It's right there in the mission statement. TED, the organization behind a series of massively popular conferences and talks, is intended to be a “clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world's most inspired thinkers.”
That clearinghouse has gotten bigger over the years; gone are the days when it was absolutely impossible to get into one of their annual conferences (though ticket prices can still be quite steep), and TEDTalks videos have been available for free online since 2006.
But the philosophy still speaks to a top-down approach — someone must remain behind the curtain, curating, inviting, engineering.
Enter TEDx, a franchised version of the TED conference that allows organizers to apply for their own licenses to develop a TED-branded event, with a significant degree of control over what can be presented (zealots, be they preaching politics or religion, can't be invited; talks must be filmed and be 18 minutes each, the set length for any TED talk).
This Friday, a TEDx event will be held for the first time in Indianapolis, coming after previous conferences in Fort Wayne and Bloomington. It is, alas, sold out, as is usually the case for all things TED.
Presented by the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the International School of Indiana and Big Car, TEDxIndianapolis will take the theme of design learning. That's consistent with TED's roots in the design community; the organization's name is an acronym for Technology, Entertainment and Design.
“The idea [behind TEDx] is to continue the energy throughout the year,” explains Jim Walker, Big Car’s executive director, “and then have the big main conference be the culmination of all that year-long energy that happens all over the world at the different conferences.”
“Jim Walker was the first to suggest a handful of speakers that formed the basis of the conference,” explains Anne Laker, the IMA’s former director of public programs and Big Car’s current program director, “many of whom are experts in creative crowd sourcing — putting creativity in the hands of audiences.”
It's an impressive list. Scott Stulen of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis will speak to how his organization’s decision to implement programming driven and contributed by the community.
John Green, the Indy-based professional blogger and hugely successful writer of young adult novels whom Walker describes as the “Bill Nye, the Science Guy” of history, will speak about a community of fans of his writings and YouTube videos known as “Nerdfighters” for their commitment to save the world by effectively deploying their collective intelligence.
Sami Nerenberg, a leading figure in the Design For America movement, which is dedicated to getting college design students involved with real-world projects, will speak her organization's mission to connect students with communities outside the campus quad.
[It's about] “giving the students a sense of agency and voice, and saying, “Well, what are you passionate about? What is happening within your own community?” Nerenberg told NUVO. “We show them examples of other people doing it, and we give them a safe place to fail so they can reframe those failures as learning opportunities.”
And Trung Le, a leader at the architectural firm Cannon Design, will speak to his ideas about a new learning ecology. Le was working with the International School of Indianapolis to help the school redesign its campus when the idea to bring TedX to Indy began to take shape. (The school later contacted Big Car for more help on the redesign, an association that indirectly led the two organizations to collaborate on the conference, with the IMA later entering the fray as a third partner.)
As the school continues to consider a campus redesign, leadership hopes to pull the larger community into a conversation about what makes for an optimal learning environment.
“The global conversation right now is trying to define the relationship between design and learning and teaching,” Le said. “Environment has a huge effect on behavior. If 21st century skills that we are teaching and learning require a new behavior and pattern, then how can the environment facilitate that?”
Le finds answers in a search for a “new learning ecology,” arguing that space ought to define expectations.
“Walking into a gothic cathedral, that sense of smell, the way the space is laid out, how light comes into the space, it emphatically tells you how you should behave,” Le said. “Well, if you’re going to design a space for collaboration, it should tell you that this is a place that you have to interact, to engage.”
Le, who spoke at TEDxIstanbul as part of a project to design a new model of school for the entire country of Turkey, is a proponent of the idea of environment as a third teacher (with adults as the first teacher and peers as second). He argues that the alignment between environment and pedagogy is crucial.
“You see very progressive environments where the old way of teaching is still there and then you see very progressive pedagogy stuck in a kind of 20th century model of space,” Le said.
With his team at the Third Teacher (a branch of Cannon Design), he works with anthropologist and educators to discover a community’s individual “learning ecology.” The TEDxIndianapolis conference is a step toward discovering the learning ecology of Indy, according to Le.
“TED as a brand and as a mindset expresses 21st century learning skills,” Le said. “The idea that we are solving very complicated, complex problems, that a single expertise is no longer able to address... We need to arm ourselves with a diversity of mindset.”