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Hybrid Education: The Evidence Grows
By Peadar Coyle
It is said that education is something people have strong opinions about. A growing literature has emerged around randomized evaluations of interventions, most notably Esther Duflo’s work on randomized evaluations of anti-poverty programs in developing countries. This is the most convincing way to determine whether the outcomes of educational interventions have statistical backing. It is high time for some evidence-based thinking and policy-making in this regard as well. Research program around education evolves through experimentation, and here are some of the emerging practices that are increasingly subject to intense scrutiny and evaluation.
1. Factory tours. These are a reminder of human achievements and lead to an appreciation of the various elements of human ingenuity. There is also something wonderful about seeing various processes and the materials that goes into making things. In the UK, factory visits are generally offered to the students of Technology and Design, and are encouraged by the GCSE syllabus. In Toulose, a local company Taxiway, operates a minibus tour of the Airbus facilities including the different manufacturing halls, in-flight testing areas, Airbus' delivery centre, and modular assembly line for the Airbus A330, A340, and A340-500/600. In Ireland, students can visit the famous House of Waterford Crystal in Waterford City. Here the students can see the process of an exquisite piece of crystal being crafted, molded, blown, hand marked, sculpted, and engraved. The benefits for students are numerous, including the appreciation of quality control and of the craftsmanship that goes into the making of material objects.
2. Workplace based skills. In a world of high unemployment, a trend that is emerging is that of 'skills gap', and therefore, unemployment as a problem cannot be separated from education. Unemployment is, of course, not uniformly distributed across all sectors; for instance, it is the highest in the construction industry in the US. According to the United States Department of Labor , the official unemployment rate for professionals in “management, business and financial operations” is nowhere near the 8.2 percent reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as the official unemployment rate in June 2012 ; it is actually 3.8 percent .Clearly there is a gap between the skills of the working population, and the skills demanded by the market. In this technological age, one set of solutions can be provided by online education, and online video. Examples such as Academic Earth, Khan Academy and even Youtube videos are well documented, however problems remain. For example a lot of online education consists of videos as a preaching tool, or lecturing tool. Yet whereas for academics, online lectures are probably ideal, for those with different needs such as those who want to develop accredited job friendly vocational or technical skills such as ICT skills, or project management skills. Organisations such as Khan Academy and Academic Earth are clearly aimed towards either high school students or university students, a collection of people who have feedback offered by their institutions. This offers no solution for those in need of developing vocational or technical skills, the vocational education system in many countries is inadequate, and rarely serves those discriminated on the basis of sex or age. However, UNESCO takes this very seriously, and treats technical and vocational education as a top priority capable of alleviating global unemployment. It is a problem that a company based in Ireland called ALISON — Advanced Learning Interactive Systems Online — is helping to address with a creative model.
ALISON provides free online interactive education to help people acquire basic workplace skills which are vocational and technical as opposed to academic. These basic workplace skills include project management, accounting, customer service, human resources, Microsoft Excel, health studies, basic study skills, operations management, and psychology. The company’s target audiences are under-served communities and women, and it provides well structured diplomas that promise and offer employment friendly skills. ALISON has a million registered learners, the bulk of whom live in the United States, the United Kingdom, India, Malaysia, the Philippines, Nigeria, and the Middle East. It offers diplomas and structured courses, and of course accreditation of workplace based skills. Education can be one of the best methods to solve complex social problems such as global poverty, and this social entrepreneurship company based in Galway, Ireland is tremendously inspiring. In the hybrid age, with the cost of formal education skyrocketing and the job market changing dramatically due to factors such as outsourcing and improvements in automation–the responsibility of learning and skill development will be on the individual. Many will turn to online education, and perhaps the strength of online education academies such as Khan Academy, Udacity, and ALISON is that they help learners to overcome barriers of sexism and discrimination that they face in the real world.
