Sunday, June 28, 2009

Faux Gladwell: The NECC 2009 Keynote Fail

Lot's of dissension on the Gladwell keynote at NECC. Here's a link to the RSS of the liveblog I posted during the speech.

My biggest beef with the presentation was that it was an ongoing string of generalities about famous people. Had absolutely nothing to do with teaching kids. And throughout, I felt like the whole thing just sounded canned.

Little did I or anyone else know that Mr. Gladwell just gave a 'strikingly' similar speech a few weeks ago: to the United Way.
It is impressive to hear someone like Gladwell talk. He didn't use notes and he was able to recite facts and statistics from memory that always tends to blow my mind. In an effort to do something a little different last night he decided to give three lessons to be learned from the story of Fleetwood Mac. One of the hallmarks of a great speaker for me is their ability to entertain, to get their messages across and if they can surprise you at the same time then its a huge bonus! Gladwell delivered ... Fleetwood Mac as a topic for the United Way major donors!

The blogger at the Eagle Blog goes on to describe exactly how Mr. Gladwell related the history of Fleetwood Mac to the work of the United Way.

And guess what?

Looks like it was mostly the same speech he just gave to NECC.

I find this to be the ultimate in pandering. Given the opportunity to give a keynote to the biggest ed tech conference in the world, at least do us the honor of giving a unique speech.

At least something we can't already find on Google.


  1. Thanks for your honest opinion on NECC and the keynote. I was looking around for the live feed at about 5:45 PM EST, but I see I really didn't miss anything. More and more I'm beginning to feel like I$TE is about just one thing.

    Kind of glad they didn't get my $300+ conference registration.

  2. Jeremy, it's my understanding that Mr. Gladwell would not grant permission to ISTE to stream his keynote address...perhaps we now know why.

  3. The purpose of a keynote is to inspire and entertain, information giving is secondary. I’m not a fan of keynotes for just this reason, but as keynotes go, Gladwell was effective.

    If you saw the Q and A (which many did not stay for), you saw a different side to Gladwell (warm, engaging, and passionate).

    The expectation of the audience was I think for Gladwell to present his work (most specifically “Outliers”) within the context of education, which is what I think he tried to do. I think if he had done a “more original” speech, then I think many would have been disappointed b/c they would have wanted to hear about “Outliers”. Idit Harel Caperton did an original keynote at the closing of NECC 2008 which was quite original and people complained about that too. I conclude keynoters can’t win.

  4. As I wasn't at the United Way donor meeting I found it an interesting speech. Indeed Gladwell was entertaining and I enjoyed the thoughts provoked within me that allowed me to expand my theory as to the optimal educational experience. I'd find it offensive if Gladwell spoke to us about the best educational practice, he's not an expert in that. We however are and as such we should be able to expand our thinking based upon his speech. Within his talk I found excellent reasoning for expanding the place of simulations and games within the classroom. I really found there were a number of ideas made available for us to interject our experiences and find inspiration. Over all I found it very interesting, timely, enjoyable and expanded my thinking.

    I find the closing keynotes tend to be more education specific with some such as Dr. Tyson a few years ago being spectacular and others such as Caperton were rather lacking.

  5. It never really ends does it?

    The need that some people have to be simply given more and more and more - what is it about human beings that they become so self-absorbed that they don't appreciate quality but instead just attack it and say, oh it wasn't enough for "us."

    Paperless, think about this posting.

    Why is it exactly that you think you should have received more than just "impressive."

    Why did "you" need to have more than what the world already had via google.


  6. @ Karenne

    Gladwell's a pro. I'm sure he can take a little criticism.

    And personally, I don't think he's giving us quality. I think he's giving us clever feel-good pop sociology.

    And yes, I want the guy giving the opening keynote at the largest educational technology conference in the world to do better. I'm sure he was well compensated for the candy he dished out.

    Why does this matter?

    Because he was talking to educators. And b.s. detectors are standard issue around our ranks. He should know better.

    We're teachers.

    And if we take our jobs seriously, then we're more than just standardization and an endless slew of canned responses and anecdotes that can be hauled out to fit any occasion. But that's what he gave us.

    I consider it part of my job description to be critical. And I consider it part of my job description to accept criticism from my students as well as the readers of this blog. So I say: thank you. Thank you for contributing your voice to this discussion. That makes what I do here worth it.

    And believe me, I've thought about this posting.


  7. Shelly,

    I don't want to fight with you not at all, and especially not on your blog.

    But I do think you've been overly harsh and I feel that your comments stem from your own experience and education (perhaps you are better educated than he is on these topics(?)

    - it seems that instead of just being glad to have such a brilliant mind speaking at your event - he's done bigger events - you're instead expecting Gladwell to deliver the knowledge that you have (or your peers) rather than being glad to receive what Gladwell is good at /for and experienced in.

    Gladwell's books aren't really about school education (Tipping Point and Blink definitely weren't, Outliers on my shelf but not read yet).

    Pop psychology is what reached masses and if we're in education then we have to respect the way that he teaches, even when it's not our own way or our subjects.

    Does that make sense?

  8. Y'all must not give many keynote speeches. The speaker is on the circuit to promote a book, or other product. He or she gives dozens of such speeches a year. While most do attempt to build in some sort of reference to the event audience, the speech/slides/jokes are necessarily not from-scratch original every time. I understand the Q&A that followed was quite good; this is where any customization might occur. Give the guy a break!


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