Jiva Technology

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.


What happens to education if we have Universal Basic Income?

The threat of automation has given rise to a lot of chatter in the press about the merits Universal Basic Income (UBI). Its a simple idea, whereby all citizens receive an income from the State, whether they work or not. In theory, it replaces all other forms of state support, such as pensions, unemployment benefit and housing benefit, thereby radically simplifying the system. In a world where robots might be doing most of the work and therefore work might be scarce, the idea is to break the link between work and income. A number of trials are underway at the moment in Scotland, the Netherlands and Finland, designed to gauge the impacts of UBI.

Very little has been said about the impact of introducing UBI on education. For the most part, getting a good education has been about getting rewarding and fulfilling work at the end of it, but most of us will recognise the ambivalence many teenagers feel towards education, particularly as they near the end of their time at school. Its usually at that point that parents and teachers will resort to a mix of threats and encouragement about ‘your future’ to get students over the last few hurdles. But what if it doesn’t matter – you’re going to get paid anyway? What if you are going to have the time to study when you’re 26 or 36 or 76? Does that change what we study or more importantly, when we study? An honest answer would be, “who knows?”, but spending even a few moments thinking about it makes you realise the profound implications for education.

One thing is for sure, there will still be a need for scientists and engineers and artists and performers. How do you encourage some to study hard when others are at liberty to do nothing … although some might argue that this happens already. It becomes clear that impact of automation, artificial intelligence and robotics will have a profound impact on our society, but education is an area that has historically moved at a slow pace, for various reasons. It could be that we need to start thinking about some of these issues sooner, rather than later.

The introduction of Universal Basic Income could allow us the freedom to study subjects that we enjoy without the hindrance of it being valued in the jobs marketplace. In combination with social media, it could allows groups of citizen scientists, historians and engineers  to push back the boundaries of human knowledge at a faster rate, unfettered by formal structures. Or it could lead to a complete mess and the abrupt slowing of knowledge acquisition and growth as organisation and funding disappears. It feels like the sort of topic that deserves intense public debate, which is unfortunate given that the issue has arisen at an all time low for considered public argument.


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