While Student Research Day is celebrated annually at MacEwan University, faculty research often goes unnoticed. This year, however, TEDxMacEwanU gave faculty members the opportunity to shine a light on their research while sharing innovative thinking with the community.
To anyone in academia, the non-profit media organization Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) is one we’re well familiar with. TED Talks have become popular sources for learning, whether inside or outside the classroom.
TED was established as a singular conference in 1984, and its popularity skyrocketed after 2006 when the organization invited people from around the world to view their talks online. The majority of their conferences are now watched on the web.
According to a study that was published in 2013 by journals.plos.org and talked about the impact of TED Talks and their power to popularize science, “The TED Talks website is the fourth most popular technology website in the world and the most popular conference and events website.” The statistic remains the same today, in 2018.
Attending an original TED conference in person is out of the question for most. Conferences are held over a five-day span, and the application process for solidifying a spot in the audience can get pretty competitive. A standard membership to attend the flagship TED conference costs around $10,000, according to the TED website. The 2008 launch of independently organized TED events, called TEDx, has therefore allowed innovators and idea makers around the world to join the TED phenomenon without having to pay an arm and a leg.
According to the official TEDx website, “The TEDx Program is designed to help communities, organizations, and individuals to spark conversation and connection through local TED-like experiences.”
The site also states that, since the program’s launch, their TEDx Talks have garnered one billion views, and 15,000 local TEDx events have been hosted around the world.
Each individually hosted event works within the guidelines of TED and closely follows a set of expectations, including the creation of a conference theme.
At MacEwan, after a series of ideas were discussed, the communication sub-committee of research council decided on the theme “Laying New Tracks” for its first ever TEDx event, which was held on Jan. 19.
On their TEDx website, MacEwan explains that “Laying New Tracks is about where we have come from and where we are going — what we have learned and what we look forward to learning.”
The statement not only reiterates MacEwan’s commitment to its rich history but also recognizes the necessity of celebrating innovations currently being made on campus.
The idea for the first TEDx event grew from a strategic plan for research that MacEwan had passed in 2017. According to Cynthia Zutter, vice-provost at MacEwan and organizer of the TEDxMacEwanU event, one of the main goals was to celebrate MacEwan’s researchers more prominently.
“We have a day where we celebrate student research, but we had not really had anything that focused on faculty research. So that was the intent of this,” says Zutter.
She notes, however, that the purpose of TED is to focus mainly on ideas rather than research — the slogan behind TED is, of course, “ideas worth sharing.”
Academic research accomplishments often slide under the public radar, but these events offer a way for researchers to communicate their findings to their local community.
“Laying New Tracks is about where we have come from and where we are going — what we have learned and what we look forward to learning.”
The conference was hosted on a winter evening at the Betty Andrews Recital Hall and featured a wide variety of speakers, including eight faculty members and three students.
“We thought the best time would be on a dark winter night because there’s not many other things to do. We wanted to highlight our new building, and our new space,” explains Zutter.
Topics ranged from the Northwest Passage to digital cinema, but each managed to incorporate ideas related to MacEwan’s innovation and the concept of laying new tracks for the university.
If MacEwan continues to host TEDxMacEwanU in coming years, there’s hope that the conference can raise awareness of the university’s academic environment — not only for students, but also for faculty, who dedicate a great portion of their careers to research.
Edmonton is no stranger to showing interest in TED conferences, having already hosted TEDxEdmonton in 2010 and TEDxUAlberta in the spring of 2016. Similar to TEDxMacEwanU’s theme, TEDxUAlberta’s “Looking Glass Into the Future” theme addressed social and scientific ideas from a variety of experts.
The motivation behind hosting a TEDx event was parallel to that of MacEwan’s — to invite the world to see behind the scenes of Edmonton’s innovation.
“We wanted to not only promote greater awareness and appreciation for these ideas, but we also hope to create a local forum for passionate individuals in the community to inspire and be inspired, so to speak,” president and co-founder of TEDxUAlberta, Yasmin Rafiei, said to the Edmonton Examiner.
At the same time, events like these are created to showcase ideas and talent that might seem reserved for the academic elite.
TED Talks have had the reputation of being exclusive conferences, but local TEDx events might be able to bridge the gap between researchers who want to share their work and anyone who wants to listen.
Zutter stresses that TEDxMacEwanU was formed around the motivation to invite Edmonton to explore the many qualities the university has to offer.
“We want to attract this downtown community. We’re this unique spot, we’re this unique university downtown, and we want to send that message out, to come on in, that we do lots of really interesting things,” says Zutter.
“Come and listen, come and see. You’re more than welcome. This isn’t just for students; it’s for the community.”