Curated TED Talk List – Rethinking the purpose and means of education

Trends in Educational Technology

I curate these videos because they all raise critical questions for educators to think about: How are we going to prepare for the coming machine learning revolution? How to address the technology-mediated human relationship? Are we educating people the right value? Are we neglecting the education of maintaining emotional health? One video also shares a new research finding about the adolescent’s brain development and another one shares an inspiring way to help kids learn math.

1. Jeremy Howard: The wonderful and terrifying implications of computers that can learn


An informative and somehow terrifying explanation of how machine deep learning can be applied to various fields and how computers, when equipped with the right algorithm, can learn extremely quickly and perform tasks in minutes that normally would take humans years of expertise and efforts to complete.

How the video relates to this course:

At the end of the video, he talks about how a revolution of deep learning is coming and how that would bring about the changes in the socio-economic structure of our society. This brings out a critical question about education: what kind of challenge and opportunities will our future generation be faced with?

Why I think it is worthwhile to share: 

This might be the future and it’s not far away. Better prepare ourselves before we don’t even realize it’s coming.

2. Shimon Schocken: The self-organizing computer course


Shimon Schocken talks about his app to help kids learn math.

How the video relates to this course:

He talks about how self-organizing computer course can inspire people to learn and he showcases a well-designed app to help kids learn math concepts in an innovative way.

Why I think it is worthwhile to share:

The math app shown in the video is very interesting and it helps kids to explore and discover those math concepts on their own by a carefully-designed guidance and providing sufficient tools, rather than just telling kids those concepts. Thus, kids can have a better and deeper understanding in math concepts.

3. Sarah-Jayne Blakemore: The mysterious workings of the adolescent brain


Why do teenagers seem so much more impulsive, so much less self-aware than grown-ups? Cognitive neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore compares the prefrontal cortex in adolescents to that of adults, to show us how typically “teenage” behavior is caused by the growing and developing brain.

How the video relates to this course:

It’s important for educators to know this staggering fact and then think of ways to design better educational interventions to help teenagers grow up better during this critical period of life rather than just criticizing them of being immature.

Why I think it is worthwhile to share: 

The fact shared in this talk that teenager’s brains are still undergoing development is something I have never thought before, and thus raise a critical question for educators: how do we take advantage of this period to help them better develop the mind and qualities needed for 21st Century?

4. Guy Winch: Why we all need to practice emotional first aid


Guy Winch talks about the importance to practice emotional hygiene — taking care of our emotions, our minds, with the same diligence we take care of our bodies.

How the video relates to this course:

While education often focuses on the physical and intellectual development of children, the emotional aspect is often neglected and even biased. A child not performing well academically may suffer from criticism from teachers and parents and thus having some psychological problems. Same for those kids who do well in school: you can’t imagine the pressure they undergo. But we never learn how to care for our emotions at school and when we grow up, we are left at the mercy of the society. So it’s worth thinking how we could educate our future generation to practice emotional hygiene, especially in this ever-changing and competitive society.

Why I think it is worthwhile to share: 

Not only for children, adults also need such education and attention to emotional health and learn about how to take care of it.

5. Sherry Turkle: Connected, but alone?


As we expect more from technology, do we expect less from each other? Sherry Turkle studies how our devices and online personas are redefining human connection and communication — and asks us to think deeply about the new kinds of connection we want to have.

How the video relates to this course:

While we focus on how technology could make a difference in education, we still need to examine critically the difference they already have made in our relationships with people. We should think about utilizing technology to enhance the bond between people rather than distance them and think about how to properly educate the Generation Z regarding the new ways of relationship in a digital era.

Why I think it is worthwhile to share: 

It’s important to reflect how technology has changed our lives and whether to what extent is beneficial. I have written several posts in regard of this topic:

Solitude: so hard in Digital Age?

Proper guidance on the use of technology for students can go a long way

Abstract/Critque: Introduction: Alone Together of the book  Alone Together

6. Susan Cain: The power of introverts


In a culture where being social and outgoing are prized above all else, it can be difficult, even shameful, to be an introvert. But, as Susan Cain argues in this passionate talk, introverts bring extraordinary talents and abilities to the world, and should be encouraged and celebrated.

How the video relates to this course:

Important for educators to think about the question: is it right to make everyone seem like an extrovert? And is this truly the right value we want to emphasize?

Why I think it is worthwhile to share: 

In this world where often times you need to do a lot self-selling to be able to lead a good life, for example, get a job, get married, etc, it’s not surprising why people need to behave like an extrovert. I highly appreciate the courage the speaker has to speak up for introverts – 1/3 of the whole population. And this is especially worth reflecting for Eastern culture which used to emphasize virtues like modesty and inner peace, but now more and more leaning towards western culture.

