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Academic Rock Stars and Curriculum DJs
This semester when college students return to campus at America’s leading universities, they may be surprised to find out that the men and women teaching them subjects like Machine Learning or Listening to World Music or Quantum Mechanics are becoming academic rock stars with global followings that number in the tens of thousands. There have always been "rock stars" in academia – people like Carl Sagan or Noam Chomsky or Cornel West – but these new rock stars are being created and nurtured by the breakthroughs in massively open online courses known as MOOCs. We are now at the start of one of the greatest academic experiments ever as we re-think higher education: what started with Sebastian Thrun at Stanford, with a massive online experiment to teach Artificial Intelligence to 160,000 people worldwide for free, has captured the imagination of professors at elite universities around the world. Instead of teaching 100 students a year, they may be able to teach 10 times - or even 100 times - that number.
The comparison with music rock stars is not so far-fetched, given how closely the current academic world and the music industry mirror one another in terms of structure. As Microsoft Research's Daniel Reed pointed out in a brilliant piece for the Communications of the ACM, these similarities in industry structure lead to a surprising insight:
"Truly successful musicians, defined by popularity and revenues, now have international reach and global distribution networks. They are megabrands with millions of followers. Via the web, even performers in esoteric musical genres have geographically distributed, albeit much smaller, audiences... Online education has the same potential to transform a small number of instructors and institutions into megabrands, with hundreds of thousands of globally distributed students. It could also allow teachers of more esoteric material to reach global audiences. The question is culturally simple. As a student, would you rather take a required general education or specialty elective course from one of several internationally rated instructors and/or lauded scholars, or be constrained to the pedagogical skill and intellectual acumen of the professors at a single university?"
Previously, professors were limited by geography as to how many students they could teach. With the shift toward distance learning and online video learning, the university lecture is something that kids watch on their laptops and tablets, not in the classroom. Even when given a choice between in-person lectures and online lectures for the AI course, a large bulk of the Stanford kids chose online lectures. This frees professors up to do all kinds of things – like research and writing books – that they may really enjoy doing and augment their prestige at the same time.
The "flipped classroom," the embrace of techniques from the world of gaming (e.g. badges for achievement), and a familiarity with video as a marketing and distribution tool - these factors are all leading to the creation of academic rock stars. Often, they're assistant professors - the types of people who teach the 101 courses while the senior faculty members are off during their research. But it is exactly these academics who teach the intro-level courses who are about to be vaulted into global acclaim. Teaching a 101 course at an American university opens up your potential audience to millions of people worldwide, not just in the U.S. Daniel Reed speculates that every single 101 Course in academia could eventually be taught, in one form or another, by these rock stars. These 101 courses are essentially academic commodities, so why not have one star professor teach the course for the world?
If you’re a community college or second-tier college without these top-tier professors, you should be concerned - very concerned. However, if you’re a Harvard or Yale or Princeton, you’re in the driver’s seat -- at least for now. These schools are like the big-time record labels of old, while the star professors are the recording artists. Upstart educational programs can hand out all the badges they want, but nothing can replace the value of an Ivy League degree, right?
But not so fast... What if we were to throw another little wrinkle into the equation - what if we were to make tuition for higher education obsolete? What Salman Khan of Khan Academy did was fundamentally flip not only the classroom, but also the economic model of higher education. He essentially created a vision for teaching every subject under the sun for FREE. Technology has a way of disrupting big leaders in ways that couldn’t have been imagined and freeing up talent to move elsewhere. The fact that Sebastian Thrun - who taught the intro course on AI to 160,000 people around the globe - no longer teaches at Stanford is telling. There's a new economic model in the making. For example, employers could subsidize the salaries of students they hire from these educational programs, replacing old-fashioned tuition. Everybody would win: the employer gets a student with a top-tier, relevant education; the student gets a great job without incurring any debt; and the educational institution gets the same money it would have gotten (only it's not called "tuition" anymore).
No wonder educational upstarts like Coursera are starting to form broad partnership alliances with name-brand universities to lock in the best talent. The global market is just that big and the stakes are that high. Talk about billion-dollar market opportunities. Just as Thrun found that he could teach 100,000+ kids at one time - more than he could teach in a lifetime under the old regime - he decided to leave Stanford and make money elsewhere. The business possibilities are endless, especially if someone like Apple gets into the educational game in even greater force. Imagine selling a lecture for $0.99 on iTunes to 150,000 kids. That single lecture would be equivalent to a year’s salary for a top professor at many institutions.