Teach computational thinking. This has been endlessly written about, but clearly there is some need for this. One of the most valuable skillsets in this technological age is, software engineering and computationally minded scientists in areas such as biotechnology and genetics. Recently in the UK there were two high profile policy documents; the NextGen report by a coalition of members of the video game industry and the Royal Society's 'Shut down or Restart' report.. Both reports agreed that the ICT skills taught in the UK are woefully inadequate. In response to these policy documents, a new GCSE course in Computer Science is to be offered from next year. The course, which has taken over 18 months to develop, covers programming fundamentals such as how to interpret and create simple algorithms, develop prototypes, and code solutions to a given problem. The practical element of the syllabus gives the students a chance to create appropriate software solution for gaming, web, or mobile applications .Students will put the learning into practice and design by making and testing their own applications. This course will first be examined in 2014, and is developed in co-ordination with Microsoft.
3. Mathematical Logic. Logic, of course, underpins modern-day computer programming. In the State of Maryland, students drew Euler diagrams which look like a circle inside a square. The "if" statement is drawn within the circle, the "then" drawn outside the circle but within the square. Using games such as the one proposed by Terry Tao is probably an excellent way to teach thislogic. Logic, of course, can be elucidated by other subjects, and even future lawyers or political scientists would find it inspiring and pragmatic.
4. Learning from data. Why should we have students do Chi-squared tests by hand when most modern statistical analysis involves computing? This could be blended with an appreciation of say, evidence-based medicine in biology. We live in an age of big data, and to not allow our kids to understand that is a great disservice to them.One of the buzzwords in contemporary businesses is ‘data scientist’; data mining, machine learning, and statistics are interconnected aspects of this field. What should be noted is that the various skills which are required in ‘data science’-as Cosma Shalizi, a Statistician from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) notes-are a subset of skills of a good computationally competent statistician. t Professor Shalizi observed that at universities such as CMU, students take courses in modern regression, advanced data analysis and statistical visualization. These skills are the skills prized by the field of 'data mining' or 'data science', which is currently an expanding area. Perhaps Chief Economist of Google, Hal Varian is right when he stated that, ‘I keep saying that the sexy job in the next ten 10 years will be statisticians.'
5. Economics. It does dominate our views of contemporary policy, and part of being an educated member of the electorate involves some appreciation of economics. However, I am reluctant to recommend ‘mandatory’ economics education, since I believe we should encourage students to study rather than force them. As an example of where this exists as a policy: California requires one semester of economics to be taught in the senior year. Economics and Business are difficult to separate, and a fantastic example of an internship program in the US is Youthaboutbusiness.org. The goal of Youth About Business is to cultivate business knowledge and financial literacy amongst young people by, for example, building their own business. The importance of experiential learning or problem based learning cannot be overstated.
Philosophy or the theory of knowledge (epistemology). An exposure to having ones ideas questioned and challenged can be an excellent experience. Interestingly a concrete example of this can be found in Brazil: Philosophy is compulsory in Brazilian schools due to a law passed in 2008. The official view is that this creates more engaged citizens. The law—the world’s largest-scale attempt to bring philosophy into the public sphere—thus represents an experiment in democracy. An important follow up question is; can it teach students to question and challenge the foundations of society itself? The answer as someone once said about the French Revolution is ‘that it is too early to tell’. The Studio school in NYC teaches in addition to a varied curriculum, the notions of philology and rhetoric. Some of these subjects are taught to give a deeper appreciation of syntax, etymology, and the power of persuasion-and these are taught through the Socratic method.In order to prepare children for the technological world of tomorrow, we shouldn’t underestimate the wisdom of the classical world.
6. Measuring outputs. Recently, Bill Gates was interviewed by tThe Chronicle of Hhigher eEducation. Amongst other excellent points such as a move towards a ‘flipped classroom’ and movements away from lectures, Mr. Gates made a point that measuring outputs is more important, than measuring inputs . Perhaps, multiple choice tests for self testing have a role here especially if this can be joined together with gamification.
Quest to Learn is a school funded by the Gates Foundation which is using games to help educate the children. It is approved by the New York City Education Board which will take over its funding post 2015.
“In one sample curriculum, students create a graphic novel based on the epic Babylonian poem "Gilgamesh," record their understanding of ancient Mesopotamian culture though geographer and anthropologist journals, and play the strategic board game "Settlers of Catan." Google Earth comes into play as a tool to explore the regions of ancient Mesopotamia.”
