School In The Cloud Or In The Books?An interesting debate has quietly ignited in the education and technology world, revolving specifically around developing countries. During the TED 2013 Conference, Sugata Mitra, a TED veteran, proposed his ‘wish’ for a School in the Cloud. Based on his ‘minimally invasive education’ (MIE) philosophy, Mitra’s ‘Hole-in-the-Wall’ experiments inspired the project for School in the Cloud. What it involves is bringing together different resources from educators to computers to expand the reach of education to rural areas.

The 22 minutes talk discusses Mitra’s experiment and interaction with children from villages in India and their unexpectedly quick understanding of information such as DNA replication and computer processors all in a language they didn’t understand. Education for Mitra has changed since the Victorian era. Children are not only able to teach themselves but are also able to teach each other without the consistently present teacher. It is through curiosity and encouragement that these children will be able to have access to the same education and thus future that children in developed countries do have, if not more.

Though Sugata Mitra won the 2013 TED Prize, he is not short of criticism. John J. Wood, founder of the organization Room to Read respectfully protested the idea behind School in the Cloud in a recent article for the Huffington Post. While the ‘Hole-in-the-Wall’ experiments have proven certain hypotheses, Wood believes otherwise. “Literacy is a baseline skill that every child needs and if they don’t have that — all the computers and clouds in the world mean nothing to them,” Wood argues.

The solution to educating children in the developing world should rely on, according to Wood, tangible and simple materials such as books. The fact that electricity, let alone internet access and broadband, is a rare and unpredictable commodity in these target areas should be a huge issue. Books don’t require updates or charging; they aren’t susceptible to crashes or even require an advanced understanding of technology. Books and libraries provide the ultimate learning experience that combines knowledge and a sense of community.

With 793 million illiterate people, the world should not focus on one extreme solution or another. Different solutions and pathways will provide equally successful results. For the children in these specific villages in India, learning through collaboration within themselves clearly worked in their favor. Perhaps physical books in a school setting with teachers would have brought them to the same point but the goal was reached and that is what matters.

Both John J. Wood and Sugata Mitra come from a heavy background in education, advocacy, and technology. Their efforts are all backed by statistics and other professional opinions. What could be done from this point on is to understand what areas, ethnicities, communities, age-groups, and other factors work best with which type of solution. Time and energy shouldn’t be wasted on experimenting. They should be spent on maximizing either computers and technology or books and teachers to help educate every child for a more stable and productive future.

– Deena Dulgerian

Beyoncé is Helping Girls Run the WorldWho runs the world? According to a very popular song of Beyoncé’s, girls do.

And now to show just how much she believes that Beyoncé has partnered with the clothing brand Gucci, as well as famous superstars such as Salma Hayek, Adrianna Huffington, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, and Jada Pinket-Smith to start a campaign called Chime for Change. The Chime for Change Campaign is, as written by’s Sarah Karmali, an initiative that aims to raise funds for and awareness about supporting the projects of girls and women worldwide “through sharing ‘powerful stories’ about inspiring females.”

By sharing different women’s stories, the Chime for Change Campaign wants to strengthen and unite all the voices speaking out for women and girls across the globe with hopes of, as stated on TED (a nonprofit that brings together thinkers, philanthropists, and doers), “raising an alarm and drawing attention where there is work to be done – with a focus on Education, Health and Justice.”

The campaign – thought up by Salma Hayek and Gucci Creative Director, Frida Giannini – will feature a series of ten films that highlight the power of technology and tell inspiring stories of women across the world. Each film will be narrated by Hayek and will feature new music by Beyoncé. The first film has already been released and in it, Salma Hayek praises the advent of technology for helping connect women and girls in ways that were previously unimaginable. The video goes on to show how change that creates equality for women, gives girls everywhere the opportunity to go to school and provides women access to the care they need is occurring and necessary for improving not only communities but the whole world.

