by Richard Lucas
MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) from organisations like Coursera are making available the finest University courses in the world for free to anyone who signs up. Part of the TEDx/TED.com phenomenon involves people getting together to watch and discuss TED talks both as part of TEDx conferences and TEDxCinema or Salon events. In September 2014 Y Combinator – one of the best known accelerator programmes for startups in the world – launched a How to start a startup course which encouraged viewing parties to assemble all over the world via a Global Facebook page with written Transcripts of talks a Youtube Channel Recommended Readings for each talk,and a Startup Ideas/Projects database on Reddit Hundreds of viewing parties are taking place globally.
Getting together to watch and discuss educational on line video is highly disruptive. It addresses one of the most basic criticisms of MOOCs – that participants miss out on the social experience and interaction of ‘normal’ education. Although Salman Khan memorably recounted in his famous TED talk about Khan Academy how his cousins told him they preferred his Youtube educational videos to him in person… clearly critics have a point. It is good to get feedback from other students and instructors (and have a social life 🙂 )
Y Combinator’s initiative is potentially disruptive and is an early large scale iteration among early adopters of a practice that will increasingly undermine universities as we know them. Why have hundreds of average lecturers delivering their content expensively when the best in the world is available for free? The current system is costly, inefficient less good than well organised education based around online content.
However, it is not a foregone conclusion that self organising get togethers are good enough to compete. Colab, a prominent co-working space in Kraków, Poland got a group together – (see the Facebook event page here ) After the first session, a local blogger Paul Chen wrote somewhat critical comments here. He argued later in an interview that that while Y Combinator may be a great Accelerator it is not experienced in education, that viewing parties can be improved through pro-active hosts, TEDxCinema type discussions in English, presence of startup community leaders and commentary by experts and many commenters said that Sam Altmann’s opening talk was not well delivered
As someone who has been deeply involved in trying to build community around TEDx, startup community and other events for many years, I agree very much that good event design makes a huge difference to the success of online viewing parties. This article provides guidelines to improve the experience and educational outcomes of on line viewing groups with a focus on Y Combinator, and is of relevance to all kinds of viewing events, such as TEDx Cinemas and Salons.
Overall if the on line content is weak, you will struggle to make a great event. TED has raised the bar of what we expect from a talk. Chris Anderson gives a compelling talk about on line video here and there is no question that our expections are rising. Sam Altmann’s opening talk had good content, but was not delivered to TED like standards. Paul Graham’s was much better. So if you are organising an viewing party event, choose your talks carefully. So having ensured that the on line talks you are discussing are worth watching here is a 10 point plan
1 Be clear about what you are trying to achieve. The goals of the on line content creator must match yours up to a point but the reasons why you want to get people together to watch should be clear. Is it community building, networking, socialising, education, … that’s for you to decide.
- plan and implement pre-viewing party PR. How are you going to get the word out, encourage people to come.
- Build community and an event around the talk – otherwise you might as well just watch at home. Follow the guidelines I wrote here Organise ice breakers, make sure people talk to strangers, and interact with each other. It’s easy, and transformational. Design thinking is important, from the moment potential attendees are made aware of your event through to their experience as they arrive at the venue. At TEDxWarsawPresidentialPalace Mateusz Nowak aimed to make sure that there was not an atmosphere of “the party is elsewhere” for those at the “viewing party”. It’s inevitable that this feeling may exist. The challenge needs to be accepted and addressed.
- Welcoming, registration and badging are important and should be done well.
- Have a host – with relevant experience and skillswho introduces the talks, like is done at some TEDx-s, gives feedback about the talk and input into the discussion, and facilities the user experience. TEDxKrakowCinemahas guest hosts for each topic. which provides for variety. If you are doing this, make sure the responsibilities of the host and you the organiser are clearly defined
- Educational aids for small and large group discussions. It’s hard to predict how this will go, but the more you are focussed on education the more tools like flip charts marker pens etc are needed.
- home work/action items. Encourage your host to suggest reading lists, home work, and action items (such as giving feedback, nominating hosts, helping out at future events.
- Social media during and post event ask someone take photographs to post on social media, invite a blogger to write an article, and people to tweet.
- Feedback of course ask attendees for feedback and what can be done better, and take note of it.
- Knowledge skills acquisition testing and attendance certification. Decide what if anything you are going to do, and then do it. This is an area where MOOCs have a lot of know how to share. and you have to decide if it is worth it.
If you do it at all,do it as well as possible. Feedback about this article welcome. Here is the powerpoint from my hosting of Monday 6th October event