Learning happens everywhere and at every age – as the earlier discussion of ALISON illustrates. The complicated world we live in where jobs for life are a thing of the past needs more than traditional measures of achievement. Solving the accreditation problem (and the related credential problem) is a tricky one, but one set of answers was provided by the ‘Badges for Lifelong Learning Competition’ organized by a collaboration between the MacArthur Foundation and the Mozilla foundation. There were various winners, and a range of grants were awarded, including,:
A caveat is worth including, what is important is that we are careful about top-down approaches; misaligned incentives stop the various professionals from working at what they do best.We should trust in our teachers, and trust in our professionals. History has taught us that high-modernist policies are circumspect at best. The challenge for policy designers is how to incorporate educational research and cognitive science research without crushing the individual’s underfoot.For our students - and we are all students - to thrive in the ‘Hybrid Age’ we need to bear all these factors in mind. Examples such as the workplace based education model offered by ALISON is a sign that for-profit social enterprises can offer some of the solution to the problem of mass unemployment, and help close the skills-gap, and this is commendable.
Peader Coyle is a Researcher at the Hybrid Reality Institute.
"Deepfakes" and "cheap fakes" are becoming strikingly convincing — even ones generated on freely available apps.
- A writer named Magdalene Visaggio recently used FaceApp and Airbrush to generate convincing portraits of early U.S. presidents.
- "Deepfake" technology has improved drastically in recent years, and some countries are already experiencing how it can weaponized for political purposes.
- It's currently unknown whether it'll be possible to develop technology that can quickly and accurately determine whether a given video is real or fake.
After former U.S. President William Henry Harrison delivered his inaugural speech on March 4, 1841, he posed for a daguerreotype, the first widely available photographic technology. It became the first photo taken of a sitting American president.
As for the eight presidents before Harrison, history can see them only through artistic renderings. (The exception is a handful of surviving daguerreotypes of John Quincy Adams, taken after he left office. In his diary, Adams described them as "hideous" and "too true to the original.")
But a recent project offers a glimpse of what early presidents might've looked like if photographed through modern cameras. Using FaceApp and Airbrush, Magdalene Visaggio, author of books such as "Eternity Girl" and "Kim & Kim," generated a collection of convincing portraits of the nation's first presidents, from George Washington to Ulysses S. Grant.
Modern Presidents George Washington https://t.co/CURJQB0kap— Magdalene Visaggio (@Magdalene Visaggio)1611952243.0
What might be surprising is that Visaggio was able to generate the images without a background in graphic design, using freely available tools. She wrote on Twitter:
"A lot of people think I'm a digital artist or whatever, so let me clarify how I work. Everything you see here is done in Faceapp+Airbrush on my phone. On the outside, each takes between 15-30 mins. Washington was a pretty simple one-and-done replacement."
Ulysses S Grant https://t.co/L1IGXLI3Vl— Magdalene Visaggio (@Magdalene Visaggio)1611959480.0
"Other than that? I am not a visual artist in any sense, just a hobbyist using AI tools see what she can make. I'm actually a professional comics writer."
Did another pass at Lincoln. https://t.co/PdT4QVpMbn— Magdalene Visaggio (@Magdalene Visaggio)1611973947.0
Of course, Visaggio isn't the first person to create deepfakes (or "cheap fakes") of politicians.
In 2017, many people got their first glimpse of the technology through a video depicting former President Barack Obama warning: "We're entering an era in which our enemies can make it look like anyone is saying anything at any point in time." The video quickly reveals itself to be fake, with comedian Jordan Peele speaking for the computer-generated Obama.
While deepfakes haven't yet caused significant chaos in the U.S., incidents in other nations may offer clues of what's to come.
The future of deepfakes
In 2018, Gabon's president Ali Bongo had been out of the country for months receiving medical treatment. After Bongo hadn't been seen in public for months, rumors began swirling about his condition. Some suggested Bongo might even be dead. In response, Bongo's administration released a video that seemed to show the president addressing the nation.
But the video is strange, appearing choppy and blurry in parts. After political opponents declared the video to be a deepfake, Gabon's military attempted an unsuccessful coup. What's striking about the story is that, to this day, experts in the field of deepfakes can't conclusively verify whether the video was real.