What’s the future learning experience like with mobile devices?

Mobile Phone Learning

Here’s an excerpt from the article The Future of Mobile Learning and Implications for Education and Training by David Parsons. Interesting predictions. My comments are in red.

Mobile learning as we approach the middle of the 21st century is just part of life. The old model of educational institutions has withered away, with learning now a lifelong, pervasive experience (This is something predicted before by a lot of experts, but not sure the formal institutions will really wither away), delivered via the practically invisible devices that I have with me day and night, the personal network that delivers information to my eyes, ears and other senses, the e-glasses, the flexible smart-touch screen that folds into a small case but expands to poster size and will stick to or project onto any surface. (This is cool! ) (These devices seamlessly connect and collaborate with ambient technologies in the environment. For example, in my informal learning activities related to photography, my camera will scan for nearby 3D printers to create models from my 3D photos. For my interest in literature, scenes from books play out in front of me if I happen to enter a location used by one of my favoured authors. (But won’t this be intruding? This again will blur the boundary of reality and virtuality and kind of separate people apart.) For somewhat more formal learning, I attend immersive virtual reality classes whenever I want, mixing my avatar with those of other virtual students and both real and robot instructors. (Great! Oculus Rift can do this!) I learn when I need to, where I want to. When I am at work, I have professional learning support with me at all times, guiding me in new situations, online Artificial Intelligence systems reacting to my ever-changing contexts and giving me expert task and problem-solving support.(Reminds of the tutorial in Animus in the game Assassin’s Creed. The tutorial will be triggered just as you perform certain tasks. But this might be too far away?) I have all the knowledge ever gathered available in an instant, tailored to my own learning profiles and preferences, quality controlled by the world’s best minds. Not that I am just bombarded with data. (Yes, this is very important. But who decides who’s the best minds? Now everyone can be the content creator online and lots of people claim to be experts in a certain field. It seems the traditional media, which used to do the quality control job, is less and less important. Will this be changed in the future or will this get worse? Probably the latter, because it’s all business driven.) The mobile learning systems that I use are able to help me filter the huge amount of data in the computer cloud, assisting me in making meaning out of a mass of information, working with my own goals, learning styles and changing moods and activities to ensure that the material I am exposed to will help me learn rather than overwhelm me. As a mid- 21st-century learner, I am never lost, never alone, never unsupported, never not learning. (Getting supported – this is the key element. In the traditional face-to-face teaching and learning method, it’s all teacher’s job to give support, which is hard to achieve. But with technology and data, probably it’s easier to generate learning contents corresponding to the learner’s level and moderate the learner’s progress so that it’s really self-paced learning. At current level, we still haven’t reached that high. All the MOOC platforms can simply record your progress, but can’t recommend you anything according to your level.)

Sandbox Games Facilitate Learning

Social Communicative Aspects of ICT

Squire’s paper Open-ended video games: A model for developing learning for the interactive age explores the educational potential of open-ended video games, aka sandbox games and explains how the modal can be applied to facilitate learning.

This topic has triggered my interest since long ago and I have seen my students fascinated by Minecraft, learning resources management and creativity through that game. In fact, Minecraft has been viewed by many educators as of high educational value.

A lot of sandbox games can stimulate the creativity and interest of players, such as the famous Sims serious. I personal have been playing the game since high school, and I still play it once in a while, sometimes simply creating my imaginary life for my sims, sometimes building houses, or having fun with creating stories. There’s no a certain style of gameplay restrained in the game, and that’s why it can motivate so many talented players all round the world to create mods, houses, etc around the game. Many creators even become real designers. Some use the game as a tool to design their dream house.

That being said, sandbox games also have their shortcomings. Like GTA mentioned in the article, the game depicts violent scenes and thus raised many controversies. In fact, I just read in news that it was recently been removed off shelves from all Target Australia stores because of too much sexual violence against women.

Epistemic Games – a better way to assess

Social Communicative Aspects of ICT

Gamification, games for learning are not new words anymore. The App Store is now abundant with educational games which help people (especially kids) learn maths, physics, alphabets, pinyin, and a lot more. But games for testing? That is something new.

This week’s reading The Right Kind of GATE: Computer games and the future of assessment by Shaffer, D. W., & Gee, J. P impresses me a lot, introducing a better way to assess students’ performance, not by standardized tests, but by epistemic games, which enable students to learn to solve complex problems occurred in a professional field in real life.

Shaffer is a professor in University of Wisconsin- Madison, and also leads the Epistemic Games Group, “which develops virtual internships, assessment tools, and other innovative learning technologies.” (More information can been found at their website

Here I include a brief introduction video of the Epistemic Games Group and what they have done.

