Anant Agarwal: Why massive open online courses (still) matter


Anant Agarwal is the CEO of edX, an online learning destination founded by Harvard and MIT. As a  professor of electrical engineering and computer science, Anant taught the first edX course on circuits and electronics from MIT, which drew 155,000 students from 162 countries.


MOOCs  (massive open online courses) have become increasingly popular, but Anant Agarwal wants to create a blended model of learning. But education hasn’t changed much in the last 500 years. He equates the change needed  to transitioning from ox carts to airplanes; education must be reimagined.

With the younger millennial generation so dependent on technology, it doesn’t make sense to try to keep technology out of schools. He gives the example of two high school teachers in Mongolia who had flipped the classroom. They would assign watching lectures as homework and work more interactively during the school day. A similar pilot program was run at San Jose State University and the failure rate of the class fell from 41% to 9%.

So what are the key ideas that make blended learning effective?

  • Active Learning: Students learn much better when they are interacting with the material
  • Self Pacing: Hitting pause, or rewinding can be very useful to catering
  • Instant feedback: By grading with a computer, students can learn what they did wrong and find the correct solution on the spot.
  • Gamification: Gamifying work can be much more effective in engaging students
  • Pure Learning: Discussions are used a tool to help students learn from each other

The blended model has another benefit and that solves the practical problem of MOOCS: profitability. By licensing MOOCs to other universities, a new revenue model is created. MOOCs can become the next generation textbook.  “We have to move from bricks-and-mortar school buildings to digital dormitories.”

Chris Hadfield: What I learned from going blind in space


Chris Hadfield  is a retired Canadian astronaut who was the first Canadian to walk in space. An Engineer and former Royal Canadian Air Force fighter pilot, Hadfield has flown two space shuttle missions and served as commander of the International Space Station.


Colonel Chris Hadfield starts his talk with a question for the audience. What is the scariest, most dangerous thing you’ve ever done and why did you do it?

For Chris, it was going into space. The odds of crashing during the first shuttle launches were 1/9. When you wake up on launch day, you know that at the end of the day you’ll either be floating or you’ll be dead. After takeoff there’s 8min and 40sec of intense, intense pressure, equivalent to someone pouring cement on you. And then you’re weightless. For Chris it was worth the risk. At age 9, watching other people walk on the moon, he made the decision to become an astronaut.

While in space, Chris went out on his first spacewalk, watching the earth “roar silently with colors and textures”. Suddenly his left eye slammed shut, but he ignored it and kept working. But because tears don’t fall in space, the ball of residue and tears slowly moved across the bridge of his nose and into his right eye. His right eye slammed shut. He was completely blind, standing outside, floating through space.

Once again, Chris humorously asks, what is the scariest thing you’ve ever done?

A lot of people are afraid of spiders, he says. Take the brown recluse, for example. Definitely scary, but is it dangerous? In Canada, only 1 of the 729 species of spiders are venomous. And that species has bright colored markings and builds its webs on the ground for your convenience. So when we flail around after walking into a spider web, what is the justification? The spider is likely no more of a threat to you than a ladybug. The danger is entirely different than the fear. So next time you see a spiderweb, walk through it. Walk through 100 more spiderwebs and Chris guarantees you’ll fundamentally change your behavioral pattern.

Now apply that logic to everything else you’re afraid of. In training for spacewalks, Chris went through every possible scenario that could happen, effectively eliminating the instinctive response to panic. Instead Chris just went through the possibilities and was easily able to communicate to his partner to pull him back.  By understanding the difference between perceived danger and actual danger, you can go to places and see things that otherwise would be denied to you. In preparing to accomplish his goal of space travel, Chris learned how to reprogram his primal fears..

Chris ends his talk by playing and singing a part from the David Bowie song “Space Oddity”.

May El-Khalil: Making peace is a marathon


May El-Khaliil is the founder of the Beirut Marathon, the largest running event in the Middle East. She was inspired to start organizing marathons after her own marathon training was cut short by a near fatal accident.


 For the past 10 year, Lebanon has been raging with war, violence, and political turmoil. But once a year, everyone ignores their differences and runs alongside each other in a marathon. May El-Khalil used to run in marathons herself, but a tragic accident nearly killed her and she spent two years recovering in the hospital. During those two years she began to dream up a marathon that would be held in Lebanon. She used the marathon as a way to focus on something other than the pain and it gave her an objective to strive for. 

She started travelling across the country sharing her story and convincing people to participate in this marathon. Her passion, honesty and transparency, brought people together. Even though Lebanon was a nation at war and some of these people had never heard of marathons before, the country rallied behind her. In 2003, 6000 runners took their place at the start line and ran for a better future.

When the Prime Minister was assassinated in 2005, a 5k run was held and 60,000 people showed up, setting aside politics and ran wearing plain white t-shirts.  Without fail, the marathons have been taking place every year. Last year there were 33,000 participants, both Lebanese and international, that ran through the rain under the umbrella of peace.

Russell Foster: Why do we sleep?

