TEDx Talk

The TEDx event held in 2015 is the first TEDx event of art colleges in China. TED invite me as the last speaker at this event. The whole idea in this lecture is based on my real-life experience, reflecting the fundamental cognition about education and confirming my practical path for the future. At that period, I was under several critical decisions making in my life. This event invitation allows me to exchange ideas from my inner thinking with outside understanding. After the event, I became firmer to keep driving forward from my heart.

In the TED rule, the speakers are given a maximum of 18 minutes to present their ideas in the most innovative and engaging ways they can. I think I controlled the time in the second level.

Stories on the road of education

I, for one, am an ordinary design and an ordinary teacher.

When I received the invitation, I thought a lot about it. I thought what to share? Should I share my design education in the past few years?

Or do I share my design research, or do I share a case study …… I thought eighteen minutes might share some interesting short stories. 

2004 was the year when I graduated from high school. Like all art students, like many of you here are probably art students.

Like all art students, at that time you didn’t have any skills, I had nothing but a muscular body, which was still relatively thin at that time, and an attitude of studying hard, and the rest was just painting. In those days, I didn’t seem to have any social skills except long hair, like an art student. What should I do? At that time I wanted to do some social practice, and of course, to supplement my family and earn some money. The only such skill was teaching and drawing. Fortunately, the high school I graduated from was an art high school, a very famous art high school. The teacher also felt that my painting in the past few years was outstanding. Not quite outstanding, but also have the ability to teach some skills. As a kid who graduated from high school and opened a painting class, I entrusted my teacher to introduce me to a few kids to teach if there was any need. Of course it’s not mainly to earn money, I think I want to practice more. So, as I said now, all kinds of problem kids and bear kids, which teachers are not willing to teach, came to my embrace.

At this point in time, what happened this summer has almost overturned my most elementary understanding of the uniformity of education. You know that in our country, we all cross the one-way bridge to college, everyone is a standard. When you take high school, you know astronomy and geography, you know everything. Those years are gone, for many people, for me too. I all think that time was glorious, in my brain as if the CPU just finished leveling up. It came and went when it wanted to. But there’s this one story that happened that year that’s most special. I met a troubled teenager. This troubled teenager had everything that you can imagine happening to a troubled teenager. So as an easy way to get into college, as a high school student, not good at school, a troubled teenager, what should I do? Study art and then send him to a magical institution of learning called undergraduate.

I went from asking him, “What can’t you do?” To the point where I just ended up asking him, “What can you do?” He was a sophomore in high school at the time. He was going to get into a place in the country that he could at least call an undergraduate degree, and that was his goal. I found out later that he didn’t know anything. Basic general knowledge of physics, basic general knowledge of math, basic general knowledge of English, basic general knowledge of language, none of it. My heart was broken. I thought about this child and sent him to such a path, is it a scourge to more people, or is it a ruin to him? Every time I taught him to draw, I taught him from the most basic perspective, from the most standardized holding of brushes, the use of basic tools, and I finally taught him English. All I could know was that he could memorize the 26 letters of the alphabet without any problem. I’m glad that I didn’t spend too much memory on this at that time. A sophomore in high school, I started teaching him from phonetic symbols. You can imagine. Phonetic symbols, sophomore year. Then he went to study in the United States. I think this era still has to give some people a chance. Then see him back again, in Qingdao, my hometown, formed a company, the Bank of Qingdao line. Doing some network technology, some very disruptive things.

I was honored to have met him in that era, and he turned my ideas about education upside down. You know, at that time I always thought that people in this world are hardworking, in the senior year of high school is everything will be. At least the basics, but he turned my mind upside down. I’m also glad that at that time I was thinking more and I didn’t use my weak biceps to push a lot of knowledge into his brain because I couldn’t push it in. I knew he had some of these stories behind him and asked step by step to the end I knew he was not going to be able to do anything. So at that time I thought back to myself, when I was doing education, it was most important to tailor it to the individual. If my goal at that time was to turn him into a scientist, he would have been ruined today. He might have ruined this college even if he got into it. You have to realize that this is a troubled teenager who is capable of doing anything. Now he’s in great shape, just had a baby. He even sent me a picture of their child, which fortunately doesn’t look like him.