I agree with the opinion that in many ways, games focus on good assessment and problem solving and that they can be well adapted to become assessment tools. However, questions also raise, such as:

1. Are these games fun? Will they become too realistic to lose the charm as games?

2. Why couldn’t we just ask students to participate in projects which simulate real life problem-solving rather than take the trouble to develop a game?

3. In the article, the author says that:

A GATE would have to take into account the fact that these children have not had the same experiences and provide missing resources before or during the assessment.

Imagine, if you will, two students. One comes from a family that has provided many learning experiences outside of school. This student starts the school year working at the 11th grade level and finishes at the 12th grade level. A second student comes from a family that does not (and perhaps can not) provide many enrichment experiences. She starts the school year working at the 7th grade level and finishes at the 11th grade level. The first child is a year “ahead” of the second in terms of her “level” of performance. However, with the appropriate resources, the second child made up 4 grade levels in a single year. The question is: which of these students would you want to hire? The choice seems obvious if what we care about is how well students take advantage of opportunities and use resources, rather than simply measuring what resources were already made available to them.

I don’t quite agree with the idea of “providing missing resources” and the example, especially the “obvious” choice to hire the second child. In real life, resources are not always ready for you out there. Most of the time you have to find hard to get them. So why would it be fair for the first child who spent the past several years learning so hard, while all his efforts are disregarded later simply because “the unbalance between resources”? What the first child has done was also a great demonstration of his ability to learn. And somehow I feel that in some tests, it is deliberately set that way to test students something which is not included in class, in order to see if they have done their own research out of class. The ability to be self-motivated and self learning is of vital importance in our rapidly-changing era, so I don’t think it’s a good idea to make the school testing system too vacuum and too idealized.

But after all, I definitely look forward to the real application of epistemic games as new testing tools and I am eager to learn more about them.

Proper guidance on the use of technology for students can go a long way

Social Communicative Aspects of ICT

Are the issues and possibilities for use of social software and technology in general different for elementary schools, high schools, and higher education? I think yes, and different guidance should be applied to each age groups.

Admittedly, social software and technology has strengths in terms of building social relationships and overcoming geographical distance, etc. But it also has weaknesses and threats such as workload issues, limitations in the quality of interaction, etc. When used in a higher education setting, since students are mostly adults, they have the ability to control themselves and is more likely to know how to utilize the technology to help learning, social software and technology can be better used to foster learning.

However, even we are only talking about adults, many people have already expressed their findings and concerns on how too much “phone-checking” and “multi-tasking” reduced our attention span and the ability to focus. Some researches also found that our brains are changing to adapt to the habit of “multi-tasking”. So think about those children who are called “Digital Natives”. When their bodies are still growing, are their brains evolving to be more short time focused and easily distracted, but maybe more sensitive to animated objects and details? Are they more accustomed to interpret pictures, graphs rather than texts?

No matter if such evolution does exist, it is vital to provide guidance in the use of social software and technology in elementary school to high school settings. Nowadays, it is hard and unwise to forbid children from using smart phones and technologies, but it is the educators’ and parents’ responsibility to guide them to take advantage of these technologies to help them in all aspects of life, not merely in studies.

Having been a teacher for two years, I have witnessed students’ unstoppable passion towards playing their smart phones during class break. This might not be easily seen in a formal school, given the fact that many schools and parents restrict cell phone use. But since I taught English as an extra curriculum on weekends, students had more freedom to bring their phones to classroom. I observed that during break, students always took out their phones and started playing games/ chatting with online friends, and surprisingly they seldom chatted with each other that were physically present in the classroom. I was interested in knowing how they used technology to help studying, so I did some surveys among my students ranging from middle school to college students, asking them the main purpose of using smart phones. Unexpectedly, few of the middle school students said they used phones for studying, mostly for entertainment; some high school students could utilize apps to learn English; while more college students knew how to use phones to help study.

Noticing that, I started recommending good apps and good online resources to learn English. When you know how to do it, technology can be surprisingly amazing to achieve things that are hard to achieve before. For example, an English speaking app uses voice recognition technology to detect user’s recording and compare it with standard pronunciation so that user can know which part is not perfect. Also through role-play game mechanics, user feels motivated to speak English. Such great educational apps/games are abundant out there, but students as well as teachers and parents are not yet fully aware of all the possibilities.

It is innocent to expect those “Digital Natives” will all discover them on their own without coming cross some negative things. It is also sad that some parents/ teachers forbid use of phones at school. Both actions are too extreme. With some proper guidance, students can learn how to best utilize the advantages of technology while not losing themselves in it. And I believe the guidance could be given as early as in elementary school, starting from very basic and restricted use of technology. Children can read E-books, learn alphabets and math from apps, etc. but cannot download apps or purchase contents freely. This is to give children a sense of what phones or mobile devices can do – not merely playing games. I noticed before that some parents let their toddlers who can barely speak play freely on phones without any regulation, and the parents themselves are constantly on their phones.

