MOOCs – A Part of the solution, or the complete solution.

There was a time when punctuality was a good indication of commitment to school. Sometimes we are too busy with other commitments, so why not do school in the comfort of our home?

Some people are not well suited for the typical classroom experience. I am one of them. I have never been able to sit still in class. I never have and never will. My slight hyperactivity in the classroom is exacerbated by a boring instructor. And most instructors are boring (sorry guys). Of all the classes available in school, I always found the most interesting topics to be explored in the maths and sciences. These are the things I want to do. A thread on Enotes discusses problems with bored students and how to remedy this. On this topic the poster Kiwi explains that boredom in the classroom results from a lack of engagement with the students. Unfortunately these fields require a great amount of theory before the student can engage in the subject. Due to the inherent nature of maths and science, it will take patience on the students’ part before they can apply their own learned theories and conclusions in the subject. I therefore struggled the most with them. I enjoyed them notwithstanding, as when the theory is learned these fields facilitate the most interaction with the students. But it was too late before I could contribute to class, so I was lost.

Image from “Math & God – do they go together?

Though passing high school was no difficult task, doing so with any kind of honours and speciality was. My course marks were mediocre at best, and the type of classes I had completed were scattered all over the place.

Aye, there’s the rub.

In the Ontario Secondary School curriculum, students are taught that if they are smart, then they are off to university. Not as smart… college. I say smart meaning the very vulgarity the word represents. Don’t qualify for college? then work. Your mental capacity determines what doors are open to you in life. This capability is measured simply with a number called a final grade. The irony to all this… we all work in the end. Understanding this begins to erode the concept of our graded destiny taught to us by our teachers and guidance counsellors. Albeit the privileged of us are honoured to postpone this inevitability. And in many cases at the expense of the learned not being able to find a job after school. According to my past guidance counsellors, all I am qualified to do on paper, is work. They were so wrong.

At first glance this looks like a disaster for those of us who are on the lower end of the totem pole. So during our adult life, how do we recover from the limits imposed on us by our high school marks?

Image from “Effective adult education

Don’t forget to play with some Massive Open Online Courses. Through Ontario’s Independant Learning Center, students can complete and upgrade their Ontario high school courses through an online distance format. The methods of delivery on many of these courses offered are virtually indistinguishable to the way course content is presented in MOOCs. Each class is $30 which compared to current tuition costs is virtually free. We have up to a year to complete each course, so this is very accommodating for users who work full time.

These courses are the latest new flavour to online distance learning. They encourage social networking and building a community dedicated to learning with professors and students alike. Best of all, most MOOCs have few prerequisites as opposed to conventional distance learning courses that are gated. This turns off a lot of prospective students as they are required to complete fundamental classes, some unrelated to their area of interest. In turn, this allows users of the MOOCs to sample topics to see how interested they are in the particular field of study without satisfying those prerequisites. These courses can also act as a foot-in-the-door for post secondary institutions; proof on paper that mature and open learning students are interested in a particular field of study.

Video is written and narrated by Dave Cormier explains MOOCs.

Due to the remote access nature of these classes, there is a burning question to the validity of online credits. Are they as good as in-classroom credits? Their reputability is often debated. However, less than a year ago the University of Maryland University College announced it would be the first in the state’s university system to offer credit earned through MOOCs.

Though I have participated a great deal in Khan Academy, I don’t expect to attain any external credits or bragging rights. The badges earned on Khan Academy are somewhat akin to the honours that can be earned with cub scouts or cadets, where that particular member can join the military later in life with no transfer rewards earned. The site has some very mature content that is offered well into the university level. I firmly believe if an interviewer in a future job looks at some of the achievable badges on Khan Academy with no merit, there would have to be a lack of education for the interviewer’s part.


A great comprehensive list of MOOCs is offered on the site called CourseTalk, many of which are a joint effort with leading post secondary institutions. Some offer a degree credit. So in the past year we’ve see a massive explosion of MOOCs. Some classes offered with degree credit are through MIT, Harvard, and University of Toronto.

We are all seeing a paradigm shift in the way education is conducted. School is becoming more egalitarian and free, and ultimately available to the mainstream audience. With little if any entry cost, anyone can afford MOOCs. There was a time when a student would be required to physically attend a school and that the student to must put life on hold for the duration of the class(es). These old-fashioned brick and mortar schools are not for everyone.