The uncertainty and confusion generated by deepfakes poses a "global problem," according to a 2020 report from The Brookings Institution. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Defense released some of the first tools able to successfully detect deepfake videos. The problem, however, is that deepfake technology keeps improving, meaning forensic approaches may forever be one step behind the most sophisticated forms of deepfakes.
As the 2020 report noted, even if the private sector or governments create technology to identify deepfakes, they will:
"...operate more slowly than the generation of these fakes, allowing false representations to dominate the media landscape for days or even weeks. "A lie can go halfway around the world before the truth can get its shoes on," warns David Doermann, the director of the Artificial Intelligence Institute at the University of Buffalo. And if defensive methods yield results short of certainty, as many will, technology companies will be hesitant to label the likely misrepresentations as fakes."
Ancient corridors below the French capital have served as its ossuary, playground, brewery, and perhaps soon, air conditioning.
- People have been digging up limestone and gypsum from below Paris since Roman times.
- They left behind a vast network of corridors and galleries, since reused for many purposes — most famously, the Catacombs.
- Soon, the ancient labyrinth may find a new lease of life, providing a sustainable form of air conditioning.
Ancient mining areas below Paris for limestone (red) and gypsum (green).Credit: Émile Gérards (1859–1920) / Public domain
"If you're brave enough to try, you might be able to catch a train from UnLondon to Parisn't, or No York, or Helsunki, or Lost Angeles, or Sans Francisco, or Hong Gone, or Romeless."
China Miéville's fantasy novel Un Lun Dun is set in an eerie mirror version of London. In it, he hints that other cities have similar doubles. On the list that he offhandedly rattles off, Paris stands out. Because the City of Light really does have a twisted sister. Below Paris Overground is Paris Underground, the City of Darkness.
Most people will have heard of the Catacombs of Paris: subterranean charnel houses for the bones of around six million dead Parisians. They are one of the French capital's most famous tourist attractions – and undoubtedly its grisliest.
But they constitute only a small fragment of what the locals themselves call les carrières de Paris ("the mines of Paris"), a collection of tunnels and galleries up to 300 km (185 miles) long, most of which are off-limits to the public, yet eagerly explored by so-called cataphiles.
The Grand Réseau Sud ("Great Southern Network") takes up around 200 km beneath the 5th, 6th, 14th, and 15th arrondissements (administrative districts), all south of the river Seine. Smaller networks run beneath the 12th, 13th, and 16th arrondissements. How did they get there?
Paris stone and plaster of Paris
It all starts with geology. Sediments left behind by ancient seas created large deposits of limestone in the south of the city, mostly south of the Seine; and gypsum in the north, particularly in the hills of Montmartre and Ménilmontant. Highly sought after as building materials, both have been mined since Roman times.
The limestone is also known as Lutetian limestone (Lutetia is the Latin name for ancient Paris) or simply "Paris stone." It has been used for many famous Paris landmarks, including the Louvre and the grand buildings erected during Georges-Eugène Haussmann's large-scale remodelling of the city in the mid-19th century. The stone's warm, yellowish color provides visual unity and a bright elegance to the city.
The fine-powdered gypsum of northern Paris, used for making quick-setting plaster, was so famed for its quality that "plaster of Paris" is still used as a term of distinction. However, as gypsum is very soluble in water, the underground cavities left by its extraction were extremely vulnerable to collapse.
Like living on top of a rotting tooth: subsidence starts far below the surface, but it can destroy your house.Credit : Delavanne Avocats
In previous centuries, a road would occasionally open up to swallow a chariot, or even a whole house would disappear down a sinkhole. In 1778, a catastrophic subsidence in Ménilmontant killed seven. That's why the Montmartre gypsum quarries were dynamited rather than just left as they were. The remaining gypsum caves were to be filled up with concrete.
The official body governing Paris down below is the Inspection Générale des Carrières (IGC), founded in the late 1770s by King Louis XVI. The IGC was tasked with mapping and, where needed, propping up the current and ancient (and sometimes forgotten) mining corridors and galleries hiding beneath Paris.
