Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Friedman Certifies the MOOC!
The BIG educational news today is that the mainstream expert journalist Thomas Friedman has certified that MOOCs are real. And a quick bit of GOOGLING reveals that all the marketers of MOOCs are thrilled.
Here’s the evidence: Michael Sandel’s highly entertaining and instructive MOOCed lectures on justice are really big in Korea. We’re told that he’s reached millions of people worldwide now.
I don’t deny that it’s fascinating that a Harvard professor has become a media celebrity in Asia. And surely listening to Sandel is a lot better than nothing when it comes to knowing more about justice.
But, you know, Sandel could potentially reach a much larger audience still through the book he wrote that roughly corresponds to his course. And reading the book would be better, from an educational view, than listening to him talk. I would even add that reading the book would dampen some of the audience enthusiasm. It might be, from a genuinely Socratic view, that Sandel sounds better than he is. And students, of course, would better able to think critically about what he has to say if they went on to read the books of the authors Sandel talks about—such as John Stuart Mill and Aristotle.
By preferring reading to talking, you might object, I’m not being genuinely Socratic. Socrates, the purest thinker of the West, never wrote anything down for fear of his thoughts becoming calcified or distorted. Education, we seem to learn from Plato’s Socrates, is about dialogue or conversation about questions that don’t have any certain or definite answers.
Plato’s Republic is all about Socrates talking for something like fourteen hours with a small group of guys about justice, and he never really tells them what justice is. We’re meant to pick up from Plato’s “dialogue form” that conversation can be erotic, that the hunger to know who we are and what we’re supposed to do can even suppress or sublimate sexual longing and hunger in the usual sense. The guys even forget to break for meals.
But Plato never shows Socrates talking from a stage—much less from a screen—to a thousand or more. In Plato’s dialogues, Socrates is in a particular practical situation or predicament, and he’s challenged or called to account by both his friends and adversaries. The conversation could only develop among a very small group of people who know each other and share very real concerns in common.
There’s not much Socratic about being on a stage and giving a lecture, even if questions are invited from an audience. It’s unlikely that questions from people he knows not at all could really challenge the media celebrity.
The irony of Friedman’s certification of the MOOC is that most of his article—and most educational expertise these days—mean to discredit the “traditional” method of education through lecturing. It’s too passive for students, and it, I have to add, caters too much to the professor’s vanity. It’s too much about the students spitting back what the authority says.
So Friedman eventually talks up the “blended” method of instruction. The student watches, say, Sandel on his or her own time, and then the class itself is all about discussing Sandel or engaging in Sandel-inspired activities.
But why watch Sandel at all? If “homework” is watching Sandel, then when are students supposed to read great or “real” books on justice? Why not read Sandel or (to tell the truth), better, Plato or Aristotle or Locke or Kant or Tocqueville, and then use “class time” to discuss the reading?
For the class to be based on such discussion, it would have to be small. And it wouldn’t be “pure” discussion, because the professor would have to provide guidance, context, and so forth. Isn’t that what’s “traditionally” gone on at the best liberal arts colleges on, at least, the best of days?
The “blend” is reading and conversation, and no online dimension is required at all.
Friedman says that excellence will crowd out mediocrity in the educational marketplace. I sure wish that were really true. Isn’t the excellence we can really believe found in the so-called great or “real” books, which are getting cheaper all the time? And I’m all for KINDLES, NOOKS, and GOOGLE BOOKS etc. as ways of getting the word out.
Now I have to admit that the approach I describe is best for classes concerning truth, justice, virtue, and so forth. Friedman mentions an excellent online course in accounting taught by a BYU instructor. I have no reason to doubt that introductory accounting could be learned perfectly well that way.
A man's skeleton, found facedown with his hands bound, was unearthed near an ancient ceremonial circle during a high speed rail excavation project.
- A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during an excavation outside of London.
- The discovery was made during a high speed rail project that has been a bonanza for archaeology, as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route.
- An ornate grave of a high status individual from the Roman period and an ancient ceremonial circle were also discovered during the excavations.
