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Retrograde MOOCS and Other Points of Educational Agreement
So Paul LeBlanc, president of Southern New Hampshire University, graciously and thoughtfully responded in the thread to my post complaining about his disruptive understanding of education that reduced to the “traditional” college to some mixture of medievalism and animal-house decadence. He admitted that his rhetorical flourishes left him vulnerable to my kind of criticism, and he went on to explain, often quite rightly, that there are many points on which we agree. Here’s one of his paragraphs of agreement:
We do not use CBE to defend MOOCs. We also agree that “disruption” is an overused term and I tire of the insurgent rhetoric we often hear by the disruptors, one that is dismissive of the decades of really good and smart work by all of us who have had our professional lives in higher education. Actually I am not even sure I think disruption aptly describes MOOCs, at least yet. I think MOOCs are rather retrograde and I remain mostly a critic of them. They are mostly content, albeit high branded content, and the “talking head” quality of them feels like We do not use CBE to defend MOOCs. We also agree that “disruption” is an overused term and I tire of the insurgent rhetoric we often hear by the disruptors, one that is dismissive of the decades of really good and smart work by all of us who have had our professional lives in higher education. Actually I am not even sure I think disruption aptly describes MOOCs, at least yet. I think MOOCs are rather retrograde and I remain mostly a critic of them. They are mostly content, albeit high branded content, and the “talking head” quality of them feels like a very poor substitute for being in a genuine learning space and community. It is a time of enormous change in higher education and we are seeing an onslaught of new providers and models and I think what I was really trying to say is that accreditation is not well designed to assess and fend off the frauds and we need an accreditation path that holds the new models to a high standard of rigor and transparency. I don’t know if I sound any more like an “educated person” than I did last time, but I do know we actually agree on more than it seems.
We agree on having low opinions of MOOCS as ways of “delivering” higher education. Our reasons might be different, though.
Paul’s calls the MOOC “retrograde” because it’s “mostly content,” and he’s less about education as content than about education as acquisition of skills—such as critical thinking. His understanding of education is about getting working adults the competencies required to get on what he “the on-ramp to better earnings and improved circumstances for their families.” For the population he means to serve, there’s a lot to be said for this skills approach, although I’m still with E.D. Hirsch that a very important way of improving anyone’s chances in life—and critical thinking—is the expansion of vocabulary and conceptual sophistication that comes through carefully attending to content.
So I’m suspicious, to say the least, of all the efforts to abstract skills from content in education. It could be that analytical skills come best as a result of the rigorous learning about the real world that comes from reading “real books”—as opposed to intentionally teaching those skills as such. But I gladly admit that Paul’s adult learners are in a hurry, and short-cuts have to be taken and can readily be justified.
Everything Paul says about the need carefully to assess credit-by-examination educational innovations to separate his noble efforts from the frauds is change I can believe in. And, as I said before, I’m for different accreditation tracks for “competency-based” and traditional colleges. But Paul adds that he’s actually for transforming traditional accreditation too in the direction of assessable skills. That’s where we disagree. Those transformational or “disruptive” efforts in “general education,” for example, are inevitably at the expense of content, especially of the idea that there are certain things about the world and ourselves that every educated person should know.
So the competency-based movement has been at the expense of liberal education, when its standards are applied to “traditional” colleges known for their excellence. Paul is perfectly right that it may be sad but it’s very true that not every American has—or even can be afforded—the leisurely luxury of liberal education. But that doesn’t mean such education is not a human good that’s responsible for much of the genuine intellectual diversity and leading thought in our country. Paul’s grads aren’t going to be intellectual leaders, at least in the overwhelming majority of cases.
My objection to the MOOC is to the method of delivery of content. Why watch a MOOC when you can read a book? Many Americans benefit from listening to “audio books” in their cars. But surely nobody uses the audio version of the book in a college class. MOOCS are usually kinds of audio books with the talking head attached.
Paul and I agree that the MOOC, especially in its present state of development, seems “like a very poor substitute for being in a genuine learning space and community.” So does education online in general. That doesn’t mean these innovations don’t have a place in giving people access to higher education who couldn’t get it otherwise. But they ain’t making higher education better. A genuinely disruptive thought would be let’s use them as little as possible by working on making “traditional” higher education more accessible and affordable. Let’s work on those pointless amenities and bloated administration issues, as well as making sure college professors aren’t too indulgent on how much and what they teach.
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.