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Keiko’s Video of the Week #012

I was having some difficulty deciding what to post this week. Then it hit me – SCIENCE!!! Who doesn’t like science? This time around, I’ve picked a compilation video of bizarre experiments from the always awesome British Pathé archive. It really is a mixed bag but in a good way as it shows the rather important role that science plays in our daily lives.

You can find their Youtube channel here.


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Course Review: PSYCH101 Introduction to Psychology

Provider: Saylor Academy [course page]
Course Design: Dr. Helena Martin and Dr. Michael Poulakis
Subject: Science / Psychology
Delivery: self-paced asynchronous study
Recommended Load: 97 hours over 7 units
Completion Date: 09/31/2014

The social self.

The social self. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Description: This course lays the foundation for future study of Psychology.

Strengths: Will all of the offerings of Saylor Academy, this course makes use of free and open source online materials. The seven units culminate in a final 50-question multiple-choice exam of which 70% is a passing grade. Students are able to retry the exam, but are locked out for a two-week period. Students that pass the exam can download a PDF certificate of achievement. This exam is preparation for the Excelsior College exam that allows up to 3 hours of course credit towards their degree programs. Students looking to transfer credit hours to other institutions should enquire at the specific university or college.
This course goes over the history of Psychology over the past two centuries. It discusses the various figures whose research has transformed this once-solitary science into one that informs many sectors of society. Psychology also consists of numerous sub-fields that vary based on what and how they study human behaviour. The course discusses the basic ideas and knowledge that informs all of these fields as well as the biological underpinnings of human behaviour and mental disorder. As for the question of nature versus nurture, the materials support the idea that both play equally important roles in how we negotiate the world around us.

Weaknesses: This course requires some grounding in high school level Biology. There is also lots of reading. Oh, the humanity!

Conclusion: In lieu of recent discussions of mental health in the media, this course offers students a solid introduction to Psychology. I recommend this course to anyone curious about human behaviour, have a family history of mental illness, and/or are looking for a grounding in Psychology for their employment.


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Course Review: Exploring Metaphysics

Provider: The Great Courses by The Teaching Company [course page]
Lecturers: Professor David K. Johnson Ph.D. (University of Oklahoma)
Subject: Philosophy + [Science / Physics + Neuroscience] + Religion
Delivery: 24 Audio lectures
Recommended Load: N/A
Completion Date: 08/06/2014

English: The first lecture in Experimental Phi...

English: The first lecture in Experimental Philosophy, which took place in London in 1748. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Description: Professor Johnson demonstrates the importance of Philosophical thought using examples in science and religion.

Strengths: This lecture series covers a lot of material in a short time. The speaker delivers it all in a conversational tone, with a hint of humour and pop culture references strewn throughout. He builds upon material over time and often references what he’s discussed in previous lectures. As such, the material is best listened to in order.
Although I’ve spent a bit of time studying the “big three” (a.k.a. Science, Religion and Philosophy), it seems that a lot of students tend to not think beyond the terminology used in textbooks. This series goes beyond the simple stuff in order to discuss how philosophy can help us come to terms with the fact that we know very little about what makes the universe and human beings behave in the manner that they do.
As mentioned above, the material builds upon itself. This is done by explaining the terminology and arguments (both deductive and inductive) used by philosophers in the various fields. The lecturer goes into the pros and cons of each, citing where he falls and why. This all concludes with the “Matrix Argument”, a lecture that has resulted in some rather interesting online discussion on sites such as Goodreads. However, variations of this argument have been introduced as part of philosophical courses for years due to their ability to question our perceptions of the world around us.

Weaknesses: Having some minor knowledge of some of the material will help reduce backtracking and looking for definitions of the terms.

Conclusion: This lecture series is an entertaining, educating and enlightening explanation of the importance of Philosophy across the various fields. Although I have done some study (courses and online free-study) of the big three, this course ties them all together nicely. It doesn’t answer all questions, instead encouraging students to consider that they do not and may never understand the answer to many of their questions. Philosophy in this context is the awareness of our lack of knowledge and understanding of the universe. It is this spark of wisdom that also encourages students to dig deeper and start asking further questions, as questions may lead to answers.
I recommend this lecture series to anyone with an open mind and an innate curiosity. Folks with an appreciation for the weird nature of the universe should also check it out.


