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Higher Education's Inclusively Virtual Future
Nathan Harden writes with his characteristic techno-confidence that most higher education will be online soon enough. That means that most non-elite private colleges and many mediocre public institutions will soon be out of business. It also means that only quite a risk-taker would get a PhD today in some discipline in the liberal arts with the intention of teaching. The market for professors will rapidly shrink, and only very engaging and otherwise entertaining instructors will command an audience and so make a living. One piece of good news, of course, is the professors who make it big will be enormously influential, teaching thousands or conceivably millions. Another piece of good news is that their wisdom will become inexpensive and genuinely inclusive. The most provocative and charming Harvard professors—such as Michael Sandel—will teach us all.
It would be easy to criticize Harden for begging all sorts of questions, such as who'll do the evaluating of some hugely popular professor's hordes of students. And not only does his "vision" slight writing papers, it does the same with reading books—particularly real books, as opposed to textbooks.
Harden actually admits, I have to add, that going online will only accelerate the present consumerist trend that's increasingly fatal for demanding professors with poor student evaluations. He gives that fact a positive spin by saying that those who excel at research will be liberated from the chains of teaching, and presumably those who teach—or basically entertainingly present ideas and information—will be liberated from the burden of research. The very competitive online environment—an endless menu of choice, as the libertarians say—doesn't hold much promise as an antidote for grade inflation.
Harden's case for the brave new online world, however, is often less for its innovative superiority than against what's going on right now:
For nearly a thousand years the university system has looked just about the same: professors, classrooms, students in chairs. The lecture and the library have been at the center of it all. At its best, traditional classroom education offers the chance for intelligent and enthusiastic students to engage a professor and one another in debate and dialogue. But typical American college education rarely lives up to this ideal. Deep engagement with texts and passionate learning aren’t the prevailing characteristics of most college classrooms today anyway. More common are grade inflation, poor student discipline, and apathetic teachers rubber-stamping students just to keep them paying tuition for one more term.
If you ask students what they value most about the residential college experience, they’ll often speak of the unique social experience it provides: the chance to live among one’s peers and practice being independent in a sheltered environment, where many of life’s daily necessities like cooking and cleaning are taken care of. It’s not unlike what summer camp does at an earlier age. For some, college offers the chance to form meaningful friendships and explore unique extracurricular activities. Then, of course, there are the Animal House parties and hookups, which do take their toll: In their research for their book Academically Adrift, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa found that 45 percent of the students they surveyed said they had no significant gains in knowledge after two years of college. Consider the possibility that, for the average student, traditional in-classroom university education has proven so ineffective that an online setting could scarcely be worse. But to recognize that would require unvarnished honesty about the present state of play. That’s highly unlikely, especially coming from present university incumbents.
So the big point turns out to be that online education is surely inferior to highly intelligent students reading and talking about real books in small classes with engaged instructors. BUT: That teaching method only really benefits the best students. AND: You can't find it much anymore anyhow. Given that liberal education in that precise sense—"passionate learning"—has about disappeared anyway, it's silly to worry that it probably won't make it online.
Here's, according to Harden, what's really going on at our so-called liberal arts colleges: Lazy professors with an undeserved sense of entitlement giving lazy and unskilled students undeserved high grades just to soak them for another semester's tuition. The studies are showing that nobody is learning anything but all kinds of nasty "animal house" habits.
Here's Harden's ringing endorsement of online education: Well, it won't stink more, it'll be real cheap, and it won't screw your kids up more than they already are.
It goes without saying that I think Harden, to make the online case way too easy, is shamelessly exaggerating how bad our colleges are now. To begin with the obvious, if you actually read Academically Adrift, you'll find out that "no significant gain" plagues mainly students choosing soft-techno majors such as public relations or beverage management. It applies much less to those students—even average students—choosing "traditional" majors such as history or philosophy or physics. More generally, what's most wonderful about American higher education is its diversity. We surely have more really good and really bad institutions than anywhere else.
Exaggerations, of course, are only exaggerations because they contain some truth. And there's more truth still in Harden's observation that colleges have spent far too much money on attracting students through educationally irrelevant amenities and bloated student affairs staffs.
It turns out that those residential colleges around in a generation or two will mostly be those that are really concerned about perpetuating what's more-than-technical about higher education.
This storm rained electrons, shifted energy from the sun's rays to the magnetosphere, and went unnoticed for a long time.
- An international team of scientists has confirmed the existence of a "space hurricane" seven years ago.
- The storm formed in the magnetosphere above the North magnetic pole.
- The storm posed to risk to life on Earth, though it might have interfered with some electronics.
What do you call that kind of storm when it forms over the Arctic ocean?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/8GqnzBJkWcw" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> Many objects in space, like Earth, the Sun, most of the planets, and even some large moons, have magnetic fields. The area around these objects which is affected by these fields is known as the magnetosphere.</p><p>For us Earthlings, the magnetosphere is what protects us from the most intense cosmic radiation and keeps the solar wind from affecting our atmosphere. When charged particles interact with it, we see the aurora. Its fluctuations lead to changes in what is known as "space weather," which can impact electronics. </p><p>This "space hurricane," as the scientists are calling it, was formed by the interactions between Earth's magnetosphere and the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interplanetary_magnetic_field" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">interplanetary magnetic field,</a> the part of the sun's magnetosphere that goes out into the solar system. It took on the familiar shape of a cyclone as it followed magnetic fields. For example, the study's authors note that the numerous arms traced out the "footprints of the reconnected magnetic field lines." It rotated counter-clockwise with a speed of nearly 7,000 feet per second. The eye, of course, was still and <a href="https://www.sciencealert.com/for-the-first-time-a-plasma-hurricane-has-been-detected-in-space" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">calm</a>.</p><p>The storm, which was invisible to the naked eye, rained electrons and shifted energy from space into the ionosphere. It seems as though such a thing can only form under calm situations when large amounts of energy are moving between the solar wind and the upper <a href="https://www.reading.ac.uk/news-and-events/releases/PR854520.aspx" target="_blank">atmosphere</a>. These conditions were modeled by the scientists using 3-D <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-21459-y#Sec10" target="_blank">imaging</a>.<br><br>Co-author Larry Lyons of UCLA explained the process of putting the data together to form the models to <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/space-hurricane-rained-electrons-observed-first-time-rcna328" target="_blank">NBC</a>:<br><br>"We had various instruments measuring various things at different times, so it wasn't like we took a big picture and could see it. The really fun thing about this type of work is that we had to piece together bits of information and put together the whole picture."<br><br>He further mentioned that these findings were completely unexpected and that nobody that even theorized a thing like this could exist. <br></p><p>While this storm wasn't a threat to any life on Earth, a storm like this could have noticeable effects on space weather. This study suggests that this could have several effects, including "increased satellite drag, disturbances in High Frequency (HF) radio communications, and increased errors in over-the-horizon radar location, satellite navigation, and communication systems."</p><p>The authors <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-21459-y#Sec8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">speculate</a> that these "space hurricanes" could also exist in the magnetospheres of other planets.</p><p>Lead author Professor Qing-He Zhang of Shandong University discussed how these findings will influence our understanding of the magnetosphere and its changes with <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-03/uor-sho030221.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">EurekaAlert</a>:</p><p>"This study suggests that there are still existing local intense geomagnetic disturbance and energy depositions which is comparable to that during super storms. This will update our understanding of the solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling process under extremely quiet geomagnetic conditions."</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.