Image from “Trial by Fire: Lessons Learned in Developing and Delivering A Distance Learning Course

When I am at home I find I learn better blasting music while having a few corona beers and coffee. This keeps my cognitive distractions to a minimum, which allows me to focus on homework. These are things I can not do in the classroom. I can learn my own way, in my own home.

In an article posted for US News by Devon Haynie. She talks to us how over half of the students who enroll in MOOCs are from outside the United States. Due to the nature of these courses offered, MOOCs will often accept students right away upon enrolment, but this may add question to their integrity of actually attempting to complete the class. There is nothing to lose for signing up, although it’s been observed few students complete MOOCs. Also due to some of these courses being offered from leading ivy league institutions may effect the applicant numbers of other reputable schools.

Image from “Massive Open Online Courses, aka MOOCs, Transform Higher Education and Science”

I have been out of high school for eight years. In the past six months I went from no classes completed to having completed one high school calculus and vectors, and two non-core university credits for a B.Sc. in physics with the University of Guelph. In terms of education, I feel I have had the most improvement in the past six months than the last eight years, owing to online distance education. Working with MOOCs can change the way we think and produce an addictive habit of accomplishments. MOOCs offer more than a credit in some cases; they offer a community of like-minded individuals to take on challenges together. This is for professors, teachers assistants, and students alike. More school to follow.



Facebook’s Numbers are Down. Where are the Kids Going!?

Facebook’s Numbers are Down. Where are the Kids Going!?

In my early years, I remember when MySpace was huge success, it was ubiquitous. I felt as if any miss clicked link on the internet would have lead to a MySpace page.

I found myself wondering “Why would someone tell the world everything about themselves on the internet? What is there to gain?”  

In school, we sit in class and listen to the teacher. As early students we have very little to offer the class, so we are told to sit down and listen. After all, if you are speaking you’re not listening, right? I felt that there was nothing to gain by professing to the digital world who I am. So initially I saw no need to subscribe.

People use social media to feel connected to the world around them. In this we create a digital footprint that says “I am here” and “this is what I have done and can do”. In a modern world that forces us to work full time, go to school, and behave a certain way, social media can alleviate the symptoms of inadequacy in most of us. Enter Uses and Gratifications Theory.

This theory is one method that tries to explain how social media audiences are not only idle consumers but interpret media as they would like. This means that social media will always have something for you.

The majority of respondents in a small study of 25 participants say that they use Facebook because they have more contact with people through social media than in person. A good portion of the participants say they use Facebook for entertainment such as music, videos, and comic relief by watching the “crazies on Facebook”.

Fast forward a few years…  Everyone is talking about this Facebook thing. It lets you keep in touch with friends, and get to know people you never met, and play games. I keep telling myself, “I am not going to be like everyone else and get into this new fad. After all, who uses MySpace anymore?”. A year or so rolls by… Feeling like the only person in the world without Facebook I eventually caved. I subscribed and added a few close friends, and in very short time, my friends list grew to over 300 people; most of whom I went to school with. This made me feel good.

While in high school I had crushes on lots of girls and I would like to think a few of them had crushes on me. What I needed to do was overcome my anxieties and break the ice to strike up a conversation. Unfortunately I became too reliant on the internet to have any meaningful conversations. I may have missed out some really good relationships only because I was to scared to say “hi”.

This anonymous poster explains that he has experienced the same problems I had. Looking into my past, there was a time when I would be far more comfortable being seen nude on the internet by anonymous users rather than being seen naked in the same room with them. This shows how intimate we can be with users we don’t know, so I can relate to our friend here.

Sherry Turkle is a psychologist who wrote a book titled Always On. She wrote largely on her experiences in the online game Second Life, and continues to mention that it’s normal for people to feel more like themselves online than they do in the real world. In her TED talk she speaks of how this is about controlling your environment, and that we want to keep people at a manageable distance. We want to seen without flaw. Social media does not take place in real-time, therefore we can edit, delete and add to our messages, photos, and videos. These are things we cannot do in face to face conversations.

Mrs. Turkle quotes what an 18-year-old boy she interviewed said, “…someday, someday, but certainly not now, I would like to learn how to have a conversation.”