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Course Review: Space, Time and Einstein

Provider: World Science U
Lecturers: Brian Greene
Subject: Science / Physics
Delivery: self-paced asynchronous study
Recommended Load: 3 hrs/week over 3 weeks
Completion Date: 08/02/2014

Albert Einstein during a lecture in Vienna in ...

Albert Einstein during a lecture in Vienna in 1921 (age 42). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Description: This short course gives an introduction to physics. The website is rolling out other physics courses, ranging from short introductory courses to term-length “University Courses”. One university course entitled “Special Relativity” is available. 2 short courses and 2 university courses on physics are currently in development.

Strengths: Brian Greene presents a rather neat introduction to time and space through the lens of physics. No mathematics or physics knowledge is required, just an interest in learning some concepts. The material is delivered via engaging videos, activities and forum discussions.

Weaknesses: After doing this short course, I will not look at science fiction series and films as before.

Conclusion: I never studied physics in high school due to the intimidating nature of the subject. However, this course does much to make the material accessible, thus spurring an interest, at least in yours truly, in doing further study in physics. As such, I have enrolled in the World Science U term-length course “Special Relativity”.
I recommend this course to anyone with an interest in science and/or physics, as well as anyone looking to avoid pesky technical issues with their science fiction or science-focused writing.


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Course Review: Introduction to Ecosystems

Provider: Open University at FutureLearn [course page]
Lecturers: David Robinson
Subject: Science / Biology
Delivery: intake-based asynchronous study
Recommended Load: 3 hrs/week over 6 weeks
Completion Date: 06/26/2014

English: An Iguana at Galápagos.

English: An Iguana at Galápagos. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Description: This course is an introduction to Ecosystems and the role that humans play in the management and future of Earth’s various ecosystems. This is presented in audio, video, weekly quizzes and forum discussions.

Strengths: This course makes use of various videos and audio snippets from the Open University to offer some insight into the structure of Ecosystems and why management of ecosystems is so important to our survival. It deals with the material in three parts, each section being two weeks in length. The first section defines what an Ecosystem is, moving on to extreme environments in the second, culminating in the human impact on ecosystems in the final section.
Though I found all of the material of great interest, the last week dealt with some rather notable regions, such as Loess Plateau in China and Galapagos Islands. We are encouraged to compare the impact of human behaviour on a given area, then consider the methods in which we can balance making a living with managing the environment. Last but not least is this focus on how we can make smart choices that can affect major changes in only a short period of time by making the environment a priority, such as in the case of the Chinese government in the Loess Plateau.
By offering real-life case studies, the team have given some great insight into how diverse and important the management of various ecosystems are in our future. There is also a lot that we don’t yet know about the natural world, hence preserving the various ecosystems also offers some further value. Human beings can benefit from living in accord with the natural environment rather than in opposition to it. It is a difficult sell for folks with the assumption that such cooperation removes quality of life, but the rewards are well worth it.

Weaknesses: I found no issues with the material covered in this course. However, some folks may find the material on Evolution offensive to their religious sensibilities and beliefs.

Conclusion: This course is a great brush-up on biodiversity and ecosystems biology, as well as a great introduction to Biology for individuals new to its study. The use of relevance and context ties the material together nicely, thus making the material not only accessible but convincing as well. This context offers a solid argument in support of action on climate change, poor farming methods, pollution, etc…
I recommend this course to anyone with an interest in ecosystems, the environment and some aspects of economics. I also recommend folks check out the short courses on ecosystems over at the OpenLearn section at the Open University website, as well as some of the free courses on Biology over at Saylor Academy and Khan University. There is also a host of excellent MOOCs on Climate Change and the Environment being made available on EdX and Coursera over the next six months.


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Course Review: Archaeology of Portus

Provider: University of Southampton at FutureLearn [course page]
Lecturers: Professor Simon Keay, Dr. Graeme Earl and Dragana Mladenovic
Subject: Humanities / History + Archaeology + Science
Delivery: intake-based asynchronous study
Recommended Load: 2 hrs/week over 6 weeks
Completion Date: 06/26/2014

Description: This course teaches us a little of the methods and techniques used by Archaeologists using the real-life dig site of the ancient Roman port of Portus.

Strengths: The team covers a lot of ground in a short time, teaching us about the elements to consider while on a dig site, the procedures, issues, methods and techniques. This means learning a lot of material in a short period of time. The course makes use of numerous materials off-site, as well as numerous videos, articles, optional content. There are five weekly quizzes leading up to a final assignment on the last week that brings together what you’ve learned previously in order to offer some insight and observations on a given section of the dig site.

