Monthly Archives: February 2013

The particle accelerator of learning

“The fruit ripens slowly,” the Guru Nisargadatta Maharaj once observed, “but it drops suddenly.” In a similar fashion, MOOCs (or massive open online courses) seem to have arrived almost out of nowhere, in quick succession – first Udacity in February of last year, followed by Coursera in April, then edX in May. Remarkable as it […] … learn more→

How human language could have evolved from birdsong – Research

“The sounds uttered by birds offer in several respects the nearest analogy to language,” Charles Darwin wrote in “The Descent of Man” (1871), while contemplating how humans learned to speak. Language, he speculated, might have had its origins in singing, which “might have given rise to words expressive of various complex emotions.” Now researchers from […] … learn more→

The brain race: can giant computers map the mind?

In the past month, we have seen two major announcements of huge projects to map the brain – the European Human Brain Project (HBP) and the Obama Brain Activity Map (BAM). What you may not have noticed is a third, much more promising project announced by the Seattle-based Allen Institute for Brain Science to do […] … learn more→

A new measure of value

After this winter’s National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities meeting, the challenge voiced by a panel of Congressional staff members still rings in my ears. They asked: What is the return on investment for the $150 billion in federal grants, loans, and tax credits to higher education? They suggested that this investment must have […] … learn more→

Making good on our commitment to needy students

\”Everyone is poor in graduate school,\” I explained to Anna, a chemistry major who was weighing the offers she had received to several excellent Ph.D. programs. Exact amounts of stipends don\’t really matter, I told her. They\’re all roughly the same, and you\’ll have enough to live on. She chose a graduate school, enrolled, and […] … learn more→

Too much \’merit aid\’ requires no merit

On June 9, 1904, Harvard\’s president, Charles W. Eliot, wrote a letter to Charles Francis Adams Jr. A former railroad executive, Adams was a member of the college\’s Board of Overseers and, as a grandson of John Quincy Adams, a multigenerational Harvard legacy. The two men were quarreling over the question of raising tuition to […] … learn more→

Why you should create your own thesis writing retreat (or reasons to travel)

Ever considered the idea of taking yourself away for a self-imposed thesis writing retreat? Would it be helpful? No doubt, like me, you’ve harboured fantasies of doing just this. Taking yourself out of your usual environment and the usual distractions so you can put your head down and tail up to finish a big chunk […] … learn more→

The making of an “educational saboteur”

Through most of my life as a teacher, I have considered myself a builder. Not only have I worked hard to develop relationships with my students that last well beyond their time in my class, I have helped create three institutions at my University which hopefully have had a lasting impact on the school- a […] … learn more→

Is “Feminist” a sexist word?

Whenever I teach an introductory lesson on “gender” in my first-year international affairs and international relations classes, I find myself prefacing my explanation of “feminism” with the familiar “Feminism is not about man-hating. Feminists are concerned with both men and women,” in order to fend off the usual hostile responses from both male and female […] … learn more→

Polishing your prose

Here is the opening of an early draft of an essay about teaching mathematics written years ago by a celebrated professor. As he himself has acknowledged, he is a less than gifted writer, and our goal is to maintain his ideas while presenting them more clearly and gracefully. It is important to recognize the fact […] … learn more→