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Preview: History of Science Study Group

Crash Course videos offer jumping off points for deep dives, and the Study Group helps that happen.

I spend a fair amount of time on Youtube. I look up a lot of topics from MOOCs and OCWs I’m taking, so my home screen has lots of bio, chem, philosophy, math, literature, and history suggestions. I also look up random things I encounter in the books I read: most recently, The Seven Samurai. Then there’s general information I look up as needed: cooking help (what does one do with lentils?), houseplant advice (my polka-dot plant is not doing well), news topics. And I’m not immune from clickbait: all the stuff I watch when I eat lunch at my computer (oh, come on, you do it too) and just want to watch something fun for fifteen minutes: random clips from shows I used to watch, humor, articles from Vox and Wired. Oddly, there’s not much music at all, though right now Stan Rogers is showing up since a tweet put Northwest Passage and The Lockkeeper in my head.

Yet, in my academic travels, I’ve rarely watched the Crash Course videos. I find they’re too general when I need more details on something from a MOOC, and Hank Green talks really, really fast. I think I’m just too old for them (I’m headed for my 70s, I’m too old for a lot of things).

But that’s about to change, thanks to Class Central.

“We’re launching a new Study Group based on @TheCrashCourse History of Science by @hankgreen.” Hmmm, as one of my old friends from Days of Rogue MOOCing said. I’ve just been emailing with my blogging buddy Jake Weber about the broad topic of religion, which always comes around to science (funny how that works), so my first thought was that this would be a rich vein for that discussion, which would actually be possible in a Class Central Study Group (the edX and Coursera forums are good for asking specific questions, but that’s about it). Then, of course, there’s my overall interest in science, set against the insanity I see daily on Twitter from those who either don’t understand what science is, or just don’t like its conclusions.

Given my highly enjoyable experience a few months ago with Class Central’s Study Group for the Mountains 101 MOOC – a course I probably wouldn’t have taken on my own – it struck me that this could be a really great six weeks. One of the biggest benefits of the group was trading resources and ideas, getting more out of a topic covered briefly. The Crash Course videos offer numerous jumping off points for deep dives, and the Study Group helps that happen. I just happen to have a wide range of resources, from MOOCs and OCWs to books and other videos, that I’d love to share.

I was just looking at an old blog post I wrote about a MOOC I took a long time ago, when Coursera’s message boards were designed for real communication:

What made this course really sing was the student engagement in the forums. Early on, one student started a … thread, where we admitted our ignorance and asked stupid questions. The “Insane Work Load” thread turned into a home base for a lot of us, where we commiserated, then got organized to share notes, links, and, when things slowed down, just chat.
Maybe that’s what makes any MOOC sing, at least for me. Now that I think about it, the courses I’ve enjoyed the most were the ones where I felt the most comfortable on the discussion forums, where difficulties were acknowledged and shared and questions were answered without condescension, where I could enjoy and return the enthusiasm of others.

Now, this is going to be a little different, since the Study Group isn’t working on a MOOC but on a series of videos. I’ve sometimes referred to individual MOOCS as “YouTube-with-a-quiz;” I didn’t mean that as a compliment. I wouldn’t view these videos, one after the other, on my own. It’s too much of a survey of a subject I want more than a survey for. And I prefer the structure of an actual course, with schedules (at least implied) and quizzes and, yes, I admit it, the academic imprimatur; I am something of a slave to credentials and authority.

But maybe in the context of a Study Group, YouTube-without-a-quiz can serve as a focus for interested people to create their own learning experience with each others’ help. And it might be ideal for someone who hasn’t really explored science since high school – or, for that matter, is in high school right now – better understand what science is. And isn’t.

And it sounds like fun!

I’m so excited about this possibility – which opens up huge realms of future explorations, since YouTube is crammed with courses formal and informal (yeah, it’s not just Influencers and cute cats) – that I’ve started watching the videos already. And I found transcripts! That helps enormously with the talking-too-fast problem, not to mention I like to keep documents with the text of courses I take so a year from now when I vaguely remember he said something about the PreSocratics that relates to something in a book I’m reading, I can find it relatively easily. That document will also be a good place to store resources I find with the help of other students, as well as interesting tips an tidbits I find along the way.

The History of Science Study Group is scheduled to start on September 13, 2021; it’ll run for six weeks. Each week will focus on eight videos, each of which is about 12 minutes long. So that’s four hours of content, plus whatever time one wishes to devote to further explorations and sharing.

Everyone’s welcome, so if this sounds interesting to you, go ahead and sign up. It’s free, it’s low-pressure (as in no grades) – and it will, I hope, be fun.

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Karen Carlson Profile Image

Karen Carlson

Moocaholic: philosophy, history, basic science, the arts, math... anything but business or computer science. Recovering mathphobe (frequent relapses). Blog about moocs, short fiction/nonfiction/poetry, and random thoughts at https://sloopie72.wordpress.com/

Comments 1

  1. Fabio Dantas Fernandes

    Great article Karen! I totally agree with you about the pace of Crash Course videos. Sometimes I have to listen twice or three times to get it 100% (now I’ve been watching with subtitles on).

    I believe the study group is going to be great since we don’t have quizzes and to better develop some topics of higher interest. I’m looking forward to see you there. Cheers!


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