system. It is good for imparting information and thought and challenging students. It’s not the form I’m complaining about in the end but how it is used: to dictate knowledge. What’s most wrong with the lecture is what happens on the other end: the standardized test.

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  • I’m late to the party here, but I’d like to chime in on “Why shouldn’t every university – every school – copy Google’s 20% rule”

    I’d argue that that happens in every traditional university setting. Classwork + homework are only part of what happens on campus. So do conversations — many of them — as well as more organized extracurricular activities.

    (And that’s even assuming there’s a class/classwork paradigm in the first place, which is not true at all universities in all places in the world.)

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  • kwixson

    Mr. Jarvis:

    Did you ever see George Siemens’ talk on video? Did it come across to you like it did to me or was I way off in my take on it? I’m including my experience of interacting with you and Mr. Siemens as part of a talk I’m giving about Twitter, and I wanted to follow up with you about your impression of the whole affair, out of curiosity.

    My posts were genuine expressions of my thoughts and I cared about the substance of the conversation, so I will continue to reject Mr. Siemens’ accusation of trolling. I’m over it now, but I still think it’s great that the Internet enabled me to be virtually present at the conference and to interact with some of its participants, including the esteemed speakers themselves. It’s a wonder! I want to tell people about how I was able to use Twitter to engage with people 700 miles away, in real time.

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  • Pete Laberge

    A reply: “In the Google age, what is the point of teaching memorization?”

    Because there are SOME THINGS that we just HAVE to KNOW…. (Now WHICH things, that might be up for some debate.) Because Google and Wiki (etc.) are not always 100% right. “Everything is on the net”, yes, and very disorganized. (ie: See Roger Ebert’s quotes on that!) Because there is a lot of utter trash on the net. (The ability to put stuff on a web page, or write an ebook does not mean you will be accurate or truthful. People have axes to grind.)

    Also: Because a culture, a civilization a society, to survive, MUST have certain knowledge, certain beliefs, certain memes, mores, principles, certain “Things” in common. And Knowing and Remembering Things does that. Because we do NOT all have fast internet everywhere and all the time. Because some bits of our accumulated knowledge are timeless, they are forever.

    And: Because computer systems fail, networks crash, and people can go in and edit Wiki or other things. You may never have read 1984, or Animal Farm. I have. Because memorizing and remembering some things is “good for the soul” and the “mind” and the brain.

    Lastly: Because the world, the technology we have today is very ephemeral. There are Trillions of bits of information that we have lost, because we can no longer read a 5″ or 3.5″ diskette, or a 1970’s era IBM Data-Pack Drive, or a computer tape. Go ask the boys at NASA about that. But the boys at NASA, as you know, were stupid, unprofessional, ignoramuses. And as it says on the net: It was all faked. We never went to the moon. Apollo 11 was JUST a movie. And Apollo 13 was fake, too. And my previous 6 or so sentences MIGHT just be a reason to remember things, and set the odd thing down on paper, with real, not digital photos.

    Let me add: Not that I mind digital photos, or Google, I use them every day. But I also have the wisdom, the experience, and the knowledge to be careful. But some people say that Snopes is all fake. Can books and paper err? YES! But there is an old saying: If you really want a to make a big mistake, use a computer.

    You might do well to read: 1984, Animal Farm, When the Machine Stops, a history book or two. Arthur C Clarke once wrote a story about an era where people could not read, write, or do basic math… anymore. Why? Their pocket computers did it all for them. And we are almost there. Siri! How do I tie my shoes? Siri! What is a potato? Do I want fries with that? Android: How do you spell cat? By the way, what is a cat?

    That is why I think we should still teach and even lecture on occasion. There are certain knowledges, certain bits of memorization that we still need to do. And we must encourage both adults and kids do do that. And we need less multi-tasking. Certain R&D (which may or may not be right) indicated it ruins our attention spans and rots the brain.

    Tech is just a tool. It can be very useful, a lot of fun, and great. And you may be earning a lot of money from it. (So therefore you have a vested interest in your own opinions!) I know you love your pocket computer. But don’t give up your pocket knife. Someday it may save your life. Been there! Done that!

    Think about it! What truly is the best of all worlds?

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