Live from the 1st Annual NEGMA Conference @ MIT Media Lab

I’m sitting in a large 6th floor room of the MIT Media Lab at the 1st Annual NEGMA Conference, “Innovative Solutions for a Brighter Egypt.” The conference is an application of active learning principles.

The conference is in part designed to support entrepreneurship, innovation, and social development in Egypt. Ten finalists, selected through an outside expert review process, are competing to have their projects funded by NEGMA’s supporters. Project proposals range from equipping small digital fabrication labs to vocational training for the disabled.

So far I’ve gotten three main lessons from the conference. First, when large sums of money are at stake, presentation skills are crucial. Earlier today competitors were required to pitch their proposals to conference attendees, who then voted on their favorites. People who botched their presentations were left at a distinct disadvantage.

Second, collaboration with peers has value. After the presentations, projects were workshopped among conference participants in small groups — in a process that’s very similar to what happens at the APSA’s Teaching and Learning Conference. The finalists’ project proposals were strengthened for tomorrow’s presentations before judges.

The third lesson is that the unbundling of higher education will continue apace, whether we like or not. The traditional four-year, full-time, residential model of undergraduate education is dead. The technology of the internet is indeed making it possible for anyone to learn anything at anytime from anyone. As stated this morning by Wael Fakharany, Google’s regional director for Egypt and North Africa, every minute sixty hours of video are uploaded onto YouTube. Every day, 30 million devices connect to the internet in Egypt alone. Globally, Google handles 4 billion searches daily. This digital landscape is how people around the world will be accessing affordable and effective education — even in areas like vocational training.

More Thoughts On Presentations

If students are presenting on a text, I require them to at minimum identify:

– the topic of the text.

– the thesis of the text, and locate where in the text it is stated by the text’s author.

– how the author uses sources, not simply in the manner of copy and paste, but as part of a dialogue with others.

Students usually meet the first two requirements fairly easily, but occasionally stumble on the third. I advise students to try to answer the question “What message is the author trying to get across about her or his work in relations to that of others?”

If the historical or academic setting of a text is unfamiliar to students (and most are), I ask them to include some type of dramatis personae in their presentations. I want them to elaborate on how the people or ideas discussed in the text connect to each other and to specific places and/or times that may be implicitly or explicitly referenced within it.