TED-Ed Offers Another Online Tool in an Educator’s Toolbox

May 09, 2012
Kelsey Herron
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, CA
CATEGORIES In the Classroom, Technology Integration, Tools

Modeled on the famous TED videos on “ideas worth spreading,” TED-Ed offers educators a customizable series of videos and animation to supplement their own expertise in the classroom.

Emerging digital technologies are improving our ability to customize students’ learning more and more. The latest in these developments is TED’s new platform, TED-Ed, a growing library of videos and corresponding lessons built around TED and TEDx talks. TED-Ed  enables educators to rework each lesson according to their own needs, as well as use their predesigned framework to create original lessons around any YouTube video.

“Our goal here is to offer teachers free tools in a way they will find empowering,” said TED Curator Chris Anderson, according to The Next Web Insider. “This new platform allows them to take any useful educational video, not just TED’s, and easily create a customized lesson plan around it. Great teaching skills are never displaced by technology. On the contrary, they’re amplified by it. That’s our purpose here: to give teachers an exciting new way to extend learning beyond classroom hours.”

An 8-minute video on "Insults by Shakespeare" taught me a few things. The smack talk in Romeo and Juliet that involves thumb-biting was an eye-opener, for example, and its Monty-Pythonesque animation is a lot of fun. I also learned the innuendo behind the “fishmonger” dialogue in Hamlet -– all quick, digestible (and juicy) insights on the Bard.

Every video in the TED-Ed library has a corresponding lesson recorded by a working educator and visualized by a professional animator, and each lesson contains three sections: “Quick Quiz,” “Think,” and “Dig Deeper.” The quiz section contains multiple choice questions that test basic comprehension. It provides feedback to each answer and also offers a “video hint” if users still find themselves stumped. “Think” is full of open-ended, critical thinking questions, and “Dig Deeper” provides additional resources for exploring the topics in the lesson.

Each lesson can also be “flipped” – or customized –to fit the needs of individual educators and their students. In flipping a lesson, users can change its title, add specific instructions in the “Let’s Begin” section, edit multiple choice and open-ended questions, and add additional resources for students to continue their research. Flipping the lesson also enables educators to track the progress of any learner they share it with, oversee their participation, and assess the accuracy of their answers. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s blog, Wired Campus, TED-Ed director Logan Smalley noted that this feature is truly open and instructors could “flip viral videos of cats if they wanted to.” Hired Campus writer Nick DeSantis said Smalley’s group wanted to leave the possibilities of flipped videos up to the people constructing the lessons. “We didn’t want to limit what people might want to use to teach,” said Smalley. However, designers did provide a way for users to flag any published lesson that they feel is inappropriate.

Users can browse the TED-Ed library by series, which categorizes videos thematically, or by subject, and students can complete each lesson anonymously or by logging in, which allows the individual to save answers from previous lessons and track their own activity throughout the site. Users can also recommend educators and animators in the “Get Involved” section of the site.

There are currently more than 62 TED-Ed lesson videos and more than 1,400 flips, all of which are adding to a free library of digital information that can enrich how students learn.

Although TED-Ed is an exciting new platform, it by no means should make up the entire ‘classroom experience.’ A few educators have voiced their skepticism of the site, which mainly lies in its lack of emphasis on actually “doing” what the lessons are teaching, and the fact that there is no place for students to have peer conversations about what they are learning – both valid concerns.

One well-put description of the platform came from Colorado chemistry teacher Aaron Sams in an interview with Megan Garber of The Atlantic. Sams has been testing the TED-Ed tools in his high school classes and concluded that they allow for an “asynchronous environment,” one in which students can learn at their own pace, according to their own interests, and guided – rather than simply dictated to – by their teachers. Sams referred to TED-Ed as “just one more tool in the toolbox to meet kids where they are.”