Jiva Technology

Living the subscription lifestyle

There was time not so long ago when I either bought things outright or had finance to buy things outright. But recently, I’ve noticed an increasing number of the things I buy are offered as a subscription. There are some financial reasons (that we don’t need to go into here) why companies want subscribers, but its interesting that the things that used to be offered on subscriptions were old fashioned, like magazines, whereas now it seems that the most cutting edge services like Netflix or Amazon Prime are the ones to offer subscriptions. I’ve been looking to buy a new car and even that is offered on subscription. I won’t own it, I’ll just use it for three years and hand it back or buy a new one. All in return for a monthly payment. Some of the car manufacturers even let me switch cars within the there years. Will everything we buy be on a subscription basis in the future? Is this an inexorable trend?

I ask the question because it occurs to me that if I want to subscribe to television services, then I might also want to subscribe to education services. Perhaps I’ll want the ability to pay a monthly fee, or the government might pay a monthly fee to get an education from different providers. “Ridiculous”, I hear you say, but why not? And what’s stopping it? I could pay monthly for my house (rental), my car (PCP), my TV, so why not an education for our children. Or perhaps I want to have a core of education services two days per week from a single institution and then subscribe to other services for the balance of my time. Some people are already doing this – children go to school and then have ballet, football or additional tutoring around the edge. The barrier to this type of flexibility usually comes down to the fixed costs of delivery and the need to plan in advance, but teachers are fairly mobile, classrooms are pretty uniform and teachers can (within reason) move from institution to institution. Would it make education delivery more flexible? Would parents becomes stressed by the constant movement or would it free things up to deliver the maximum in flexible delivery of education?

It might be a bad idea, but sometimes by thinking the unthinkable, great new ideas float to the surface. You only have to think about how Canadians solved the problem of snow on their power lines to realise that a certain amount of expansive thinking goes a long way.

Patreon Science

As a self confessed fan of trying new ways to get an education (or in hipsterspeak, hack education) I’ve been following Patreon for a while now. For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, Patreon is the brainchild of a musician who was  popular on YouTube, but found that support for his music wasn’t turning into support financially. At least not for him. Cue a new way of doing things that allowed patrons to support projects they liked and for people to get paid for it.

So far, so simple. Patreon has been successful enough for people to copy it and spawn sub groups that cover science and education. The education sub group is so so, but the science section seems to be the natural abode for the weird and the wacky. The amounts of money involved are not huge and whilst the quality varies, some of them (Mr Carlson’s lab for instance) seem to tackle things that you just aren’t going to learn at school. Or college .. or anywhere for that matter.

School trips

Ross Mountney’s latest contribution to the Tutorhub blog has brought a smile to my face. Ross has been a consistent advocate of  taking your learning outdoors, but there can’t be many amongst who don’t have fond memories of school trips. I can’t even begin to imagine how stressful they are for the teachers, but putting aside any of the things you might learn on the trip, the experience of getting out of school for a day was always memorable.

It was only many years after I’d left school that I realised that one particular trip, which at the time seemed to be a massive distance from the school, it could have been to the Amazon for all I knew, was literally around the corner. When educators talk about ‘teachable moments’, I sometimes think that school trips should be an excellent opportunity to get the attention of young students, but to be honest, all I can ever remember about the trips was the getting there and the getting back. The bit in the middle always appears to be a void. When I see school trips snaking their way around museums today, I can see why. No one is paying attention, there are too many other things going on. But at a time when all we talk about is how school can be effective, how school can prepare students for the world of work, its good to remind ourselves that every once in a while, school should be fun and school trips should be the most fun of all.

The strange story of pulsars and Jocelyn Bell Burnell

For anyone with the slightest interest in science, pulsars are incredible objects. They’re dead stars with magnetic fields as much as 20,000,000,000,000 times that of Earth. They spin at speeds of up to 25o million km an hour. And they pulse light at regular intervals, providing these amazing objects with their name and providing astronomers with lighthouses to navigate their way around the universe.

But for all heir amazing attributes, the story of how pulsars were discovered is just as amazing as the the pulsars themselves. They were discovered on a hand built radio array at Cambridge University in 1967 by Jocelyn Bell Burnell, a quite remarkable scientist who never received the accolades she deserved because she was a woman and because she was a mere PhD student, not a supervisor. Others got Nobel prizes for her discovery, she did not. In the ensuing press interest surrounding the discovery, she received questions as to how many boyfriends she had.

Its an instructive episode for a number of reasons. First of all, it shows that great science does not always arrive in a planned fashion. Secondly, we’d do well to offer credit where credit’s due and thirdly, we can never return to a situation where women in science don’t receive the respect they deserve simply because they’re women. We’d all like to think that we’ve moved on from episodes like this, but its only by reminding ourselves of what happened in the recent past can we make sure it doesn’t happen again.

In the meantime, the discovery of pulsars is a great example of the surprises that science can still spring upon us and the story of Jocelyn Bell Burnell is a great example of the proud history of women in science.



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