TEDx Trent Inspires Creativity, Collaboration and Engagement Beyond the Classroom


Have you taken a trip down to Oshawa recently? Have you been gazing at the walls around campus? If so, then you’re probably aware of the recent event that transpired at the Trent Oshawa campus called TEDx Trent.

For those of you who have never heard of TEDTalks, it is an event where people from around the world gather to deliver thought-provoking speeches and listen to debate-inducing discussions.
Keeping with this spirit, TEDx Trent featured a line-up of inspirational speakers, all of whom shared their personal experiences and their opinions on how we can all be “Creative, Collaborative and Engaging.”

The event kicked off with event organizer and Trent B.Sc. Psychology student Chris Fernlund delivering the opening remarks. With support from Trent and the help of his colleagues, TEDxTrent was born. Engaging the audience with his humorous and charismatic personality, Fernlund managed to keep the show well paced and entertaining, even after numerous technical difficulties.
President Steven Franklin made the welcome official with his traditional Trent introductions.

Marc Garneau was the first speaker to present (a perfect start to the day, to say the least). Who wouldn’t want to hear an astronaut talk all about his adventures in space?

While he may not have been the most intriguing speaker of the day, Garneau managed to get his central message across: “We need to address the global challenges on Earth, using space as a means of looking back and adding to our perspective of [our planet].” He drew attention to issues such as the global water shortage and global deforestation to open our eyes up to the damage we as humans are doing to this planet.

“Planet Earth is finite. In order to maintain our growing needs, we need to understand exactly what is happening and develop the technology we need in order to survive.”

While his presentation was a bit lacklustre, the points he managed to convey struck the audience and shed light on the environmental impact we’ve caused and are causing.

“Research shows that video games changes cognition … In other words, they are changing your mind.”

A rather peculiar proposition to state, but not when it comes from a professor who specializes in the field of video game research, Dr. Sara Humphreys.

Humphreys graduated from the University of Waterloo with a Ph.D. in Language and Literature, which she then put to use in her research involving video games and rhetoric.

Humphreys developed a formula outlining her research, which goes as follows: Game mechanics / process + stories = change in reality. While this may sound like jargon, she simplified it by saying, “Video games persuade and even teach us to think, fantasize, and behave,” and continued, “While we should be excited about the potential of powerful game mechanics, we also need to be critically aware of how we use this new form of cultural literacy.”

She also drew attention to a design lab called Game Changer in Chicago, an initiative which helps youth collaborate with faculty and university students in order to create digital games which explore health and social issues.

“It is absolutely crucial to become aware of the power of game story and use it to inspire real social change.”

Perhaps one of the most influential and inspiring talks of the day was not a live talk, but rather a video talk, which featured Josh Stanley back in 2013 at TEDx Boulder in Colorado. The topic? The Effectiveness of Medical Marijuana in Treating Pediatric Epilepsy.

Stanley focuses on the propaganda, fear, and greed surrounding medical marijuana. In January 2012, he and five of his brothers along with Dr. Sanjay Gupta developed a strain of cannabis that was free of all psychotropic effects of regular cannabis. They genetically modified cannabis, removing the psychoactive compound, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and instead enhanced the chemical cannabidiol (CBD).

Stanley later discovered the benefits of this plant, which he named “Charlotte’s Web” after discovering the Figgy family in February 2012 and prescribing it to Charlotte Figgy. He revolved the talk around Figgy, a five-year-old girl who suffered from a rare form of epilepsy known as Dravet Syndrome, which caused her to suffer from over four hundred seizures per day.

Stanley exposed the fact that the U.S. seemed to have known this was the case back in 1949, implying that there was a known link between cannabis and epilepsy. This sparked the main point of his talk, stating that we need to address the hurdles surrounding medicinal usage of cannabis in order to affect social change.

Overall, his presentation was heart wrenching and captured the true essence of TED.

Next up was senior art director of BBDO Toronto, Derek Blais. With nine years of experience in the advertisement business under his belt, Blais focused on social branded advertising, with clients such as McDonald’s, PepsiCo, and Virgin.

When it comes to ads, he revealed he is more focused on the “message rather than the medium” they present. This has gained him numerous awards and recognition among the advertising world.

In his humorous and relaxed talk, Blais focused on the concept of Internal and External Creativity, and on where ideas come from. He believes that creativity can solve business problems, and that ideas stem from our own “waiting place.” Instead of using complex terminology and perplexing diagrams, Blais reverted back to the days of Sesame Street, stating that, like in the case of the Two-Headed Monster, two heads are better than one. Both parties involved in business must have a close, open-ended relationship when collaborating, and they must essentially put their heads together if they want to succeed.

Blais ended by saying that the creative process should not be hindered by an initial voice of criticism.

Concluding the first half of TEDx was the young and talented musician, Taylor O’Meara. O’Meara began his musical journey at the age of 13 as the lead singer of Canada’s youngest rock band, Hidden Echo. In 2007, he released his first solo EP at the age of 15. After completing his undergraduate studies at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) in 2013, he came out with his new self-titled EP, which he wrote, recorded, and produced completely on his own.