Weaknesses: This course is not an easy ride, requiring students to do more than simply watch videos and read articles. It also requires a steep learning curve due to its multi-disciplinary approach.

Conclusion: The course bridges the gap between the Sciences and the Humanities seamlessly, in a manner that offers both relevance and context. It requires both critical and creative thinking using tools gathered during six weeks of intense learning. Students are encouraged to think outside of the box, whilst realizing that we also have to contend with some things that we do know and understand about the era in which Portus was in place. It also gives us some insight into the role that religion, politics and trade have played throughout history. I highly recommend that folks with an interest in history and at least a passing fascination in the role of science in gathering data enrol in future intakes of this course.
I was very happy with the amount that I learned during my six weeks spent on this course. As such, I would recommend that folks also consider taking the six-part self-paced Harvard MOOC series on China over at EdX, as well the intake-based Emory University MOOC The Art and Archaeology of Ancient Nubia at Coursera, as they will offer further insight into what was occurring in other regions of the world at the time of Portus.


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Course Review: The Science of Everyday Thinking

Provider: UQ (University of Queensland) @EdX [course page]
Lecture/s: Jason Tangen, Matthew Thompson & Emma MacKenzie
Subject: Science / Psychology
Delivery: Intake-based asynchronous study 
Recommended Load: 2 hours / week for 12 weeks 
Completion Date: 06/03/2014

Description: The Science of Everyday Thinking discusses the psychological rather than intellectual reasons behind the numerous errors that human beings make. It follows the evidence for how situation can greatly affect our decision-making on a subconscious level and also offers some tools for improving learning and avoiding some pesky cognitive errors.

Strengths: As I have likely mentioned before, I have a fascination with Psychology. This course approached the study of Psychology by discussing something close to home: Everyday Thinking. So often we feel that we must be altogether different from others, but I found that talking about the similarities in how the human species thinks allowed me to feel a lot less detached from others. We all use mental shortcuts, we all make cognitive mistakes, we are all human beings living on this same blue ball floating in space. It was refreshing to study Psychology in the framework of the “normal” rather than the “abnormal” or “maladaptive”.
The material covered runs alongside the material being studied by the on-campus version of the course, with a video of some of the on-campus discussions being posted each Thursday. I found this added a bit more insight into how these other students were approaching their study and offered some neat comments to boot. This gave online students such as myself the feeling that they were not alone and that there were part of a wider community.
As for material, the course made use of videos, discussion boards (very active, and many on-campus students also made use of them which freaking rocked!), and quizzes for each work week followed by a more weighted final exam. Uncut versions of each interview was also made available. At the end of each week there was a page for extra content, such as readings, videos and suggested activities. Though this bonus content wasn’t compulsory, it did help discuss the elements covered during that week in further detail. There was also a week off in the middle to allow students to catch up, which I took advantage of.
At the end of the course the lecturers pose students with a challenge to make a positive change to the world on any scale. We are a part of the world and are given some tools and knowledge to do something positive within it. Extra marks were offered for folks that posted videos about their project, which resulted in a lot of cool ideas coming to fruition in just a short time. I wasn’t able to post a video on my own work-in-progress which is my ongoing studies of different subjects based on the material covered in week 5 on Learning to Learn. I won’t go into further detail on the methods, but it does help a LOT.

Weaknesses: No midgets juggling disgruntled mutant Capuchin Monkeys… And no penguins… 😉

Conclusion: When I first saw the listing for this course on the EdX website, I jumped at the chance to enrol. I know of a few people that have studied there and found myself quite fascinated every time that I drove past the campus during visits to Brisbane. Studying a home-grown MOOC on Psychology was quite a selling point for me, and I was stoked to have it as my first EdX course as well. The interface works for me and the content made good use of the format.
It was well worth the time spent, though I am kicking myself for not putting in some more effort in on the course earlier in the intake. I was seriously worried that I wouldn’t be able to pass, but somehow managed to scratch my way out of the mess that my early slackness had caused by doing well on the final exam. Let’s face it, when you go into a new endeavour it pays to avoid unnecessary distractions.
I highly recommend this course for anyone with an interest in Psychology and the human condition. As a part of the human species we have inherited the strengths and weaknesses that come with each successive generation. However, one of those strengths is reasoning which if employed can lessen the affects of some of those weaknesses and also be able to make more positive changes within this big blue ball and beyond. The question is: Are you up for the challenge?