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September 12, 2011 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Faliure To Comunicate Science In The Media – Higher education, and growing up Facebook

This week, a little more on education and a realisation about growing up in today’s world.

One of the other things I noticed about Richard Feynman’s education throughout his college (that’s US for university) days was that he was always surrounded by other scientists. Physicists, mathematicians, chemists, oh my! In the universities he attended, there were always other people around who were enthusiastic about science, and colleagues who wanted to talk about science.

Maybe that sounds a little oxymoronic, but let me explain a little more. He was not just surrounded by this community in his classes. But he would go home to his fraternity at nights, and continue talking to scientists there. They would break for tea every day at 4pm at Princeton, and the physicists and the mathematicians would talk to each other. They would bring up interesting new research in their fields and they would discuss it with everyone present. They would even compete with each other about things like who could compute cube roots the fastest!

These people would eat, breathe, and sleep science, and they made it interesting by turning it into a game that they all would play. Because of this, they became very successful.
Now, I remember in my undergraduate years I had a group of people who I would do very much the same thing with (albeit only while actually at university). Me and the gang would hang out between classes in the LABY common room, and we’d do assignments and make asses of ourselves by getting things wrong on the whiteboards in front of everybody. I know for a fact that I did probably more actual learning there in that room than in most of my time in lectures.

Well, everyone in that group passed all their courses, and got pretty good marks. I know that in some of these courses the pass rate was around 50 per cent, so I think the fact that all of us passed the courses is a good indication of how valuable the group was to us all. I know this is somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy, in that the people in that group were there because they were interested in science, and therefore probably better at it. But I still think that it was a big part of helping us in our learning.

I hope that with the establishment of the science society, this kind of group will become a constant feature of the science schools at VUW. I also encourage any readers out there to join or start up such a group, I’m confident that your learning and enthusiasm will increase as a result.

My second little topic for today is just a small but worrying thought that occurred to me the other day. I was babysitting my younger brother who has just started high school this year. He’s ten years younger than me. He was having a trouble of some sort with his homework, which is all administered through some kind of web portal (which had decided to display his homework in Hungarian for some reason). The students are required to have a little netbook computer so that they can do this stuff, and I think they also use them in classes. I’m not entirely sure how that works.

So my little brother has his own netbook computer. Someday, and probably pretty soon he’s bound to get a Facebook account, and he’ll friend me of course. Now, this is a kind of scary thought in a way, because as soon as he does that, he’ll be able to see all of my posts and comments and such. And I don’t really censor myself in any way on Facebook. It never really occurred to me that a young person may be hanging on my every word. To be honest I didn’t care much either, until I thought that the young person might be my own little brother!

In the end it was just a passing moment of panic—I’m actually okay with my younger brother reading all my opinions. But it did highlight something interesting for me, which is that a lot of the adult world will suddenly open up to children when they get a Facebook account and start following people older than them. It’s going to be kind of a shock if they start taking it seriously all at once! I’m interested in other people’s experiences with younger siblings and Facebook, or older siblings and Facebook! What has it been like for you?


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