Tag Archive | MOOC

Study Plans for 2016

I haven’t done any formal studying for a while now. Something went wrong with the funding for my OU course and, since I didn’t really get on with DD101 (I know I passed, but I never had any feedback or a score or anything) and for a whole host of other reasons, I won’t be picking it up again any time soon. But as it turned out, we had a really bad year which made not studying a good thing, I could not have coped with study deadlines at the same time.

I changed my OU degree from Q69, Combined Social Science, to an Open Degree, but nothing really appeals at the moment. So if I do pick it up again, I don’t know what direction I will go in. I wasn’t impressed with the way the OU worked, the materials, the tutor, and it felt like a waste of time, money and effort.

I had been considering the possibilities of studying Theology (which obviously would necessitate moving to another college anyway, St John’s Nottingham is an online option) – firstly in the hope of following the vocation of the priesthood, and secondly as a back-up plan, I could use it for teaching (primary or secondary) or alternatively as a chaplain of some sort or another (hospital/ school/ college/ military).

All of those possible paths have stumbling blocks – principally of the financial kind, and my health has been very poor this year, so I don’t know if I will even be able to take up a career any time soon even if I do manage to get qualified, I’ll be 45 this year, and I have already had 12 years of ME.
So at this point I’m just shrugging my shoulders and letting it all wash over me and trying not to care or worry.

A (virtual) friend of mine with ME started a Law Degree a few years ago. I can’t imagine how you would manage that with this illness, but he seemed to. I took an intro to Law (a 10 point OU course) It wasn’t hard, but it didn’t exactly thrill me!

But in an effort to ensure that my brain doesn’t turn to mush, I will probably start looking into what’s available to study informally this year again. I don’t like the idea that schools, colleges and universities act as the gate-keepers of knowledge. The whole qualification and student finance game seems like a big racket to me.

I have previously bought OU materials to study on my own without going through the rigmarole of the course and the debt. I have even toyed with the idea of studying medicine just for the fun of it. It might come in handy, you never know.

Do any of you have recommendations for any good courses coming up? So many books! So little time! 🙂

The Truth About Population: Don’t Panic

I discovered Hans Rosling and his amazing ability to make statistics beautiful and entertaining this week, and thought I would share this video as it is relevant to our Climate Change course. I also recomend his website (Gapminder) and I suprised myself by following his link to Melinda Gates’ website where she shows that the way to encourage developing countries to limit their family size is to care for their existing children.

Climate Change Weeks 3-6

I realised I hadn’t added any notes from the Climate Change: Challenges and Solutions course from Exeter University via FutureLearn since week 2, so this will just be a quick review.

Week 3

This week was essentially looking at evidence of climate change.

I found week 3 extremely difficult, and I ended the week not sure that I wanted to carry on to week 4. I more or less failed the quiz at the end of the week, but having spoken to other students, it wasn’t just me – some of the questions were worded differently to the way they were taught on the course itself, and they even included one question that hadn’t been covered on the course at all. Looking at the notes, I have almost nothing for Week 3 so I may need to go back for a review at some point. One of the questions that really stumped me was what, apart from volcanoes, causes aerosols. I still don’t have an answer to that.

Week 4

This week we were looking at possible Geo-engineering solutions. Some of the ‘solutions’ seem almost worse than the problems, and don’t address the root causes but rather try two work around them. It’s actually pretty terrifying because they could end up causing more havoc than we already have with excess CO2.

Week 4 was much better and much easier to understand, and I did pass the end of week quiz 🙂

Week 5

This week we were looking at the effects of climate change on the cryosphere and ocean acidification.

This week was again much better, although there was a lot of chemistry and as I’ve already mentioned, I have no chemistry background. The course requisites said no former knowledge was required, so I think they should have either differentiated between introductory and advanced level, or decided which level they wanted to teach toward.

Week 6

This week we were looking at Human Health and the Built Environment, urban heat islands, and the danger of heat waves in cities. And then Food Security.

The fact that worldwide we are dependent on 3 crops (wheat, rice and maize, or 4 if you include potatoes) is alarming in itself when you consider that monoculture crops are vulnerable to fungi and disease.

Even though the world reproduction rate has essentially gone down to around 2 children per woman, there is still an inevitable population increase (of those children who will grow up) of 50% by 2050. That is, by 2050, we expect there to be 11 billion people.  Therefore, our global food production needs to be doubled by 2050. That is alarming, and the solutions are all pretty scary: ‘new science, new genetics, genomics, genome sequencing, modern plant techniques’. We obviously also need to consider more diversity in farming (monoculture is bad!).

I think the West also urgently needs to address the issues of waste, encourage more home growing and maybe most important of all – discourage greed.

I did pass the end of week quiz, but again had a problem with one question that I ended up still not knowing the answer for. I think the quiz technology could include a “this is the right answer” at the end.