O’Meara’s style can be described as “acoustic with a rock influence.” The performance itself was extremely balanced, acoustically and lyrically, which is very difficult to do when performing, especially to a roomful of prestigious speakers and embers of the community.

He also delighted the audience with a sampling of a few unreleased singles, which he “just wrote last week.” Although I had my doubts, O’Meara’s music delighted my eardrums and ended the first half of TEDx on a high note.

After the break, Prof. Lon Appleby from Durham College presented the audience with an informative and intriguing presentation surrounding the concept of “The Global Classroom,” an experimental classroom design he developed at Durham College, that integrates the concept of interactive learning on a global scale.

The idea is to highlight the interaction between students from different cultures and to engage them to solve global issues together. He stressed the fact that he wanted to develop a classroom model which “better reflects the process of student learning,” with “exchange and create” being the philosophy behind the class.

“Students are global thinkers. We must develop a system to better provide them access to education which will provide them with skills to develop solutions to solve social, political, and global challenges.”

The program itself consists of a number of classes, all of which deal with addressing and solving worldwide problems such as The Great Dependency issue (which implies that everything global has local ramifications and vice versa) and Homo Colossus (implying that our excessive human consumption has caused a major impact on nature).

With the collaboration of three institutions across the world, Appleby has produced students who develop important work, such as that of Bailey Corneal, who produced Rice and Water, a short documentary that won the Trent University Film Festival for outlining the poverty crisis occurring in third-world countries.

Solar cars and black bears was the theme of the next talk. Marcelo da Luz delighted everyone with a humourous account of the process of developing the first solar car.

Enduring treacherous ice roads, interactions with black bears, and breaking world records are only some of the things da Luz accomplished. However, his most notable achievement was for the development of his solar-powered car.

He pulled his solar car over 660km across Ontario, before being pulled over, mistaken as a UFO. Da Luz holds the world distance record for a car powered solely by the sun, and it is the first solar car to operate below freezing temperature.

With themes of innovation, creativity and collaboration coming to the forefront, this talk effectively kept with the theme.

The last TEDtalk video was presented by Sunitha Krishnan, and was a truly shocking and inspiring story of the sex slavery industry in India.

Krishnan has dedicated her life to rescuing women and children from sex slavery. In this heart-wrenching talk, she told the stories of three young children, Pranitha, Shaheen, and Anjali, who were all subjected to the horrors of sex trafficking. Krishnan also recounted the time when she was gang-raped by eight men at the age of 15, angered at the mere fact that she was ostracized for being a victim. She stated, “We, as a society, have PhDs in victimizing a victim,” and that we need to take a more humane approach to helping these young victims rebuild their lives.

“The sense that thousands and millions of children and young people are being sexually violated, and that there’s this huge silence about it around me, angers me.”

Krishnan was the match that sparked the battle against sexual slavery. By working with the government and various corporations, she has made it her mission to develop an anti-trafficking policy.

Perhaps the most touching talk of the day, Krishnan delivered a powerful message: we must open our eyes to acknowledge the horrors that transpire daily, and work cohesively to inspire change.

Former Arthur editor and Trent alumni jes sachse took the stage next with another powerful talk.

Using her affluent rhetoric and mischievous charm, sachse addressed some of the key issues of accessibility in today’s society, and how we must decolonize disability. She delivered a puissant, playful talk about queer disabled decolonizing communities in the 21st century with humour and art.

Throughout her talk, she kept the audience engaged with compelling emblematical accounts of personal stories and challenges she had faced in the past. In addition, she touched on subjects such as the “Crip Curation of the Internet,” her own parody of American Apparel’s ad campaign “American Able,” and the role of disability in networking platforms.

“We must strive for Universal Access. Not just physical, but also in our all our mentalities, to be a societal norm.”

“Philosopher of technology” Marcel O’Gorman presented the last talk, which was about Critical Digital Engagement.

From “Geomosiac Data” to “Teat Tweets,” O’Gorman covered a wide variety of topics including the tenets of critical media, the psychology of optimal experience, and the mystery of artist Tom Thomson’s death. Although this may sound overly complex, he managed to break it down to a level of understanding using satirical and contemporary social media references.

“We need to prioritize ‘thinking’ over ‘selling’ when coming up with ideas,” O’Gorman stated, emphasizing that, in order to be critical with our thinking, we need to pushed, like buttons. As a result, he pushed his own buttons by conducting a series of experiments including the creation of a ratio for the matching of skill level with challenge, otherwise known as “Flow,” and building a computer-enhanced replica of Canadian artist Tom Thomson’s canoe, in hopes of debunking the mystery behind his death back in 1917.

“You never know where collaboration will lead. Sometimes you just need to go with the flow.”

To conclude the event, Peterborough’s Unity took to the stage with their traditional Aboriginal acapella style music. Their euphonic tunes and perfectly synchronized voices filled the room with silent fascination.