Speaker: Russell Foster

Length: 21:46


Sleep is the single most important behavioral experience we have. But the perception and role of sleep in our society has shifted from importance to a waste of precious time. Shakespeare referred to sleep as “nature’s soft nurse”, but Edison thought it was a “heritage from our cave days.” People often feel similarly to the latter, but it’s usually because they don’t understand the purpose of sleep.

The reality is that our brain doesn’t shut down during sleep. The most popular theory for why we sleep is that sleep controls our brain function. Sleep deprivation is shown to cause poor memory, increased impulsiveness, and poor creativity. But that’s not even the worst part. Sleep is strongly connected to serious health problems like cardiovascular disease and mental illnesses. Sleep deprivation can cause a 50% higher rate of obesity, brought about by excess release of the hormone, ghrelin, which triggers your hunger.  Sustained stress, another result of sleep deprivation, suppresses your immune system.

Foster spends the second half of his talk on the genetic ties between sleep disruption and schizophrenia. A discovery was made that stabilizing sleep also helped reduce symptoms of paranoia. From all the different examples and study’s he cites you can draw 3 conclusions.

  1. Sleep and mental illness are tied together
  2. Sleep disruption can be used as an early warning signal for illnesses
  3. Sleep centers are a new therapeutic target for solving other problems

The question you might be wondering now is, how do I know if I’m getting enough sleep?

If you need an alarm clock to wake up, are grumpy and irritable, or need a cup of coffee to do anything: you are probably sleep deprived. The key is to listen to your body. You might need 6 hours of sleep or you might need 10 hours. There is actually no correlation between waking up early and having better health (or more wealth). To get a good nights sleep, make sure that you’re room is as dark as possible and slightly cool. Reducing light exposure/electronics use during the 30 minutes prior will also help.

tl:dr Take sleep seriously.

Matt Cutts: Try something new for 30 days

Speaker: Matt Cutts

Length: 3:27


Matt Cutts wants you to try something new for 30 days! It is something he has been doing for a while and come to the conclusion that 30 days is the perfect amount of time to add a new habit or remove an old one. Some of the things he has done include writing a novel (NaNoWriMo), biking to work, and not eating any sugar. It has been a life changing experience for him and he says each month has become much more memorable. His advice on creating sustainable habits is to stick to small changes that you are able to continue afterwards (although big ones can be rewarding too).

The next 30 days are going to pass whether you like it or not so why not try something you’ve always wanted to do?

The New Way to Work: Charlie Hoehn

Speaker: Charlie Hoehn

Length: 16:44


Charlie Hoehn gives on a talk on the method he used to find meaningful work after struggling to find a satisfying job after college. The new way to work he introduces is called Free Work. While an internship involves competing with other applicants and usually doing menial work from 9 to 5, Free Work is just the opposite. You can work with anyone in the world, at anytime you want. Free work forces to choose work that you would do even if you weren’t being paid – because you’re not.

Charlie lays out the 7 steps to becoming a recession proof graduate (where the economy does not dictate what kind work you have).

  1. Stop being entitled.
  • College degrees are becoming commodities.
  1. Choose an area you’d like to work in
  1. Get some skills
  • Specifically ones that are in high demand and difficult to learn.
  1. Build your online presence
  • Realize that people will Google your name
  1. Pay the bills and cut your costs
  • Find a way to survive while you’re not getting paid
  1. Contact targets and prove your worth
  • Allude to the research you’ve done on them
  • Offer 3 examples of free work related to your skills
  • Give a call to action
  1. Transition to paid work
  • If you do everything correctly it should be easier for someone to pay you than find someone else

Charlie says the only thing that separates him from anyone else is that he adapted and took a new strategy. He urges everyone to ask himself the question he asked himself year ago, “what is the worst that could happen?”

The Discipline of Finishing: Conor Neill

Speaker: Conor Neill

Length: 23:41


Imagine you are in a room with 200 of the people you know best. You’re given a deal: In exchange for 1000 pounds you will receive 10% of one person’s income every month for the rest of their lives. Who would you pick? Warren Buffet asked the same question to Conor Neill 7 years ago. Buffet has spent his whole career making this decision of who to invest in and has obviously had some success (he has a net worth of $60 billion).

Conor talks through some potential decision making criteria with the audience. Would you choose rank everyone’s grades from school and pick the best one? Definitely not. What you pick your best friend? Probably not. Although, it doesn’t work for adults, there is a psychology test that has proven to be the best indicator of future success. Its known as the Marshmallow Test and given to children usually aged 4 or 5. The child is given a marshmallow and told that if they can wait 5 minutes without eating it, they will get another one. The kids that can last the 5 minutes end up living lives that are qualitatively and quantitatively better.

Warren Buffet has his own criteria that he uses to make this prediction:

  1. Energy
  • Is this person in overall good health and wellbeing?
  • Does this person have a tendency to take action over thinking about action?
  1. Adaptive Intelligence
  • How quickly does this person notice the lamp post that is in their path?
  1. Integrity
  • How aligned are what this person means to do and what they actually do?