Just Cook for Kids Week 5

The Just Cook for Kids – Child Nutrition course from Stanford School of Medicine via Coursera has now finished (I’m not sure, but I think new people may be able to sign up before the end of February, but if not I’m sure they will run it again).

So, week 5 notes as follows:

5.1 Basic Concept: How to Work Around Food Allergies

This was a short video which mentioned several different kinds of allergies (peanuts, treenuts, eggs, milk, gluten, soy, fish and shellfish) and although it addressed the additional difficulties children with allergies have in school such as bullying, and talk about how to work around these issues, there was not a lot at all about the healthy food alternatives to replace these allergens. A little bit of a disappointing, missed opportunity I think.

5.2 Focus Point: Reading Nutrition Facts Labels

This video went through everything you can expect to find on an American food label (there are slight differences with UK labels – for example, fibre and carbohydrate are counted separately in the UK). We were advised to keep an eye on overall calories, fats and sugars (and avoid trans-fats), and to avoid too much sodium, and too much protein. I did not discover why ‘too much’ protein might be troublesome until I watched the optional video on Metabolism. (Basically, protein eventually gets converted to bodily fat if more is consumed than is needed for energy.) Maya mentioned that although vitamins and minerals are ‘good’, they don’t make the food healthy overall if it’s full of unhealthy ingredients, so beware of ‘healthy’ claims.

5.4 Basic Concept: Food’s Environmental Impact

This was a re-cap of previous videos. It emphasised that 30 times the amount of greenhouse gases are released in the production of meat compared with lentils, along with water demands and antibiotic use (see notes from previous weeks). It needs to be remembered though that this is American-style CAFO mass-produced meat rather than grassfed meat. I would like to know how that more healthy method of production compares.

5.6 Focus Point: Understanding Taste and Flavour

Again, this was a re-cap of previous videos, emphasising that the freshest, locally grown will be of the highest quality. But Maya also looked at the theory of different taste sensors on the tongue and mentioned that 80% of taste is actually related to the sense of smell.

Recipes included: Stew, salad dressing, roasted vegetables and crepes.

Although I didn’t like it right at the beginning, it really grew on me and I enjoyed it so much that I’m sad that it’s over.

I do think that it is a little too easy for anybody who has already had an interest in or studied nutrition, but it would be a good basic refresher course or a complete introduction. I certainly would have wanted a little bit more detail about micro-nutrients but it’s obviously not intended for people who have studied nutrition before.

For people who, like me, have studied nutrition before, I would recommend the optional videos in order to make the most of the class. Once you have signed up, the course materials remain available to you indefinitely.

Climate Change Week 3 Notes

3.1 What evidence do we have of the signals of climate change, including an increase in extreme weather events?

In addition to written records over the last 170 years, modern records are able to be taken more widely and more reliably increasingly high-tech meteorological records are now possible, including data from weather satellites, weather balloons, unmanned submersibles for deep sea temperature, thermometers that measure water temperature on board ship, thermometers inside Stephenson screens on the land, which shield from direct radiation and rain.

3.2 How has our climate changed?

– Sea level rise
– Global average temperature rise
– Ocean temperature rise
– Shrinking ice sheets
– Declining Arctic sea ice
– Glacial retreat
– Extreme weather.

There has been a significant rise in temperatures over the 20th century, with the last decade being the warmest within the whole record.

3.3 Do the major extreme weather events of 2012 provide further evidence of climate change or does it all add more complexity to the issue? (National Snow and Ice Data Center for more information.)

The cold weather does make it more confusing, but the fact that extreme weather of all sorts seem to be increasing all over the globe is compelling. It is certainly a complex puzzle.

3.4 What places on Earth have experienced the largest warming from 1980-2004? Are the areas that are experiencing the most warming also showing the largest variability in temperature and or precipitation?

The northern hemisphere seems to have had the largest warming. I found the interactive map a little bit frustrating. To be honest I found the graphs unhelpful and it would have been more helpful to see the differences in countries overlaid on one graph.

3.5 What would you consider the largest threats from extreme weather events to where you live?

Flooding and sea damage seem to be the biggest problems facing the UK; however the UK Government seems to be managing the problem particularly badly – despite the knowledge that an increase in tree-growing can mitigate against the effects of flooding, it seems to be determined to clear the land, which makes me suspect they are doing so with the specific agenda of pushing climate change as an excuse for more government control.

3.6 Our Changing Carbon Cycle: Professor Pierre Friedlingstein identifies the components of the carbon cycle and how human activity has contributed to an atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide not seen since the Pliocene epoch between 2.6 and 5.3 million years ago.

I really struggled to understand this video at all. Subtitles would not have gone amiss. I’ve watched it 3 times and I’m none the wiser.

3.7 Create a graph to show a variety of countries at different levels of economic development by following this link to the World Bank web site. Include the USA and China in your graph. Share your graph in the discussion. You may also want to try plot carbon dioxide emissions measured in metric tons per capita. What conclusions can you draw?

