"My life is my message."
- Brad Loiselle
Disclosure: My attendance at EduTECH 2017 was due to a media pass provided by the event organisers.
I had never heard of Brad Loiselle or BetterU before this presentation and the first impression was not a positive one for me. It started with something that was partially out of Brad's control; the volume on the introductory video was far too loud, almost painfully so. Brad had no control over that. What he did have control over, one would presume; given that he is the CEO and Co-Founder of the company, is whether or not to use the video in the first place. For me it was a poor choice and created a sense of distrust and cynicism immediately as it came across as unnecessarily self-aggrandizing. That the first comment Brad made was the video is not me, it is the PR amplified this.
For me it positioned him either as someone who had no control over his presentation content or as someone who is falsely self-deprecating. I realise this is rather a harsh stance to take so early in the presentation, however the introductory video and his opening sentences came across as highly discordant. I am certainly open to a dialogue with Brad if he happens to read this about the choice to use the video and the rock star-esque introduction and what he was trying to get across with that. The end result was that I switched off
Brad began by talking about his youth, growing up poor, failing at school, and leaving home at the age of sixteen is all part of his story. Over the years he came to realise that ambition and drive can get you anywhere in life, but that the quality of the stuff we build is not an indication of the kind of person we; it is the impact on other peoples lives that we are judged by. This sounds remarkably similar to a line uttered by the character Sirius Black in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, where the author, J.K Rowling, writes If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals. Quote Investigator found a number of historical citations for quotes of a similar nature, so the sentiment has long been around.
I was struggling to connect with Brad, purely due to the intro movie and the sense tht it created, for me, about him. His actual story, however, I found interesting. His life motto, my life is my message was taken onboard by a number of people on Twitter in different ways. Marco Cimino, for example, remarked here that that is an argument for a portfolio of learning rather than a series of final exams. Further to that, Brad was adamant that an idea can change the world and that education is central to that. There is no shortage of quotes and articles espousing this belief, that education is the key to getting ahead in life and I even believe it, but at the same time, does the type of education matter? I am not referring to old and tired public versus private school debate, but to the type of higher education you receive. Blue collarworkers are often earning far better money than white collar workers as shown in this news article. Jan Owen has commented in her presentation at FutureSchools this year that her local barista is fantastic, but hold two degrees and is completing a Masters at the moment. That is lots of debt to be making coffee.
Brad commented that online learning equalises education and that India has over one billion devices. The two carry as much causal correlation as the dvorce rate in Maine, USA, does with the per capita consumption of margarine (which is apparently r=0.992558). I would argue against the comment that online learning equalises education due to the lack of equity of access. Having a device does not mean that you have access to the internet necessarily. I have taught students who have a smartphone but it only has free text messages on it and they do not have any internet at home; the smartphone is a safety/communication tool between child and parent.
What we heard about next was some nice quotes and some marketing about what Brad's company, BetterU have done and are doing for education in India. I am not sure what has changed in the last eighteen months, however, I have noticed that I have become very cynical about marketing pieces at conferences and events. My experience with The Playground (the vendor) exhibition at Education Nation last year is the first instance that I can identify where I was genuinely angry at the blatant cold, hard sell, though my first experience with a breakout session at FutureSchools a few years ago also left me rather underwhelmed and frustrated.
I think that one of the aspects of this particular presentation which annoyed me so much is that this was supposed to be a keynote presentation. It was not. It was a marketing presentation which does not have a place in a keynote session. By all means, acknowledge the sponsors, as the Chair did, but do not give them a keynote slot. There were some presentations that were far better suited to the position of keynote. Abdul Chohan, Phillip Heath, and Lee Crockett would all have been fantastic keynote presentations.
Brad's story was interesting and his message, once you stripped out the marketing, that your life is your message is a good one. His story about overcoming a disadvantaged background is inspiring and I wonder how it would be received by students in senior high school who feel like they are destiend for dead end lives. The blatant and unapologetic marketing and self-aggrandisement was, for me, a massive turn off. If hey had given that talk at the Gala Dinner, without the promotional video at the start, that would have been fitting, given that BetterU sponsored the gala dinner and I would have perhaps been more open to what he was saying. It was a disappointing keynote and whilst I know that I am not th eonly one who feels that way, I acknowledge that there are those who found it very inspiring.
Thank you for reading if you stuck with it to the end. If you have missed any articles in this series for EduTECH 2017, you can find the other articles and the Storify's here.