Information Age Education
   Issue Number 169
September, 2015   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is edited by Dave Moursund and Bob Sylwester, and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education (IAE) publications.

All back issues of the newsletter and subscription information are available online. In addition, five free books based on the newsletters are available: Education for Students’ Futures; Understanding and Mastering Complexity; Consciousness and Morality: Recent Research Developments; Creating an Appropriate 21st Century Education; and Common Core State Standards for Education in America.

This is the 16th IAE Newsletter in a series on Credibility and Validity of Information.

Credibility and Validity of Information
Part 16. Keeping Up: Ted Talks as a Personal Example

David Moursund
Emeritus Professor of Education
University of Oregon

“I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had the time to make it shorter.” (Blaise Pascal; French mathematician, physicist, and religious philosopher; 1623–1662.)

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” (Isaac Newton; English mathematician and physicist; 1642–1726.)

As Blaise Pascal so eloquently pointed out, it takes much more work to communicate concisely than to merely ramble on and on about a topic. And, Isaac Newton reminds us that a great many people are working to advance human knowledge. To keep up in and/or advance a field, we need to build on the work of others. But, whose work—and what parts of their work—are credible and valid?

I spend considerable time trying to keep up in my professional fields of study and writing. I look for concise, credible, valid sources of information that meet my personal needs. I feel great pleasure when I discover such an information source.

Of course, I belong to various professional societies and browse their publications. These give me a sense of what the professionals in my fields are doing. Frequently the articles are way over my head or so specialized that they lie outside my interest areas.

To a large extent, however, I find I need much more than just the professional society publications. Thus, I spend a substantial amount of time using other information sources. I subscribe to a variety of “popular” science-oriented magazines such as Scientific American, Science News, New Scientist, Smithsonian, and MIT Review. These provide an interdisciplinary overview that I find particularly valuable. And, of course, I read a variety of Web-based “news briefs,” blogs, and other short publications. These tend to give me a handle on what issues the media and others think are important.

Attention Span

As an aside, educational researchers know quite a bit about the typical student’s span of attention. The attention span of precollege students receiving individual tutoring is discussed in a report from The Student Coalition for Action in Literacy Education (SCALE, n.d.). A summary of some of the research on college students is given in Are You with Me? Measuring Student Attention in the Classroom (Bunce, et al., 2010). Teachers (and parents) know from experience that young children have quite short attention spans.

With practice and increasing maturity, attention span increases. However, even college students are well served by breaking 50-minute lectures into much shorter segments, with students engaging in small group discussions and/or in whole class discussions that provide both time and a vehicle for “digesting” the information that is being presented. One of the advantages of viewing the TED Talks discussed below on one’s own computer or other device is the ability to pause and reflect as needed.

TED Talks

The Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED) Talks are one of my favorite sources of information. Each TED Talk is generally 18 minutes or less in length. The 1,900 talks presented since TED began in 1984 are available free on the Web, and have had more than 2,000,000,000 views (About TED, 2015; Hochman, 3/7/2014).

I consider that the TED Talks I select as relevant to my personal areas of interest meet my criteria as useful and reliable resources. The talks are brief and they tend to be credible, valid, and up-to-date.

Typically, I browse through the titles of recently presented TED Talks until I hit one that “grabs” me and I am intrinsically motivated to look into the topic. Intrinsic motivation is a very valuable idea in teaching and learning. When our informal and formal educational systems create situations in which students are intrinsically motivated, students make great progress.

Almost always, a topic I select is one that I know something about. I am not using TED Talks as an introduction to topics that are completely new to me. Rather, I am using TED Talks as a quick and up-to-date overview designed to refresh and extend my current knowledge.


Here is another aside. Constructivism is a learning theory based on the idea that learners build on and extend their current knowledge. I select my learning materials based on a combination of my intrinsic motivation and my having appropriate prerequisite knowledge. The plethora of Web-based and other materials now available to students can help create this situation for all students.

MA TED Talk by Fei-Fei Li’

I will illustrate using Fei-Fei Li’s TED Talk, How We're Teaching Computers to Understand Pictures (Li, March, 2015; Moursund, 4/13/2015). It caught my attention because it is about an important and challenging component of artificial intelligence (AI), a topic that has long been of interest to me. The very first book I read about AI was Feigenbaum and Feldman’s 1963 anthology, Computers and Human Thought (Feigenbaum & Feldman, 1963). It provided an introduction to the field through a sequence of articles that were near the “cutting edge” but accessible to lay people. I suppose it was mainly just plain dumb luck that I happened to encounter this book—a book that kindled my initial and continuing interest in AI.