She remarks on sacrificing conversation for mere connection. An overabundance of connection can lead to isolation. In this isolation we never can develop a capacity for solitude. Solitude is where we find ourselves. Her expression “I share, therefore I am” feels like an accurate statement describing what I was putting myself through.

The issue does not stop there. According to Kendra Cherry there are eight major types of non-verbal communication. In addition to this, we all know that verbal communication also conveys meaning and feelings. With most social media we miss out on a great deal of information as we communicate. I thus became unfamiliar of the 8.5 forms of communication and to an extent, lost some ability to relate, use, and interpret it.

High school ended and it was time to move out of my mother’s basement. I landed a job that required strong interpersonal skills with fellow co-workers. Often I would have to be disconnected from the computer for several months at a time. At first this was a struggle, eventually I lost the need to be connected at an unhealthy level.

While I still have my Facebook profile, I am using it less. I now find the majority of posts on my news feed adhere to Sturgeon’s law that 90% of everything is crap. I am forced to see people’s views on topics such as politics, religion, and feminism to name a few. Many posts appear all along the lines of “click like if you are against hungry people” or “I got this in school” or “im bored”. Phrases like “my parents are unfair and don’t understand me” deliver overwhelming drama gives me something to laugh about. But all this junk is becoming old.

Hyperlinks of videos, songs and images propel me to investigate what my “friends” lives are all about. Media is created for us and with a simple click of the “like” button, we are sharing to the world that somehow there is a deep relationship that we (the end users) have to this media content, even without any vested effort on our part create it.

“While I still have my Facebook profile, I am using it less…”

I want to refer to the statistics provided from iStrategyLabs. Most specifically the youth demographic. While reading through our course material, we learn the 13-24 age group are leaving Facebook. How can this be?

As you can see the 13-24 age group shows a large decline in Facebook accounts as of January 2014. I would have expected high school and post secondary students to flock to Facebook and not away from it.

One girl I dated in the past year used Facebook along with Tumblr, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter with ceaseless texting ad nauseam. I found it all rather annoying. She convinced me to give them all a try, but it took one day before I deleted every new app she told me to get. How dense can someone be? How many onion layers of our self do we need to peel every day to be happy? How much self-expression and the need to feel connected is too much? In my line of work I need to keep secrets, not share them. Her obsession to be connected to everyone seemed unhealthy and I did not like it.

So where are the youth going? According to Becky Worley from Yahoo News, we can “upgrade our life” by moving to some of the new social networking programs. Here are some social networking programs my ex-girlfriend did not know about: Path, Kik, Kaka, Line and Pheed.

First it was MySpace, then Facebook. The next big thing, will be many things. As our interpersonal virtual requirement to feel connected grows, then so must the number of methods to share ourselves. A lot of the social media has moved to the mobile market. Facebook’s response to seeing its diminishing demographic was to hastily buy Whatsapp for $19 billion to stay on peoples mobile phones. Facebook declined a job application for co-founder of Whatsapp Brian Acton in 2009.

I find it interesting to note, Brian Acton remarking about Facebook on Twitter. In 2009 Twitter was the fourth most popular social network.  This year it comes in second.

Whatever the future may hold for social media, we now know that it has replaced porn as the number one activity on internet today. Quite the fad regardless of the medium used. One thought does stands out; we are social beings that have a need to be needed. As we see in my story, satisfying our needs for digital placebo is not healthy. We have to be careful of the impact that modern social media has on our lives. In addition to becoming socially inept and dependant, we may turn into Richard Foreman’s “Pancake people” who actually believe that a “like” will produce water for thirsty children in Africa. I have already seen this. Time to go offline.

How has computers changed society and effected how we see the world.

I want to direct our attention to where most of our minds are just not good enough.  Complex problems that require brute force and iterations. These programs that are designed for calculations. Though made by humans, but there is so much grunt work required that it is beyond conceivable that any human can perform to a nearly complete solution in a worthwhile time span. 

Though the information ill bring forth is highly esoteric and some is a long way from being spilled down from the research institutions and organizations to all of Canadian society.  I think the advent of computers and the internet’s information highway in this case of huge merit for everyone.  I can look up modern theories of the universe and read news articles on research projects.  And I can watch documentary programs that fill the gaps where my high school and work education has left off. 

Dark Matter and Dark Energy.

I will start with cosmological theories that can not be observed.

