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Teachers College, Columbia University
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TEDx @ TC: Speaking From the Head and the Heart on International Education

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TEDx @ TC

TEDx @ TC


Student organizers are looking ahead to next year’s event

By Patricia Lamiell

Nearly 300 graduate students, professors, and organization leaders gathered in late March for “Innovations in International Education,” Teachers College’s first TEDx conference.

The conference, organized by a committee of 10 TC students – most of whom graduated this month – included 20 presentations by TC faculty and others associated with the College. 

“We were very inspired by work being done in the Department of International Education,” said organizer Christine McCaleb, who received her master’s degree in International Educational Development on May 15. “We wanted to make sure people were aware of it.”

The TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conferences are a global enterprise owned by the private non-profit Sapling Foundation, aimed at debating “ideas worth spreading.” Begun in the mid-1980s, the live-streamed TED talks have featured presenters such as Bill Clinton, Sergey Brin, Jane Goodall and Bill Gates. The TED format allows each speaker a maximum of 18 minutes to present as compellingly as possible without recourse to a podium, Power Point slides, notes or any other props.

“TED is as popular as it is today,” McCaleb said, “because it takes something very complex and makes it simple. It allows experts to communicate complex ideas to people not in their field.”

TED grants one-time-only, free licenses for extension, or “TEDx” conferences, worldwide. More than 3,200 TEDx events have been held in 126 countries around the world.

The TC TEDx conference included presentations on topics ranging from technology and media in education to gender parity and peace through learning. Speakers included Columbia’s Hindu chaplain, Gadadhara Pandit Dasa, and CyberSmart Africa founder Jim Teicher, who spoke about cross-cultural issues in education and peace studies. A presentation by the Project Girl Performance Collective focused on gender equity in education. Rosalind Wiseman, author of the book that inspired the film “Mean Girls,” discussed creative ways to stop bullying. Three presentations by education-focused nongovernmental organizations talked about the value of using technologies like digital white boards and video recordings in developing nations. And a group called “Witness” described its work videotaping human rights violations around the world.

TEDx Teachers College was the brainchild of Tamar van Gelderen, who attended a TEDx conference in Tel Aviv and then another in New York City a few years ago. Awarded her master’s degree in Comparative and International Education this month, van Gelderen said she chose the TC conference’s theme because, while faculty and students have “very different perspectives from one another on education,” she found them, in the TEDx spirit, willing to collaborate and open to discussions. “They are thinking about constructive solutions,” she said, especially in conflict resolution, her area of study.

From last fall through graduation in May, the TEDx planners “became a community,” said organizer Katy de la Garza, a doctoral student in International Educational Development who received a master’s degree this month. “We would like to see if we can make it a student organization” that would become an ongoing part of the global TED movement.”

The student organizers said they were especially pleased that TC faculty members Monisha Bajaj, Christopher Emdin, Karina Leff, Dominic Mentor and Jacqueline Simmons embraced a format that was less formal and more personal than the classroom lecture. The students encouraged the faculty presenters to talk about “why they do what they do,” de la Garza said. “It was good to see the professors get out of their comfort zones and into a more reflective moment. It ignited a certain passion and inspiration. The personal story is key to successful TED talks.”

Additional members of the TEDx committee who graduated with master’s degrees this month Nae Jin Kwak (Comparative and International Education), Octavio Lizama (Leadership, Policy and Politics) and Molly Hamm (International Educational Development). Committee members Maria Berumen and Rebecca Spotts graduated last February with master’s degrees in International Educational Development.  

De la Garza hopes to continue the TEDx at TC effort next year as she pursues her doctoral degree. This year’s organizing committee also included continuing master’s degree student Jesse Morris (International Educational Development), as well as Consuelo del Canto, who received her Master of Arts degree in Sociology and Education but is staying on at TC to pursue a master’s in education degree.

“The whole message of TEDx is to keep the discussion going,” said McCaleb, “to meet someone you wouldn’t ordinarily meet. We wanted to create a day where, when people leave, they’ve thought about something they hadn’t thought of before, or learned something new.”


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