A delightful hiding place
Also around that time, the dead of Paris were getting in the way of the living. At the end of the 18th century, their final destination consisted of about 200 small cemeteries, scattered throughout the city — all bursting at the seams, so to speak. There was no room to bury the newly dead, and the previously departed were fouling up both the water and air around their respective churchyards.
Something radical had to happen. And it did. From 1785 until 1814, the smaller cemeteries were emptied of their bones, which were transported with full funerary pomp to their final resting place in the ancient limestone quarries at Tombe-Issoire. Three large and modern cemeteries were opened to receive the remains of subsequent generations of Parisians: Montparnasse, Père-Lachaise, and Passy.
The six million dead Parisians in the Catacombs, from all corners of the capital and across many centuries, together form the world's largest necropolis — their now anonymized skulls and bones methodically stacked, occasionally into whimsical patterns. The Catacombs are fashioned into a memorial to the brevity of life. The message above the entrance reads: Arrête! C'est ici l'empire de la Mort. ("Halt! This is the empire of Death.")
That has not stopped the Catacombs, accessible via a side door to a classicist building on the Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, making just about every Top 20 list of things to see in Paris.
An underground economy
However, while the Catacombs certainly are the most famous part of the centuries-old network beneath Paris, and in non-pandemic times draw thousands of tourists each day, they constitute just 1.7 km (1 mile) of the 300-km (185-mile) tunneling total.
Subterranean Paris wasn't just used for mining and storing dead people. In the 17th century, Carthusian monks converted the ancient quarries under their monastery into distilleries for the green or yellow liqueur that still carries their name, chartreuse.
Because the mines generally keep a constant cool temperature of around 15° C (60° F), they were also ideal for brewing beer, as happened on a large scale from the end of the 17th century until well into the 20th century. Several caves were dug especially for establishing breweries, and not just because of the ambient temperature: going underground allowed brewers to remain close to their customers without having to pay a premium for real estate up top.
Overview of the Paris Catacombs.Credit: Inspection Générale des Carrières, 1857 / Public domain.
At the end of the 19th century, the underground breweries of the 14th arrondissement alone produced more than a million hectoliters (22 million gallons) per year. One of the most famous of Paris' underground breweries, Dumesnil, stayed in operation until the late 1960s.
In that decade, the network of corridors and galleries south of the Seine, long since abandoned by miners, became the unofficial playground for the young people of Paris. They explored the fantastical world beneath their feet, in some cases via entry points located in their very schools. Fascinated, these cataphiles ("catacomb lovers") read up on old books, explored the subterranean labyrinth, and drew up schematics that were passed around among fellow initiates as reverently as treasure maps.
As Robert Macfarlane writes in Underland, Paris-beneath-their-feet became "a place where people might slip into different identities, assume new ways of being and relating, become fluid and wild in ways that are constrained on the surface."
Some larger caves turned into notorious party zones: a 7-meter-tall gallery below the Val-de-Grâce hospital is widely known as "Salle Z." Over the last few decades, various other locations in subterranean Paris have hosted jazz and rock concerts and rave parties — like no other city, Paris really has an "underground music scene."
Hokusai's Great Wave as the backdrop to the "beach" under Paris.Credit: Reddit
Cataphiles vs. cataphobes
With popularity came increased reports of nuisance and crime — the tunnels provided easy access to telephone cables, which were stolen for the resale value of their copper.
The general public's "discovery" of the underground network led the city of Paris to officially interdict all access by non-authorized persons. That decree dates back to 1955, but the "underground police" have an understanding with seasoned cataphiles. Their main targets are so-called tourists, who by their lack of knowledge expose themselves to risk of injuries or worse, and degrade their surroundings, often leaving loads of litter in their wake.
The understanding does not extend to the IGC. Unlike in the 19th century, when weak cavities were shored up by purpose-built pillars, the policy now is to inject concrete to fill up endangered spaces — thus progressively blocking off parts of the network. That procedure has also been used to separate the Catacombs to prevent "infiltration" of the site by cataphiles.
Many subterranean streets have their own names, signs and all. This is the Rue des Bourguignons (Street of the Burgundians) below the Champs des Capucins (Capuchin Field), neither of which exists on the surface.Credit: Jean-François Gornet via Wikimedia and licensed under
The cataphiles, however, are fighting back. In a game of cat and mouse with the authorities, they are reopening blocked passages and creating chatières ("cat flaps") through which they can squeeze into chambers no longer accessible via other underground corridors.
