Apr 24, 2013

Physics Rocks! (And those rocks, when dropped from a third floor window, will fall at the same rate of acceleration and velocity).


On-Line Learning – It’s like the modern day equivalent of the invention of the Gutenberg Press. BooYa!


I’m a learning junkie. I love learning. I love going to the first day of class, getting to know a new teacher, meeting new people seated around me, and then there's the actual business of learning the subject matter.

Did I mention we homeschool here on the writer’s ranch? My kids do take the occasional class outside of home – college or designer. But essentially, most of these classes follow an old-school format, like the one I mentioned above – people coming together physically near one another, to be instructed by a specialist in that field. But then came along Coursera, a free on-line learning platform. Coursera promotes predominately college level courses that are taught through video lecture, on-line quizzes, and outside resources such as books, movies, and practice. Pretty much the same platform as most of us are familiar with, but with the exception of being absent the physical component.


The School of Athens - Raphael

I’m currently taking the course offered through Coursera from the University of Virginia, “How Things Work” with Louis A. Bloomfield. I’m a UVA Alumni, so it seemed like a good place to try my hand at this, my first physics class ever! I’m signed up for classes in Art, Understanding ADHD, Online Games, Art History, Human Evolution, Beginning Guitar, Programming, Business, Storytelling through Movies, and the Science of Android Apps. I’ve taken a course on Science Fiction and Fantasy, Design, and part 1 of the aforementioned Business course.

As I mentioned, I love learning. I’m addicted. But this new format, also available through MIT’s Ed-X, and Venture Labs, is fast becoming a staple in our home. But there’s something else going on that I didn’t anticipate.



As a writer, I have felt the enormous impact that self-publishing has had on my own industry. In the same way that self-publishing has created a shift in power, giving writers greater license, greater financial reward, and readers the power to determine the merit of a book sans publishing house gatekeepers, on-line courses give analogous power to the instructor and student, respectively.

There is no monetary investment on my part, so I’m able to watch a lecture, (or two), and decide if the delivery of the information is to my liking. Does it “click” with my learning style. (Did I mention I’m signed up to take the course on Understanding ADHD?) I can take the course at my own pace - those that are archived - but I'm typically able to keep up with one course per session and still have time to piddle occassionally. If I like the delivery of information, I can choose to continue, or discontinue the course if it’s not to my liking. While this may not be a reflection on the lecturer, (or it may), this is going to create a shift in teaching, how it’s being taught and the power of the receipient - an audience with the freedom to make demands with the flick of a button – “I like this presentation” – click on vs. “I don’t care for this presentation” – click off, without financial penalty.


But as well as putting students in the driver’s seat – the master’s of plotting their own curriculum of study - it must also give the teacher greater license. No longer will the teacher’s lecture be subject to the demands of the physical space and time. Instead of “publish or perish” the new battle cry may be, “perform or perish”… and the instructor no longer has the time constraint of “performing” on demand for a lecture hall of 250 students sitting, waiting for the agreed upon hour to teach and be instructed. Now, the instructor has the freedom to edit, to insert graphics, to go back and perfect graphics for later viewers, to adjust the lecture to current trends and discoveries.

‘Sall good. Some would argue that to turn education into a performance discriminates against those who might be brilliant and have brilliant information to impart, but who are not the best performers. Personally, I would hate to think that I should limit the mode of disiminating information according to one's weaknesses. I hope, rather than inhibiting the lecturer, it’s going to increasingly raise the bar, like the parabolic graph of the position of a falling ball – and this analogy from a rhetoric major! Two talking heads, as in literature, is a death knell to holding the interest of the audience… and a global audience is very discriminating. Last night, as I replenished my slate of classes, I found myself becoming more selective in choosing which classes I would add to my curriculum of study.


This format lends itself to calculating with greater accuracy the popularity of a course, (in the same way today’s self-publishing moves readers past the gate keepers to decide for themselves whether a book has merit.) And just for the record, “How Things Work” gets two thumbs up so far. For some reason, Dr. Bloomfield reminds me of Bill Nye, synonymous with fun science - something it never was when I was attending a physical school.

I suppose the next phase will be a sort of “rate my professor” review site to include courses like those offered through Coursera, Ed-X, and Venture Labs. Hey! Great idea for a project for my upcoming course on programming! (And there she goes... chasing sparkly things again.)

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