Meanwhile, regarding the issue of neglecting physical relationship, some social etiquette are necessary to help children know what should be done and what should not. For example, when talking to a person face to face or attending a meeting, it is rude to check your phone constantly.

Based on this, the guidance could cover these areas:

  • Recommended resources by teachers
  • How to find resources you need
  • How to make your phone work for you, but not consumed by it
  • Entertainment is not the only function of a phone
  • Learning can also be gaming
  • Social etiquettes in using technology

Networking in SNS: relax or pressure?

Social Communicative Aspects of ICT

With the prevalence of social network sites (SNS), it is somehow expected that everyone should have at least one SNS account to either connect with friends (Facebook) or professionals (LinkedIn). Apart from their initial attraction as passing-time or relaxation, I found these sites somehow exert more and more pressure on people, requiring huge amount of time and energy, as well as techniques to better “network” with people.

The research on 800 Michigan State University undergraduate students in this week’s article The Benefits of Facebook “Friends”: Social capital and college students’ use of online social network sites found that

For less intense Facebook users, students who reported low satisfaction with MSU life also reported having much lower bridging social capital than those who used Facebook more intensely.

This finding corresponds with what I have experienced in college too. Almost all of my peers used a similar SNS called “” in China, and those who are not intensive users often felt less connected with their classmates, not knowing what’s going on. What’s more, anyone visiting a person’s page can see the total view times (although they may not be able to see the contents of that page if they are not friends), thus exerting pressure for those whose pages are not frequently visited.

I wonder if the same kind of pressure exists in Facebook’s “like” function? Will people feel upset if their posts don’t receive a lot of “likes”?

Another prevalent SNS/chatting hybrid in China called “WeChat”, which is now gaining users in the U.S. , handles this sensitive issue more wisely. Instead of seeing all the “likes” for a post, the user can only see the “likes” by their common friends.

However, like other SNS, networking in WeChat has also gradually become something more demanding. For example, since most friends share their thoughts, pictures and updates on WeChat in the “Moments” section, it now becomes an habit or even obsession for most people to check these moments a few times everyday. And since WeChat is originally a chatting app, people tend to keep an eye on it everyday, the frequency to check the moments is probably higher than that of Facebook. On one hand, it sounds good to have your friends checking your updates all the time; on the other hand, people expect their friends to know what they are up to. It is not uncommon now to bump into a friend and be prompted to check his/her “moments” in order to see the photos of a recent activity he/she took part in.

SNS is meant to increase the relationship between people, but when WeChat and Facebook requires frequent checks to demonstrate a connection between you and your friends, it somehow can be tricky. A friendship may fade away simply because you don’t “like” the posts of your friends or don’t contact them often. And people can be deceiving in this aspect. I know some people just tend to “like” every post they see in order to show a sort of kindness. It seems nice, but somehow lacks sincerity, doesn’t it?

This “unique” way of networking/connecting with people reminds me again of some concerns regarding the technology-mediated human relationship. The SNS are so powerful in terms of their social capital, and those who don’t use them are considered fall behind. They may lose vital information. They may lose friendship. Doesn’t face to face conversation count more than virtual online chatting? Must our future relationship become a hybrid of F2F and online? …

How to educate our children? Regulation or Autonomy?

Social Communicative Aspects of ICT

The article from Week 8 reading Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions introduces the intrinsic motivations and different types of extrinsic motivations, which are not quite familiar to people, and how to better utilize them in schools. It is a very informative article which leaves me thinking: how can educators unleash students’  intrinsic motivations and give more autonomy to extrinsic motivations?

One quoted research finding strikes me most:

The more students were externally regulated the less they showed interest, value, or effort, and the more they indicated a tendency to blame others, such as the teacher, for negative outcomes.

It reminds me of the way I was educated in China. Though my parents are pretty open-minded in that they seldom exerted much pressure or regulation on my studies, the teachers are sometimes the opposite. I always felt motivated to study hard when no one forced me to — according to the article, driven by a type of extrinsic motivation called “integrated regulation”. However, in the third year of high school, when it’s often referred to as “the darkest year”, I couldn’t stand the constant pressure from teachers and the ongoing competition between students that I almost hated school. For me this seemed unbelievable, and it was not until I read this article that I realized there is a theoretical reason behind this.

So if exerting pressure and making students “fear” their teachers doesn’t work well, then does the solution to give much autonomy and to respect and care students work well? Given some current controversies raised by the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua, I wonder what is the best way to educate our children? Can we find a balance between regulation and autonomy?