Catacomb climate control
Alone against the unstoppable tide of concrete, the amateurs of Underground Paris would be helpless. But the fight against climate change may turn the subterranean labyrinths from a liability into an asset — and the City of Paris into an ally.
The UN's 2015 Climate Plan — concluded in Paris, by the way — requires the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 75 percent by 2050. And Paris itself wants to be Europe's greenest city by 2030. More sustainable climate control of our living spaces would be a great help toward both targets. A lot of energy is spent heating houses in winter and cooling them in summer.
This is where the constant temperature of the Parisian tunnels comes in. It's not just good for brewing beer; it's a source of geothermal energy, says Fieldwork, an architectural firm based in Paris. It can be used to temper temperatures, helping to cool houses in summer and warming them in winter.
One catch for the cataphiles: it also works when the underground cavities are filled up with concrete. So perhaps one day, Paris Underground, fully filled up with concrete, will completely fall off the map, reducing the city's formerly real doppelgänger into an air conditioning unit.
Cool in summer, warm in winter: Paris Underground could become Paris A/C.Credit: Fieldwork
Strange Maps #1083
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
Meconium contains a wealth of information.
- A new study finds that the contents of an infants' first stool, known as meconium, can predict if they'll develop allergies with a high degree of accuracy.
- A metabolically diverse meconium, which indicates the initial food source for the gut microbiota, is associated with fewer allergies.
- The research hints at possible early interventions to prevent or treat allergies just after birth.
The prevalence of allergies arising in childhood has increased over the last 50 years, with 30 percent of the human population now having some kind of atopic disease such as eczema, food allergies, or asthma. The cause of this increase is still subject to debate, though it has been associated with a number of factors, including changes to the gut microbiomes of infants.
A new study by Canadian researchers published in Cell Reports Medicine may shed further light on how these allergies develop in children by examining the contents of their first diaper.
The things you do for science
The research team examined the first stool of 100 infants from the CHILD Cohort Study. The first stool of an infant is a thick, green, horrid-looking substance called meconium. It consists of various things that the infant ingests during the second half of gestation. Additionally, it provides not only a snapshot of what the infant was exposed to during that time, but it also reveals what the food sources will be for the initial gut bacteria that colonize the baby's digestive tract.
The content of the meconium was examined and found to contain such varied elements as amino acids, lipids, carbohydrates, and myriad other substances.
A graph of the comparative, summed abundance of different elements in a metabolic pathway after scaling to median abundance of each metabolite. The blue figures are those children without atopy, the yellow ones show the data for those with an atopic condition. Petersen et al.
The authors fed this information into an algorithm that used this data, along with the identities of the bacteria present as well as the baby's overall health, to predict which infants would go on to develop allergies within one year. The algorithm got it right 76 percent of the time.
A way to prevent childhood allergies?
Infants whose meconium had a less diverse metabolic niche the initial microbes to settle in the gut were at the highest risk of developing allergies a year later. Many of these elements were associated with the presence or absence of different bacterial groups in the digestive system of the child, which play an increasingly appreciated role in our overall health and development. The findings were summarized by senior co-author Dr. Brett Finlay:
"Our analysis revealed that newborns who developed allergic sensitization by one year of age had significantly less 'rich' meconium at birth, compared to those who didn't develop allergic sensitization."
The findings could be used to help understand how allergies form and even how to prevent them. Co-author Dr. Stuart Turvey commented on this possibility:
"We know that children with allergies are at the highest risk of also developing asthma. Now we have an opportunity to identify at-risk infants who could benefit from early interventions before they even begin to show signs and symptoms of allergies or asthma later in life."
A model for early childhood allergies
Petersen et al.
As shown above, the authors constructed a model of how they believe metabolites and bacterial diversity help prevent allergies. Increased diversity of metabolic products in the meconium encourage the development of "healthy" families of bacteria, like Peptostreptococcaceae, which in turn promote the development of a healthy and diverse gut microbiome. Ultimately, such diversity decreases the likelihood that a child will develop allergies.