Ed Tech a Theme at Gates’ TED Panel

By Ian Quillen — March 03, 2011 2 min read
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In a session at this year’s annual TED Conference, technology mogul-turned-philanthropist Bill Gates convened his own session geared toward the “Knowledge Revolution” that included guests whose efforts have had, and will continue to have, ramifications for the ed-tech world.

First spoke David Christian, creator of a “Big History” college course that attempts to survey everything that ever happened in the universe as one body of study. In conjuncture with his lecture, it was announced Gates will contribute personal funding and resources to recreate the model as a free, largely online course for high schools, beginning in the U.S. and Australia. (The Gates Foundation, a separate philanthropy which Gates runs with wife Melinda, also contributes funding to Editorial Projects in Education, the nonprofit corporation that publishes Education Week.)

Then closing the session at the event in Long Beach, Calif., was Khan Academy founder Salman Khan, who has built a repository of 2,100 free Web-based videos and 100 academic exercises that include the study of arithmetic, physics, finance, and history.

Both men talked about the importance of timing relative to opportunity, a theme rampant in the ed-tech world recently.

Christian discussed the recurrence of “Goldilocks conditions"—conditions that were neither too hot nor too cold, but just right to give berth to increasing complexity in the universe. From such conditions, he said, came the atom, the stars, the elements, living organisms, and eventually humans with the capability of developing language.

Then Khan discussed the results of students who had been afforded the ability to rehash his video lessons two, three, or four times as necessary when stuck on a particular concept.

“When you let every student work at their own pace,” said Khan, “you see students who once they get through that concept, they just race ahead. And so the same kids that you thought were slow six weeks ago, you’d think were gifted. It makes you wonder how much the labels that maybe all of us have benefited from, were really just due to a coincidence of time.”

Advocates for thinkers like Christian, Khan, and others who are attempting to rethink the way we teach and learn would claim this “moment in time” might be another Goldilocks moment. But with the three bears due back home any minute.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post misstated the funding source for creating the high school online version of Big History. Gates will contribute personal funding to the project.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.