Galaxies have long been observed rotating much faster than our laws of motion allow.  Long story short there was a term coined called dark matter.  This allowed observers to allocate more mass to galaxies to accommodate their faster than expected rotation. 

Another phenomena is dark energy.  This energy is used to account for the accelerated expansion of the universe.  The further away any object in space is observed the faster the object is moving away from us.  This observation is counter intuitive because we observe almost all cosmological bodies red shifting (moving away).  Because of this scientists say that the universe is expanding. If we run a cosmic scenario in our minds backwards, we can say that the universe began a point.  At this point the universe is created with an immense amount of energy.  The catch is the universe appears to be expanding at an accelerating rate. Normally gravity which acts over long distances and would eventually stop and then counteract the initial force of the big bang.  Everything should be slowing down and to come together in a large cosmic crunch. 

Today we observe roughly 5% of the matter we expect that is the matter we are familiar with in our field of view.  The remainder we call dark matter and dark energy.  Scientists generally admit they don’t know what dark matter and dark energy is but they are confident its out there. 

Between these two highly abstract but practical solutions for cosmological observations how are we suppose to test the validity of the existence of both dark matter and dark energy?  No one knows what this stuff is!

Enter Bolshoi.  A simulation run on the supercomputer called Pleiades.  Pleiades is equipped with 14 000 CPUs with 12 Terabytes of RAM at the NASAAmesResearchCenter. Bolshoi is a simulation of the universe from big bang to today. This simulation took 18 days to run. What Bolshoi allowed scientists and engineers to do is map a portion of the universe.  Taken with data hypothesized; researchers were able to test our observations of space with a surprising result.  The simulation showed qualitative similarities between what observers see in space to Bolshoi’s result.  What is amazing to me is, not many times before have humans calculated something that we have little information on.  And on top of that, run it through a computer to verify assumptions and observations.  Especially towards the origin of the universe.  Non of this would of been possible with the human mind alone.  What Pleiades had done is allowed for concepts until modern computers, would be so theoretical the ideas can hardly be considered a science, into a tangible idea that can be calculated worked with and thought of in a scientific sense.



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Fractal geometry.

Gaston Julia a French mathematician looked at what happens when a equation has a output and is fed back into the original equation.  The output is a set, (x,y) but solutions can require millions of outputs.  He published his book at the age of 25 in 1918.  The field of iterations was stagnant due to the amount of work required and because of this, his work remained relatively unknown.  Benoit Mandlebrot popularized it some 60 years later. Benoit Mandelbrot is also a French mathematician.  He began working at IBM in 1958.  While there he had access to one of the early computers.  While there he was able to use Gaston’s math in a early computer.

Self similarity was a concept earlier known but became something we can visually see with Benoit’s use of IBM’s computers.  As the equations would require so many iterations (feedback loops) to produce results, this would take countless human hours to calculate out.  Computers can do this for us. 

Benoit’s program created beautiful design patterns as a graph.  When zooming in, a pattern would result that looked like previous zooms.  One can zoom in infinitely amount of times and always see a pattern.  Pictures like this were used in the hippy/psychedelic movement.


Image taken from []

The fractal or self similarity is used today in simulations of water and fire in Hollywood movies.  Our cell phones use a few different frequency bands for texting, phone calls, internet data, etc.  Having a single antenna will save space on a portable item.  Similar shape at different sizes, a single antenna can accommodates multiple carrier frequencies for a antenna.  Self similarity may be prevalent in all biological living systems.  When we look at a tree we see a trunk and some branches, these branches split and turn into other branches, and looking at these branches they split off into other branches and eventually twigs and so on until leafs.  The veins in our body do the same thing.  Instead of DNA compiling super complex instructions, a simpler code that has iterations may be a large possibility due to its overwhelming efficiency.   Understanding genetic code may require use of self similarity maths. 

Concepts of the coastline paradox can yield infinite result.  Loosing speaking no matter how far we zoom into coastline there will always be more imperfections.  The overall perimeter of a country can have a solution of an infinity. 

Ideas I bring forth are not my own. However I would like to mention computers have popularized the way we develop technology,  how we look at life, and see the universe today and where the universe came from and where its going.  Yes, computers do a lot of work for us. And sometimes allow us to be lazy. But without computers we would have very different idea of how the universe, living systems, maths, and technologies work.