As the incoming president for the Upsilon Eta Chapter at Florida State College at Jacksonville, Justin Cran saw an opportunity to try something different as his chapter planned the 2014 Florida Regional Honors Institute.
“We’re always looking to try something new,” Cran said. “Being fresh to the position and not quite knowing what all is required gave me a little freedom to do something different.”
The chapter had been selected through a lottery system to host the Honors Institute. Rather than host it on their own campus, the chapter chose to host it July 11-12 at St. Johns River State College in St. Augustine. As the oldest city in the United States, the location lent itself well to the 2014-15 Honors Study Topic, Frontiers and the Spirit of Exploration.
“They wanted to incorporate that historical aspect into it,” said Nell Freeman, advisor to the Alpha Xi Eta Chapter at St. Johns River State College. She and her chapter worked with their college on the logistics of the event.
The location may have been a nod to the past, but the format of the event was as “now” as possible. A TEDx event utilizes live TED-like talks paired with previously recorded TED presentations. Three general sessions were held, each one featuring a live speaker and two pre-recorded TED talks related the Honors Study Topic themes.
“It fit well with the Honors Study Topic,” Cran said. “It was something that hadn’t been done before – for our regional Honors Institute anyway.”
Keith Walters, Upsilon Eta’s former chapter president, is the president and executive producer for his campus’ TEDx club, TEDxFSCJ. As part of Upsilon Eta’s College Project in 2013, the chapter applied for a TED license. Although it wasn’t granted to the chapter, a professor on campus later applied for a license and received one on the condition that the organization be a collaborative effort between students and staff at the college.
“If there is a licensed TEDx group on campus, I would absolutely recommend a collaboration,” Walters said. “Phi Theta Kappa is a top-notch organization for smart people, and so is TED; it’s a perfect match.”
The group holds three salon events featuring pre-recorded TED presentations throughout the year, in addition to a TEDxFSCJ Conference. Members of the club also get experience in event planning, logistics, stage design, marketing, digital media, filming, preparing and coaching presenters and all other elements that go into preparing a TED-level conference. Walters and Cran worked together from the beginning to organize the TEDx event.
“I knew he could help us narrow down what would be good to use and what would be suitable for the themes,” Cran said.
Following each general session, 30-minute breakout sessions were held to discuss each talk. At the end of 30 minutes, attendees could move to a different breakout session to hear about a different presentation that was given for another 30 minutes. About 120 participants attended the Honors Institute.
“TED Talks work for a conference like a Regional Honors Institute because there are so many different themes within the study topic,” Walters said. “TED Talks are generally under 20 minutes, so the time allows for each theme to be part of the conference in a short period of time and without fatiguing the audience.”
Collaborating with the TEDxFSCJ club allowed the Upsilon Eta chapter to concentrate on aspects of the conference that would make it a good experience without sacrificing the educational component, Walters said. And, the TED Talk videos were posted on the TEDxFSCJ website so members who were unable to attend the Regional Honors Institute could still benefit from the content.
“The program was just the right balance between live speakers and TED Talk,” said Florida Regional Coordinator Connie LaMarca-Frankel. “I thought that the programming for this institute was one of the best I have experienced in my time as (regional) coordinator.”
The format reminded Freeman of the international Honors Institute hosted annually by Phi Theta Kappa. There was, however one notable difference: the length of the presentations. The live speaker was limited to 20 minutes, and the TED talks capped at 15 minutes.
“I’ve been to talks before, and one area of improvement is with the live speakers and the length of time they speak,” Cran said. “This generation wants quicker content and more of it.”
Susan Edwards, Phi Theta Kappa’s Dean of Academic Affairs and Honors Programs, applauded the Florida Region’s new take on hosting such an event.
“What a great idea to combine the Florida Honors Institute with a TEDx event,” she said. “It is a best practice for regions and – with substantive, intentional seminar meetings to add depth to the shorter presentations – can work well as a prompt for Honors in Action research.”
In addition to selecting the live speakers and watching countless TED video talks, students from the Upsilon Eta Chapter also served as moderators for the breakout sessions. Freeman was impressed with all they accomplished.
“The whole point is student participation,” she said. “It really develops great student leadership.
“And the new format was really encouraging to small chapters like ours. We didn’t think our campus or our chapter was big enough to ever try to host it.”