The immediate future of MOOCs may be uncertain, but one thing is clear – the world of higher education is changing in ways that we never could have imagined. By 2020, we could be on the way to embracing continuous, lifetime learning for everyone in society taught by the world's greatest academic rock stars. New curriculum DJs - who are able to mix-and-match course offerings for specialized degrees - may emerge, selling their digital wares on iTunes. Just as we all grew up playing air guitar and pretending we were Bon Jovi or Aerosmith, the students of tomorrow may grow up imagining that they are academic rock stars explaining concepts in front of the video camera with tens of thousands of screaming fans worldwide.
image: Guitar Player in Concert / Shutterstock
Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.
Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
Join Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and best-selling author Charles Duhigg as he interviews Victoria Montgomery Brown, co-founder and CEO of Big Think.
Women today are founding more businesses than ever. In 2018, they made up 40% of new entrepreneurs, yet in that same year, they received just 2.2% of all venture capital investment. The playing field is off-balance. So what can women do?
In a recent study, researchers examined how Christian nationalism is affecting the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A new study used survey data to examine the interplay between Christian nationalism and incautious behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The researchers defined Christian nationalism as "an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture."
- The results showed that Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior.
A pastor at the chapel of the St. Josef Hospital on April 1, 2020 in Bochum, German
Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images<p>Christian nationalists, in general, believe the U.S. and God's will are tied together, and they want the government to embody conservative Christian values and symbols. As such, they also believe the nation's fate depends on how closely it adheres to Christianity.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unsurprisingly then, in the midst of the COVID‐19 pandemic, conservative pastors prophesied God's protection over the nation, citing America's righteous support for President Trump and the prolife agenda," the researchers write.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Correspondingly, the link between Christian nationalism and God's influence on how COVID‐19 impacts America can be seen in proclamations about God's divine judgment for its immorality―with the logic being that God is using the pandemic to draw wayward America <em>back </em>to himself, which assumes the two belong together."</p><p>The logical conclusion to this kind of thinking: America can save itself not through cautionary measures, like mask-wearing, but through devotion to God. What's more, it stands to reason that Christian nationalists are less likely to trust the media and scientists, given that these sources are generally not concerned with promoting a conservative, religious view of the world.</p><p>(The researchers note that they're unaware of any research directly linking Christian nationalism to distrust of media sources, but that they're almost certain the two are connected.)</p>
Predicted values of Americans' frequency of incautious behaviors during the COVID‐19 pandemic across values of Christian nationalism
Perry et al.<p>In the new study, the researchers examined three waves of results from the Public and Discourse Ethics Survey. One wave of the survey was issued in May, and it asked respondents to rate how often they engaged in both incautious and precautionary behaviors.</p><p>Incautious behaviors included things like "ate inside a restaurant" and "went shopping for nonessential items," while precautionary behaviors included "washed my hands more often than typical" and "wore a mask in public."</p><p>To measure Christian nationalism, the researchers asked respondents to rate how strongly they agree with statements like "the federal government should advocate Christian values" and "the success of the United States is part of God's plan."</p><p>The results suggest that, compared to other groups, Christian nationalists are far less likely to wear masks, socially distance and take other precautionary measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior during the pandemic, and the second leading predictor that Americans avoided taking precautionary measures."</p><p>But that's not to say that religious beliefs are causing Americans to reject mask-wearing or social distancing. In fact, when the study accounted for Christian nationalist beliefs, the results showed that Americans with high levels of religiosity were likely to take precautionary measures for COVID-19.</p>
Limitations<p>Still, the researchers note that they're theorizing about the connections between Christian nationalism and COVID-19 behaviors, not documenting them directly. What's more, they suggest that certain experiences — such as having a family member that contracts COVID-19 — might change a Christian nationalist's behaviors during the pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Limitations notwithstanding, the implications of this study are important for understanding Americans' curious inability to quickly implement informed and reasonable strategies to overcome the threat of COVID‐19, an inability that has likely cost thousands of lives," they write.</p>
Parental anxieties stem from the complex relationship between technology, child development, and the internet's trove of unseemly content.