Second annual TEDxUTSC a resounding success

UTSC hosted the second annual TEDxUTSC conference on the chilly morning of February 1. TED conferences typically focus on “Technology, Entertainment and Design” as a means of spurring innovative idea exchanges.  The UTSC conference  explored the theme of “Converging Realities”.

The theme represents the ways in which the cross pollination and shaping of knowledge from different disciplines and perspectives can yield better results.  Case in point, Fab Nolan,  marketing manager of Google Canada, demonstrated how lessons in nature could be harnessed to develop ingenuity and innovation in the business realm.

This year, conference attendees were treated to twelve captivating talks from fields as diverse as international development, psychology, English, anthropology, and engineering.. The conference also featured videos of talks from the central TED conference and performances from local artists.

Host Dirye Hasan was able to professionally introduce and segue into each component of the conference while keeping the mood light and fun. Technology was a recurring element in all of the presentations with an emphasis on the ethical and equitable use of the Internet and other communication technologies — from harnessing computer science and engineering and tackling bumper-to-bumper traffic in Toronto to developing new therapies to treat depression. Design was key in the way the conference was presented to attendees — from set design and food layout to  wooden nametags. There was a blimp outfitted with a camera that made an entrance during conversation breaks; it truly embodied the three elements of Technology, Entertainment and Design.

The Scarborough campus’s co-op programs are unique to the campus; students have practicum work terms interspersed with study terms to engage in experiential learning.Speaker Jadine Lannon was inspired by her work term in Bangalore, India as an international development studies student; while in Bangalore, Lannon  researched the Internet and its role in society as it pertains to women. Through her work, she discovered the inherent gender biases in the way in which Wikipedia’s repository of knowledge is constructed, and how those who develop knowledge can have a powerful influence in what knowledge means to others. The core International Development issues of governance, participation, and diversity did not filter into the largely unregulated and ungoverned space of the Internet.

Another speaker, Daniel Bender — a historian and professor at UTSC — brought durian fruit for conference attendees to sample. He discussed how Western representations  of Durian  are indicative of the subconscious ways we “Other” people and cuisine that are foreign to us. Our actions and discourse surrounding this food act as a window in  demonstrating how we, as members of the Global North, feel about unfamiliar civilizations and societies

In its second outing, TEDxUTSC  surpassed its goals in engaging a record number of people. There were250 attendees at the event, and thousands more live,-streamed online. On Twitter, the #TEDxUTSC hash tag trended in Canada.

What separates the TED format from other conferences — academic or otherwise — is the strategic use of conversation breaks to catalyze conversations between attendees, speakers, and executives. This cultivates a spirit of innovation and knowledge exchange, with the potential of to  carry through well after the conference’s closing. As Karen Young, past co-chair of the conference, puts it, “conversation is a cradle of bringing innovation to the campus, and is the added value for delegates compared to those watching it on live streaming.”

Conference delegates were especially impressed by the continued strong delivery of the TEDx model at UTSC. “It is a fantastic platform that has raised the profile of the campus, and truly demonstrates the interdisciplinary nature we embrace at UTSC,” remarked Stevelle Steer, third-year sociology and philosophy student attending the conference for a second year in a row.

Next year, the conference can build on its success and expertise while expanding its reach by highlighting the diversity on campus. Young hopes that the conference will become a platform that transforms the current intellectual playground.

Applications for next year’s conference executive team will be released at the end of the winter semester. Details  available on the TEDxUTSC website.

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