TED, a nonprofit organization that produces a popular annual conference on ideas, is launching TED-Ed, an online collection of lessons it hopes will bring the best educators to any classroom with an Internet connection.
“Right now there’s a teacher somewhere out there delivering a mind-altering lesson and the frustrating thing is, it only reaches the students in that class,” said TED-Ed project director Logan Smalley. “We’re trying to figure out how to capture that lesson and pair it with professional animators to make that lesson more vivid and put it in a place where teachers all over the world can share it.”
TED-Ed is the latest wave in a growing trend of free online education. With offerings from the Khan Academy, founded in 2004 when Salman Khan began posting math tutorials on YouTube, and undergraduate courses from prestigious universities such as Yale and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, free classes and lectures are proliferating on the Web.
But much of that content consists of sequential lectures delivered by an instructor behind a podium or, in the case of Khan, a disembodied voice narrating math equations on an electronic blackboard.
TED-Ed, by contrast, is using sophisticated animation, professional editing and high-quality production values to produce online lessons that are hard to forget. And the lessons don’t meander — each is no longer than 10 minutes.
The project does not provide a sequential curriculum but rather aims to provoke students and their teachers toward further exploration, the creators said. “We want to show that learning can be thrilling,” said TED curator Chris Anderson.
TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, already maintains a vast library of free video talks from its annual conference aimed at adults, and it knows the magnifying effect of the Internet video. The site maintains about 1,100 videos at www.ted.com, which have been viewed more than 700 million times since the site was launched in 2006. The roster of hundreds of speakers includes many well-known figures such as Bill Clinton and the late Steve Jobs. But most were toiling in obscurity before TED put them in the spotlight.
Smalley points to the example of Hans Rosling, a Swedish expert in global health. Rosling estimates that in 40 years of lecturing and writing, his work reached about a million people. But Rosling has given eight TED talks over the past four years, which have been viewed about 6 million times, Smalley said.
“I’m really excited about this project because TED is such a good platform,” said Gage, the neuroscientist, who is based in Ann Arbor, Mich. He and a colleague, Tim Marzullo, perform neuroscience experiments in classrooms around Michigan and sell basic equipment through a Web site, Backyardbrains.com.