With this concept of teaching to the individual, I have always felt that the most important thing is communication and understanding. If I didn’t understand what he had been through in the past, I couldn’t reflect on that time and think, oh, so that’s what it was like! This is what it’s like to be in this situation. No one wants to harm you, but your reasons are like this. That was the first story.

Then I finished my undergraduate studies in college and went to graduate school. I found that the power of education, my concept, was a bit blasphemed in this era. In fact, the power of education is very great, but unfortunately, the energy we can spend on education is very limited. Even today, as an ordinary college teacher, a late-bloomer, I find it very hard and bittersweet, I guess.

Then at that time, when I was a graduate student, I took a class for undergraduates. I took a class for undergraduates as a teacher in my personal capacity. The class was called Commercial Photography. As a product design professional, this class is very important in undergraduate. Because after you’ve done all the work, what’s the last thing you do, document. Of course, there are tests before that, but we often do some concept stuff, so once the test is ruined. So, first record. At that time, I was a student, I had just come to graduate school, and I was just becoming self-sufficient. Then as an undergraduate student, it would be very cruel to use a lot of equipment to take a few pictures, it is more cruel to their parents.

So in class I got rid of everything. I said I only have one requirement, you just need to have a shooting equipment, it has a manual gear is fine, no other requirements. Because what I want to teach you is the meaning, that is, what is the meaning of these parameters, what is the principle of imaging, and what tools you have to put it to the best use on it. If I still take this class today, I guess the phone is enough. Then at that time, students reverse handed me a lot of things. This is their work, and I wanted to give them a hundred percent, but the school pulled me back and said let’s give it a ninety-five. That seems to be the case with schools all over the country, right? Don’t jump too much, and I acquiesced as a weak teaching person.

But I’m very fond of these kids. Why do you say that? I actually didn’t teach them much throughout the process of how to get things out of the camera. What I wanted them to understand is what you want to express in the picture. If you do it as commercial photography, the purpose in commercial photography is the most important thing. So they were constantly shooting something and constantly communicating with me. I was walking by their classroom once and I noticed that they were setting up, but no one was helping them with that high light. There was a light coming down from the top, and the tallest boy was like…just a little bit, right? And I was so close, but that light might be so close. So I was very conscious, “volunteer” dedication, to help them play light. But I didn’t say that I should do this or that during the whole process. They were telling me what they wanted, and I said I would suggest this, or what you want, and I would help you.

So in this story, I understood that the ability to innovate and create is very, very strong. Because in that era, in 08/09, what was the most famous thing in China? I Phone came out to 1, we have come out to 18, Nokia just came out to 66 or 93, we have come out to more than 100. No problem, we are always ahead in terms of serial number. But in terms of creativity, after so many years of education, I will always believe that the creativity flowing in you cannot be said to be the best in the world, but at least it is at the upper middle level, in the whole world’s assessment system. Copycat is a kind of innovation, in this understanding. Of course, this is a bit of a problem, in the long history of some problems. But in terms of innovation itself, this is a kind of embodiment. So in this case, I think I’m learning from the students. I also gave the students something that I know, and this kind of mutual learning is the basic force that promotes the design forward. Because design is an applied discipline, it is not a theoretical discipline. If we keep talking about theory here today and spraying water. Everyone a wipe face, go back to nothing.

