Monday, April 16, 2012

Free Online Courses

With the pace of change, constant learning will be the norm. Imagine the quantum leap the global mind could take if education were free and available to all!  There are lots of materials available online, but not everyone has the computer access to take advantage of these free resources (see a sampling below).


And then there's YouTube where people love to share what they know!

Friday, December 9, 2011


"Poison" by Sara Poole tells the story of Francesca Giordano, daughter of the late poisoner of Cardinal Borgia. Convinced that her father was murdered, she maneuvers to take over her father's job to figure out who was responsible and to take revenge. Her quest leads her deep into the dangerous political intrigues of the papacy.

I wrote this brief description in my iPad Notes last May 23rd, intending to expand on it. Obviously I got busy with other things and never did. Meantime, I think I've donated the book to the Palo Alto library, so I'll have to borrow it to say more on this book. But I think what I've said so far is reason enough to find a copy of this book and read it. It is very well-written and is one of those books you have to finish once you start.

I guess getting sick (I've had a cough/cold for a week) has its bright side - I lost a few pounds and I found time to get back to my blog. I never stopped reading, but I haven't been writing. I hope this signals the start of my second wind.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


I just submitted an entry to a contest jointly sponsored by the Technology Credit Union and the Singularity University ( The prize: a full scholarship to participate in one of the Singularity University's programs, something I have coveted ever since the University opened, but couldn't afford. I got interested in the concept of the technological singularity after reading Ray Kurzweil's book "The Singularity is Near."

One of the requirements of the contest was to write an essay of 500 words or less on "how exponential technologies could revamp the U.S. public school system over the next decade, and how these technologies could change the delivery of education worldwide."  It was really difficult to fit such a complex idea into 500 words, but the deadline is very close, so I sent in my essay anyway. Wish me luck!

Here is what I sent:

A technological singularity is the point when technology advances so rapidly that the future after that point becomes qualitatively different and harder to predict. Because of this, the most important goal of education is to develop in the students the ability to adapt to rapid change. This would require equipping students with basic language, mathematics, and science skills; but more than that, it would require developing strong observational and analytical skills.

Constant, life-long learning is no longer optional. This attitude has to be developed early in our youth. As the exponential growth of knowledge means the content of knowledge is not static, children need to learn at an early age how to do research. Most research now cannot be done without collaboration, and children need to be taught early how to collaborate on projects and use the various collaboration tools.

A technological singularity would have disruptive social implications. In some ways, the singularity is here. The accelerated rate of technological change has disrupted job markets, creating tremendous opportunities for a technologically savvy elite but making other skills obsolete. It has made outsourcing of certain jobs inevitable. It has created opportunities for other countries to compete.

The good news is that same accelerated pace of technological change has vastly enlarged the sources of knowledge and allows us call up that vast store of knowledge with the tap of a finger. It has given us the ability to network resources and collaborate to solve the big problems that our society and the world face.

Learning has to be connected to real life situations that the children can relate to and need. Botany, soil chemistry, nutrition, biomimetics, physical activity, etc., can be integrated in a school garden. In teaching computer use, we can touch on encryption, imaging, signal detection. Lessons can grow in complexity as age-appropriate. If it takes a YouTube video to get kids excited about chemistry, encourage it.

Businesses must pair up with schools not only to provide mentors, but to ensure a steady supply of future talent, as well as keep in touch with the needs and to harness the imagination of the next generation. (My son wished for a tapewriter before personal computers were invented; now we have voice-activated computers.)

Online education needs to be encouraged, especially free sites like, Tinkering should be encouraged (see Every school should have a lab, preferably with a 3D printer. The school itself should be a learning tool, with labels and videos everywhere showing how things work, etc.

We also need to find ways to get our youth to learn about the rest of the world because the impact of the singularity is global.  Social networks can be used. With Google Translate, we can now look at Websites written in other languages.

Libraries need to be universally digitized and access expanded. Internet access must be ubiquitous and affordable.  While the internet is not the be-all and end-all, it is as basic an educational need as the three Rs.