Foul play?<p>A skeleton representing a man who was tossed face down into a ditch nearly 2,500 years ago with his hands bound in front of his hips was dug up during a high speed rail excavation.</p><p>The positioning of the remains have led archaeologists to suspect that the man may have been a victim of an ancient murder or execution. Though any bindings have since decomposed, his hands were positioned together and pinned under his pelvis. There was also no sign of a grave or coffin. </p><p>"He seems to have had his hands tied, and he was face-down in the bottom of the ditch," <a href="https://www.livescience.com/iron-age-murder-victim-england.html" target="_blank">said archaeologist Rachel Wood</a>, who led the excavation. "There are not many ways that you end up that way."</p><p>Currently, archaeologists are examining the skeleton to uncover more information about the circumstances of the man's death. Fragments of pottery found in the ditch may offer some clues as to exactly when the man died. </p><p>"If he was struck across the head with a heavy object, you could find a mark of that on the back of the skull," Wood said to <a href="https://www.livescience.com/iron-age-murder-victim-england.html" target="_blank">Live Science</a>. "If he was stabbed, you could find blade marks on the ribs. So we're hoping to find something like that, to tell us how he died."</p>
Other discoveries at Wellwick Farm<p>The grim discovery was made at Wellwick Farm near Wendover. That is about 15 miles north-west of the outskirts of London, where <a href="https://www.hs2.org.uk/building-hs2/hs2-green-corridor/" target="_blank">a tunnel</a> is going to be built as part of a HS2 high-speed rail project due to open between London and several northern cities sometime after 2028. The infrastructure project has been something of a bonanza for archaeology as the area is home to more than 60 ancient sites along the planned route that are now being excavated before construction begins. </p><p>The farm sits less than a mile away from the ancient highway <a href="http://web.stanford.edu/group/texttechnologies/cgi-bin/stanfordnottingham/places/?icknield" target="_blank">Icknield Way</a> that runs along the tops of the Chiltern Hills. The route (now mostly trails) has been used since prehistoric times. Evidence at Wellwick Farm indicates that from the Neolithic to the Medieval eras, humans have occupied the region for more than 4,000 years, making it a rich area for archaeological finds. </p><p>Wood and her colleagues found some evidence of an ancient village occupied from the late Bronze Age (more than 3,000 years ago) until the Roman Empire's invasion of southern England about 2,000 years ago. At the site were the remains of animal pens, pits for disposing food, and a roundhouse — a standard British dwelling during the Bronze Age constructed with a circular plan made of stone or wood topped with a conical thatched roof.</p>
Ceremonial burial site<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMTk0Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NDgwNTIyMX0.I49n1-j8WVhKjIZS_wVWZissnk3W1583yYXB7qaGtN8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C82%2C0%2C83&height=700" id="44da7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="46cfc8ca1c64fc404b32014542221275" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="top down view of coffin" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
A high status burial in a lead-lined coffin dating back to Roman times.
Photo Credit: HS2<p>While these ancient people moved away from Wellwick Farm before the Romans invaded, a large portion of the area was still used for ritual burials for high-status members of society, Wood told Live Science. The ceremonial burial site included a circular ditch (about 60 feet across) at the center, and was a bit of a distance away from the ditch where the (suspected) murder victim was uncovered. Additionally, archaeologists found an ornately detailed grave near the sacred burial site that dates back to the Roman period, hundreds of years later when the original Bronze Age burial site would have been overgrown.</p><p>The newer grave from the Roman period encapsulated an adult skeleton contained in a lead-lined coffin. It's likely that the outer coffin had been made of wood that rotted away. Since it was clearly an ornate burial, the occupant of the grave was probably a person of high status who could afford such a lavish burial. However, according to Wood, no treasures or tokens had been discovered. </p>
Sacred timber circle<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzUzMTk0Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDAwOTQ4Mn0.eVJAUcD0uBUkVMFuMOPSgH8EssGkfLf_MjwUv0zGCI8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C149%2C0%2C149&height=700" id="9de6a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ee66520d470b26f5c055eaef0b95ec06" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="An aerial view of the sacred circular monument." data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
An aerial view of the sacred circular monument.
Photo Credit: HS2<p>One of the most compelling archaeological discoveries at Wellwick Farm are the indications of a huge ceremonial circle once circumscribed by timber posts lying south of the Bronze Age burial site. Though the wooden posts have rotted away, signs of the post holes remain. It's thought to date from the Neolithic period to 5,000 years ago, according to Wood.</p><p>This circle would have had a diameter stretching 210 feet across and consisted of two rings of hundreds of posts. There would have been an entry gap to the south-west. Five posts in the very center of the circle aligned with that same gap, which, according to Wood, appeared to have been in the direction of the rising sun on the day of the midwinter solstice. </p><p>Similar Neolithic timber circles have been discovered around Great Britain, such as one near <a href="https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/stonehenge-sarsens" target="_blank">Stonehenge</a> that is considered to date back to around the same time. </p>
Research reveals a new evolutionary feature that separates humans from other primates.
- Researchers find a new feature of human evolution.
- Humans have evolved to use less water per day than other primates.
- The nose is one of the factors that allows humans to be water efficient.
A model of water turnover for humans and chimpanzees who have similar fat free mass and body water pools.
Credit: Current Biology
Being skeptical isn't just about being contrarian. It's about asking the right questions of ourselves and others to gain understanding.
- It's not always easy to tell the difference between objective truth and what we believe to be true. Separating facts from opinions, according to skeptic Michael Shermer, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, and others, requires research, self-reflection, and time.
- Recognizing your own biases and those of others, avoiding echo chambers, actively seeking out opposing voices, and asking smart, testable questions are a few of the ways that skepticism can be a useful tool for learning and growth.
- As Derren Brown points out, being "skeptical of skepticism" can also lead to interesting revelations and teach us new things about ourselves and our psychology.