What this means is that, as I view a presentation about an AI topic, I can do mental “fact and idea” checking. I am able to judge validity based on my extensive background knowledge, and I am apt to catch major errors in the presentation. In addition, I can fit some of the ideas into what I already know, and I can tie the new ideas to my foundational knowledge.

The Presenters and Presentations

TED has a presenter selection group process designed to find well-qualified presenters. They are open to suggestions from outsiders. When I go to a TED Talks on the Web, I can read the credentials of the presenter. If I am curious, I can look up the presenter on the Web.

For example, Fei-Fei Li is Director of Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence Lab and Vision Lab, and she has a doctorate from the California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech). Stanford is one of the leading universities in the world, and it is well known for its work in AI. Cal Tech also is a prestigious university. Wow, these are impressive credentials! Since her presentation topic is within her field of expertise, I consider her to be a very credible information source.

The Ted Talks videos are filmed before a live audience, and some of the talks have had millions of online viewers. This live audience and the potential huge number of online viewers put considerable pressure on the presenters to be well prepared. Most of the TED Talks presenters I have viewed are quite experienced speakers and make good use of well-designed visuals. This is certainly true for Li, who has both teaching and administrative duties at Stanford.

Each TED Talks video includes a transcript available online along with the free video. Thus, I can read the transcript at my leisure. I find the transcript helpful in reviewing details from the presentation and also useful if I want to quote from the presentation in an article I am writing.

An Activity to Do with Students

Here is an activity that you might want to carry out with middle school and older students. Ask your students to tell you about the sources they use in exploring and finding information about a topic that they currently find very interesting. (For example, they might be interested in the latest “hot” music or the performance of current and past great athletes.) Then ask about their insights into the credibility and validity of the information sources and the information they are retrieving. This activity can be used effectively in a classroom setting, with students working in pairs or small groups.

Final Remarks

“Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.” (Samuel Johnson; British author and father of the English dictionary; 1709–1784.)

Our schools are moving toward providing all students with good connectivity both in and outside of school. The Web is already by far the world’s largest library, and it continues its rapid growth. Aids to interacting with the Web and finding information continue to improve.

A good education and a good educational system provide students with the background knowledge to “look it up” and to understand the information one finds. It helps students learn to separate the wheat from the chaff—valid information from information that is questionable, biased, or just plain wrong. In addition, it helps students learn to learn on their own and to become responsible for their own learning.

Think about the previous paragraph in terms of how we are currently trying to assess student learning through state and national high-stakes tests. At the current time, this assessment system is certainly not aligned with the types of educational ideas discussed above.


About TED (2015). Retrieved 9/6/2015 from

Bunce, D.M., Flens, E.A., & Neiles, K.Y. (2010). Review of: How long can students pay attention in class? A study of student attention decline using clickers. Journal of Chemical Education. Retrieved 9/6/2015 from

Feigenbaum, E., & Feldman J., eds. (1963). Computers and thought. Reprinted in 1965 by American Association for Artificial Intelligence and MIT Press.

Hochman, D. (3/7/2014). No, his name is not Ted. Chris Anderson, curator of TED Talks, builds his brand. The New York Times. Retrieved 9/6/2015 from

Li, F. (March, 2015). How we're teaching computers to understand pictures. TED Talks. Retrieved video and transcript 9/6/2015 from

Moursund, D. (4/13/2015). TED Talk about computer vision by Fei-Fei Li. IAE Blog. Retrieved 9/6/2015 from

SCALE (n.d.). Behavioral management important facts. The Student Coalition for Action in Literacy Education. Retrieved 9/6/2015 from


David Moursund is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, and coeditor of the IAE Newsletter. His professional career includes founding the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in 1979, serving as ISTE’s executive officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship publication, Learning and Leading with Technology. He was the major professor or co-major professor for 82 doctoral students. He has presented hundreds of professional talks and workshops. He has authored or coauthored more than 60 academic books and hundreds of articles. Many of these books are available free online. See In 2007, Moursund founded Information Age Education (IAE). IAE provides free online educational materials via its IAE-pedia, IAE Newsletter, IAE Blog, and books. See


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