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Best Lecturer series takes American Idol concept to academia

Call TVO’s search for best lecturer a kind of Academic Idol.

Call TVO’s search for best lecturer a kind of Academic Idol.

After weeks of filtering out more than 160 of the province’s best and brightest academic minds, TVOntario’s Big Ideas show has finalized its list of ten contenders for its fourth annual Best Lecturer competition. Orators from a wide range of academic disciplines will represent their respective school by delivering their theses with both intelligence and enthusiasm on the network’s weekly lecture series, beginning Saturday, Feb. 28, at 4 p.m. and ending April 5.

The winner will be announced April 11.

The series is the brainchild of Big Ideas producer and self-proclaimed egghead Wodek Szemberg, who wanted to shine more light on some of the province’s brightest educators.

“I thought, why not feature some of our best academic minds we have in Ontario that somehow remain unheralded?” he said. “There’s something quite wondrous about observing people who have spent their lifetimes learning.”

After each broadcast, viewers vote for their favourite lecturer online at tvo.org. Prizes include a TD Insurance Meloche Melonnex sponsorship of $10,000 to the winner’s school. Each lecturer will be judged on the mastery of their subject, coherence and how energetic and engaging their dissertations are. The panel includes documentary producer Suanne Kelman, broadcaster Jesse Hirsh and author and journalist Donna Bailey Nurse.

Getting an audience’s attention is paramount, says Szemberg, who notes that students will bore easily if uninspired by the material at hand.

“The search for best lecturer is a combination of intelligence and emotion,” he said. “We all learn best when we’re engaged and we love the teacher. It opens up the mind of the person and a connection is made.”

Most importantly, the series focuses on the aesthetic of education, the pursuit of the life of the mind, Szemberg says. It’s a notion often forgotten in Ontario post-secondary education, he adds, and it leads to some of the problems that try the practice of learning.

“Academia currently finds itself in a difficult spot. The strike at York University was a symptom of the problem,” he said. “The demand for higher education is growing and the resources to accommodate that demand are not keeping pace. This competition sheds light on education instead of the focus on getting that piece of paper that will get you in the door when looking for a job. There’s more to it than that.”

 
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