Then further back, came a recent teaching experience. I taught English at one of the more prestigious language schools in China. It was rather bizarre, people thought it was rather bizarre, so to speak I also thought it was rather bizarre. You know, or forced to make a living. In those days, when cottage culture was prevalent, I was approached by many projects. I won some awards, so in the bureau area, I didn’t want to be too famous. I wanted to do good design quietly. Many designs found me, and as a result, this kind of design found me and tried to make it, and it was all cottage industry. Then they want to write my name on the side, and then put a stamp on all the awards I won. This is very cool, but I’m not happy. So in addition to working on very few projects, I needed to do some other work, some side work so I went to teach English at New Oriental. You see, there was indeed a connection, teaching phonetics at the time. So I taught basic English, I taught some of the boards of the New Concept module. It was fun to teach English. Every time, as you know, many lecture halls in China are occupied by talent shows. All kinds of pole dancing, disco, karaoke, all started, in all kinds of lecture halls. So before every class I tell the students, I say I don’t know how to do it. If you want to come over and listen to the songs, I can sing, and then you can all leave afterwards. I’m not very good at dancing either. I’m not very good at fighting here either. So let’s study hard.

Many students came to me after class and asked me some basic questions. How should this pronunciation be, where should the little tongue be placed …… But one student came over and asked me a non-technical question, but it stuck with me. This girl came up to me and said, I graduated from the same school as you, my English is not very good, but I want to learn it well. So I thought if I was going to get that out of the way, I might have to say a few hours of life experience. I met some odd people at the time that turned my education upside down one step at a time to get to where I am now. But I didn’t say that, to save time. I just told her, “If I can do it, you can do it. If I can do it, you can all do it too.

Then the question came up. Her question had nothing to do with academics, nothing to do with knowledge, what was she looking for? She was looking for a role model of what she wanted to do. And for the first time, I shamelessly threw myself at her as a virtual role model. I told her I could do it and you could do it too. No problem, just work hard and you can. This student is now enrolled in a college in Beijing. At every stage of her life she sends me a message saying I choose this school or that school. I said you are at least choosing a school. Now her studies I reckon are no big deal because she is a very hard worker herself. In this story, I learned the power of role models. We will meet many role models in our life, whether it is our family, parents, or your classmates and teachers. The power of role models is huge. As a teacher, if you can be a role model for your students, I think the amount of value is much higher than meeting a role model on the road.

Then people have an aspiration. If you look for a role model without aspiring, in the end our life is a copy. A copied life is meaningless. You look at how your parents worked, ended up working, and retired from life. You want to copy his life, his dream, but the whole context of the time is different, the whole world will not give you this opportunity. So there must be an inner yearning to know what you want. Look for the many role models along the way that will make up your unique life.

How to help you achieve yourselves is one of my foundation points. What I have been doing is to let my students surpass their teachers. It’s about letting my students, surpass me. I admit, it’s a little difficult based on the complexity of my experience right now. But it doesn’t matter, I’m old, on some levels, for twenty-somethings. However, there are two dimensions I can guarantee. My education terminates at the end of graduate school, a total of seven years of higher education, and a total of seven years of undergraduate graduate school. I haven’t found a suitable PhD position to pursue, and I don’t want to rush too much into the last part of my life, in the academic hat.

I am seven years into my education, and my undergraduate degree is four years. My standard for myself is: after you graduate in four years, my students, if my education is successful, should be that you have all the knowledge, all the ability, all the thinking, all the skills of my seven years of graduate school. Fortunately, during my four years at GWM, some of my students from freshman to senior year have already achieved this. This is the first dimension. Another dimension is that the height that I have reached now, say I am 25 years old and 26 years old…to reach the height that our students should be completely beyond me when they reach that time. Because in the information explosion society now, the cost of acquiring knowledge is very low, and a lot of energy is spent on sifting through good education and poor education information. So some of the things I can do today are completely beyond my students by the time they reach my age. Of course I was older at that time, and if I kept working I could still look down on them. But sometimes I just might not have enough energy.

The last thing I want to say to you is that education is a very powerful force. In our time, this power is somewhat blurred. Because it is disturbed by this chaotic world, it is not very clear. But I am also glad to see that in the Chinese educational community, there is a lot of effort to be with students, to teach them, to study some fields, and to spread more knowledge to every student in the classroom. I expect that I will keep going on this road of education, going better, and will help more students beyond me. This is me – Bin Zhao. An ordinary college educator and ordinary designer. Thank you all!

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