Really frustruated with this, I couldn’t work out how to make a graph. If I figure it out, I’ll post again.

3.8 Week 3 Quiz

Despite everything, I managed to pass this week’s quiz with 15/15.

Altogether, it seems so complex to me that I feel a little bit overwhelmed. Although I am persuaded that climate change is real and that it could mean disaster, I don’t feel as though I’m totally getting to grips with the subject. I haven’t seen enough evidence yet to conclude that the human element is the cause of the rapid changes (although I’m trying to keep an open mind and I’m willing to be convinced) but I certainly haven’t changed my mind about the fact that governments are using climate change as a tool to control people and extend government.

Climate Change Week 3

I have really struggled to keep up this week, mainly because there were only 2 videos (one of which was hard to understand – subtitles would have been helpful) and the rest was articles. I just haven’t had the time this week to get to the reading.

One of the questions was how can this year’s extra cold weather be explained within an overall trend of global warming?

This link and video has helped me grasp that particular issue:


More later as I find time.

Climate Change: End of Week One

I have completed Week One of the FutureLearn MOOC from the University of Exeter, “Climate Change: Challenges and Solutions”.

As somebody who has really never considered the topic previously, I found most of the resources pretty much at the right level for an introductory course – approximately GCSE level I would imagine. The only exceptions were the video from the MET Office, which was so simplistic (and contradicted material we had already covered) that it could have been a Key Stage 2 resource (I have taught Key Stage 2 Geography homeschool classes and have covered some of the material with my children at around that stage), and the article from the IPCC which seems more complex that everything else we’ve looked at – I’ll need to go through that again with a highlighter and makes some notes to break it up into easier bitesize chunks.

The final task of Week One is to:

Reflect on what you have learned during week 1. You could write your reflections in a blog, in the discussion or in another place of your choice.

Reflect on these key questions:

  1. What the key scientific principles that explain climate change including the greenhouse (blanket) effect?
  2. What are the key feedback mechanisms that help to explain why our climate is able to “self-regulate”?
  3. How can our climate be conceptualised as a system containing a series of components that interact with one another?

Also consider:

  1. What are the most important themes you have learned this week?
  2. What aspect of this week did you find difficult?
  3. What did you find most interesting? And why?
  4. Was there something that you learned this week that prompted you to do your own research?
  5. Are there any web sites or other online resource that you found particularly useful in furthering your knowledge and understanding?

Obviously this blog is my main forum for reflection (although I have tried to join in on Twitter and in the comments section on the MOOC site)

So, in reflection:

1. What the key scientific principles that explain climate change including the greenhouse (blanket) effect?

Radiation from the sun hits the earth, some of which (70 percent) is absorbed by surfaces, and some of which (30 percent) is re-emitted up from the earth. The earth is kept warm by gases (known as ‘greenhouse gases’) which absorb radiation and re-emit some of that radiation back down to earth.

2. What are the key feedback mechanisms that help to explain why our climate is able to “self-regulate”?

– The water vapour feedback, (or the water cycle) which is ‘positive’,

– The ice albedo feedback, which is also ‘positive’, and

– The radiation feedback, which is ‘negative’.

Positive and negative were described as being ‘in the mathematical sense’ but I confess I don’t really understand what that means. What does that mean actually?!

3. How can our climate be conceptualised as a system containing a series of components that interact with one another?

The climate can be conceptualised as a complex system which includes 5 key components: the atmosphere, the hydrosphere, the biosphere, the cryoshphere and the lithosphere, which interact together. That’s not a very complete answer, I know. I’m not sure how else to describe it… :-S

And I’m considering:

1. What are the most important themes you have learned this week?

I hadn’t encountered the term ‘albedo’ before, and I didn’t very much about the radiation feedback, or that this is the most important feedback loop. I suppose it is kind of obvious when you think about it though.

2. What aspect of this week did you find difficult?

There were a few new terms, but nothing altogether too new, although there was a lot of information to take in. It took a lot more time altogether than I had anticipated, as I had to watch some of the videos several time and take notes to get to grips with the terms.

3. What did you find most interesting? And why?

It’s mainly organising information that I kind of already knew but hadn’t considered properly, so I have a better understanding of the basics than I did. I was a little bit terrified of the quiz at the end of the week, but I passed with flying colours. 🙂

4. Was there something that you learned this week that prompted you to do your own research?

No, not really, although I have followed some of the questions other students were posting with interest (mostly of the climate change skeptic flavour).

5. Are there any web sites or other online resource that you found particularly useful in furthering your knowledge and understanding?

I’ve been given several links to look at:

http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2004/12/how-do-we-know-that-recent-cosub2sub-increases-are-due-to-human-activities-updated/ – How do we know that recent co2 increases are due to human activities?

http://nsidc.org/data/seaice_index/ – Sea Ice Index

http://reciprocatesite.conted.ox.ac.uk/ – this may be a good follow-up course on climate change.

and even http://www.complexityexplorer.org/online-courses