The optimistic message of the video, as well as celebrity appearances (both Salma Hayek and Beyoncé appear in the first video), is encouraging, not only to the future success of the campaign but also to the importance of what technology can do. It shows how technology can connect people everywhere and bring attention to empowering stories across the globe.

Click here to watch the first video.

– Angela Hooks

Sources: Huffington Post, TED
Photo: Chime for Change

Great Social-Marketing Lessons at TED ConferenceThere were some great social-marketing lessons at the TED conference in 2013. Specifically, this was related to an energy conservation experiment but is widely applicable to anyone trying to create social change or tap into social behavior.

Alex Laskey is the president and founder of Opower, a company that partners with utility companies and the government, now even reaching into international markets, in pursuit of cutting energy, saving money and reducing carbon emissions. On February 27, at the TED conference, he spoke of the need to change people’s mindset in order to create change in behavior. He wants people to check their energy use just like they check their finances or emails.

In an experiment that Opower conducted, they tried to determine what would be the strongest motivational factor for getting people to reduce their energy use. They placed three different messages on the doors of various customers about why they should save energy:

– You can save $54 this month,
– You can save the planet, or
– You can be a good citizen

Which had the best results? None. No one message showed any significant difference in behavior. So Opower tried a fourth message:

– Your neighbors are doing better than you

This is the one that made a difference. People who read the message that 77 percent of their neighbors turned down their air conditioning, then also proceeded to turn down their AC. The power of peer-pressure should not be  understated. “We can be doing so much better,” says Laskey, “starting by tapping into the power of social behavior.”

– Mary Purcell



Wood Architecture is Better than Steel
At the TED Conference 2013, architect Michael Green argues that wood architecture is better than steel and concrete when it comes to protecting the environment. Tall buildings are made of steel and concrete and the greenhouse gas emission of these materials is huge (three percent of the world’s energy goes into making steel, and 5 percent goes into making concrete). Green notes that most people think transportation is the main cause of CO2 emissions, but actually it is building — accounting for 47 percent of CO2 emissions.

Current building codes only allow wood buildings to be four stories high, and Green wants to change this. He proposes we use wood architecture and build skyscrapers out of wood. Trees store carbon dioxide, and by building with it, says Green, we could sequester the carbon. Building with one cubic meter of wood, he claims, stores one ton of CO2.

He is not proposing to build huge towers with small two-by-four pieces of wood. In his speech, he explains the technology that has been created to form rapid growth trees into massive lumber panels and the flexible system technology that assists in building with these huge pieces of wood.

An obvious question that people ask about his system is deforestation. To this, he insists there are sustainable forestry practices, and says that enough wood is grown in North America every 13 minutes for a 20-story building.

– Mary Purcell

At the age of 18, Natalie Warne became a symbol for young activists everywhere. Inspired by Invisible Children, the documentary about Joseph Kony and how he forced children to become soldiers for the Lord’s Resistance Army, Warne interned with the Invisible Children movement and eventually showed how being young is no obstacle to changing the world.

Warne, along with other interns with Invisible Children, was working to bring awareness to a bill that would make it American policy to go after Kony and the LRA. Her efforts brought her to the Oprah studio where the Invisible Children movement advocated for the bill. Ten days later, the bill was introduced into Congress. And a year later, the bill was signed into law.

People will remember most that moment she got to appear on Oprah. However, she points out that what made their movement a success was not what was shown on television but what happened behind the cameras. She talks about the people who showed up to support the cause of Invisible Children even when it rained, the other interns that planned other events, and even a family that bought a hundred boxes of pizza for the supporters. These are people that didn’t do it for the glory but for the goal. “The moment isn’t a movement,” she said. “What fuels a movement is the anonymous extraordinaries behind it.”

She leaves us with the message to chase after our dreams and not let youth stop us. “In the small anonymous monotonous every single day acts, I have to remind myself to be extraordinary.” she said.

“It is the acts that make us extraordinary. Not the Oprah moments.”

– Rafael Panlilio
Source:  TED