So if these are 3 criteria you can use to make your decision, who would you chose? The obvious answer is yourself. Not only do you get 100% of the income you earn, but you have control over your own energy, intelligence, and integrity.

Conor concludes the talk by leaving the audience with some tools to develop each of these traits.

The easiest way to improve your intelligence is to write stuff down, something he has done for the past 14 years. By documenting your life, you will have the accumulated knowledge of everything you’ve experienced. To learn how to improve energy, Conor tried to find out how endurance athletes manage to run for seemingly inhuman distances. By being present, he says, and focusing on the steps instead of the big picture. A horse has no concept of the finish; they will run until they collapse. Likewise, whenever you are running a metaphorical (or literal) marathon, ask yourself, “can I take one more step?” And if you can, take it, and then ask the same question again. The key takeaway to improve your integrity is to practice resisting temptation. Don’t stare at the marshmallow in front of you, ignore it. Success is a result of repeated good habits and it’s important to understand this. We overestimate what we can achieve in a day and underestimate what we can achieve in a year.

David Pogue: 10 top time-saving tech tips

Speaker: David Pogue

Length: 5:44


David Pogue shares “10 things you think everybody knows, but it turns out they dont.”

  1. Tap “space” to scroll down a page and “shift space” to scroll up.
  2. The “tab” key allows to skip between boxes in a form you are filling out.
  3. “Ctrl +” will zoom in on a web page and “ctrl -” will zoom out.
  4. On a smartphone press “space” twice at the end of a sentence and it will enter the period and capitalize the beginning of your next sentence.
  5. To redial someone on a smartphone, press the call button and it will bring up the last number you called.
  6. To skip the voicemail message press:
    • * for Verizon
    • # for AT&T and T-Mobile
    • 1 for Sprint
  7. On Google type “define” and the word you are trying to define to bring up the definition.
  8. Double click to highlight a word instead of clicking and dragging.
  9. On a camera half press the shutter button to prefocus to eliminate shutter lag.
  10. On a powerpoint presentation press “B” to black out and “W” to white out.

Eli Pariser: Beware online “filter bubbles”

Speaker: Eli Pariser: Beware online “filter bubbles”

Length: 9:05


There is an invisible shift in how information is flowing and Eli Pariser wants us to be aware of it. The web now adapts depending on the specific user. Eli first noticed this automatic filtering in his own Facebook news feed. He is politically progressive and noticed that he was starting to see less and less of the conservative links posted by his Facebook friends. Facebook had worked out that Eli had been clicking more liberal links than conservative links and hid them. This invisible, algorithmic editing is used by nearly all major sources of news and information. Google now uses 57 different signals to determine your search results. Ranging from your geographic location to your age and ethnicity. Yahoo News and Huffington Post have also begun to personalize their information. The information I get is no longer the information you get.

The problem with this, Eli says, is that while the Internet is showing what we want to see – its not necessarily what we need to see. A filter bubble is what he calls it. It’s a bubble of your own unique information, but you can’t see what doesn’t get into it. When the Internet was created it was seen as a release from the control of the people that were controlling and editing what information you saw. However, the reality is that these human gatekeepers have been just replaced with algorithmic ones.

These algorithms have been feeding us a steady diet of relevant information. But what we need is a balanced diet that also include information that is uncomfortable, challenging, and important. Eli wants this to change. He wants algorithms that have encoded in a sense of public life and a sense of civic responsibility. Algorithms that allow us to see what doesn’t get through. This is the key to unlock the full potential of the Internet. The Internet should be something that introduces us to new ideas, new people, and different perspectives.

Jamie Oliver’s TED Prize wish: Teach every child about food

Speaker: Jamie Oliver

Length: 21:54


Jamie Oliver, a British chef and TV personality, delivers a talk on the importance of food education. Jamie presents a series of health related statistics. “Statistically, 2/3 of the people in this room are overweight or obese.” “25% of deaths are caused by heart disease” He talks about his experiences, visiting Huntington, West Virginia, the most obese town in the United States and shares the personal stories of a few of the people he met there. His conclusion is that there is a triangle of influence that is shaping the landscape of food.

1) Home

  • Unhealthy food served at home

2) School

  • Reaches 31 million kids , twice a day, 180 days a year
  • Serves highly processed food (burgers, pizza, sloppy joes)

3) Main St

  • Made up of fast food and supermarkets
  • Plagued by misleading labels (low fat, means high sugar)

After showing a clip of some young students misidentifying cauliflower as broccoli and turnips as onions, Jamie lays out his vision of the future. He calls for food ambassadors in supermarkets to help people shop and teach them to cook simple healthy recipes.. He wants the government to help get big brands to put food education at the heart of their businesses. Back in Huntington, WV, Jamie worked on swapping the unhealthy menus of the schools there with healthier foods. He was able to make the switch for $6500, a fraction of their original budget.

Jamie ends his passionate speech with his TED Prize wish: “For you to help a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity.”