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OpenLearn Live: 16th July 2015

Updated Thursday, 16th July 2015

Free learning, interesting research, surprising insight from OpenLearn and around the world.

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Updates regularly throughout the day - or keep an eye on our Twitter feed at OpenLearnLive

Yesterday's OpenLearn Live included Harper Lee, autism and Mhairi Black

Today's Posts


Scary dolls

The Smithsonian Magazine goes to Pollock's Toy Museum in London to try and understand why people are scared of creepy-bejeebus-making dolls. There's a name for the fear - pediophobia - and it might be tied to evolutionary advantage. Feeling creeped out is a kind-of holding reaction: not running away too soon; but being aware to a potential threat:

Dolls inhabit this area of uncertainty largely because they look human but we know they are not. Our brains are designed to read faces for important information about intentions, emotions and potential threats; indeed, we’re so primed to see faces and respond to them that we see them everywhere, in streaked windows and smears of Marmite, toast and banana peels, a phenomenon under the catchall term “pareidolia”. However much we know that a doll is (likely) not a threat, seeing a face that looks human but isn’t unsettles our most basic human instincts.

Read the History Of Creepy Dolls at The Smithsonian Magazine

Read the science of fear

Watch turning perception on its head
 


From dinosaurs to the nearly-extinct...

One of the mysteries of the 2015 general election was how Labour was doing so well in opinion polls, only to collapse once the polling stations were open.  The British Election Study has been trying to work out what happened - did a lot of previous don't knows suddenly swap alleigance; were 'shy Tories' reluctant to reveal their favours to pollsters; was there a late swing; or were samples used by polling companies wrong? The BES thinks that the evidence shows the main impact was, actually, that people who said they were going to vote Labour when polled were a lot less likely to actually go out and vote, while people who said they would vote Conservative were - proportionally, and significantly - more likely to actually do do.

Read Why did the polls go wrong? By Jon Mellon and Chris Prosser

How do opinion polls work?

 


There's a new dinosaur in town

Yesterday we had the first look at Pluto and a brand new type of matter. Science is having a busy week, but it's not finished yet. Please meet a newly discovered species of dinosaur:

Zhenyuanlong Creative commons image Icon Junchang Lü and Stephen L. Brusatte under CC-BY licence under Creative-Commons license

The Zhenyuanlong, as it has been dubbed, is covered in feathers and looks just like a bird of today. Its wings even have three layers of quill feathers, just like the birds of today. This new creature is one of the closest cousins of the well-known velociraptor and is thought to have been alive around 125 million years ago.

Read Scientists just found velociraptor's feathered Chinese cousin at Wired

Read Paeleobiology: The biology of ancient organisms


Arctic nations agree to protect melting seas

Cod Creative commons image Icon August Linnman under CC-BY-SA under Creative-Commons license Swim north if you want to live, Cod

Some good environmental news (sort-of) today: as the Arctic melts, it's probable that fish might start to migrate further north. The Arctic nations have agreed that, if this happens, the new waters won't be treated as commercially exploitable fishing grounds, Reuters reports:

The United States, Russia and other Arctic nations signed an agreement on Thursday to bar their fishing fleets from fast-thawing seas around the North Pole, an agreement delayed more than a year by tensions over Ukraine.

The accord, also signed in Oslo by the ambassadors of Canada, Norway and Denmark, is a response to global warming, which is melting sea ice in the central Arctic Ocean, an area the size of the Mediterranean.

The central Arctic probably has no commercial fish stocks now, experts say, but melting sea ice may draw fish such as cod farther north. Forty percent of the area was briefly open water when summer sea ice shrank to a record low in 2012.

Read Russia, US agree fishing ban in Arctic as sea ice melts at Reuters

Read Is fishing in crisis?

Watch Earth Reporters - Sea Change

 


Web accessibility online course

If you work in education, and you produce online teaching, you'll be aware of the need to keep your site accessible to all users. But it can be a challenge, especially when faced with so many technologies.

The good news is that there's an online course which can help you - it's developed by the Colorado Community College system, so some of the legislative aspects are American rather than UK-facing, but the principles and technological aspects are still relevant.

Sign up to Web Accessibility for Educators

If you'd like a more advanced course, try OpenLearn's Accessibility of eLearning course


Thumbing your nose at a challenge

If you're struggling to complete something today, you might want to take heart from Thomas Gainsborough. Signing up to paint a picture of the actress Sarah Siddons, Gainsborough struggled with one part of the portrait. As the National Gallery catalogue explains:

Gainsborough is reported to have had difficulties with the nose and to have exclaimed, 'Confound the nose, there's no end to it.'

A bit of persistence paid off; and the struggle with the over-running nose resulted in an artwork on display in the National Gallery 250 years later.

Need more inspiration? Watch the OU's Jessica Pinchbeck on persistence.


Listen over lunch: Jane Austen meets neuroscience

Don't worry; this isn't another one of those mash-ups of Darcy and Zombies (and, yes, Pride And Prejudice And Zombies is going to be heading to a cinema near you next year.)

Instead, it's a short piece from NPR on what reading literature does to your brain:

You can read more about the experiment and findings at OpenCulture

And here's a brief guide to the hippocampus

New from OpenLearn: Ministry of Sharing

New to the site this week, it's the Ministry of Sharing.

What sort of social networker are you? Do you overshare on LinkedIn, or are you a bad Twitizen? Find out with our new game...

Enter the Ministry of Sharing


Fictional Universities: Lowlands

First, to state the obvious - the fictional university we're looking at today isn't the very real, and very fine, Lowlands University in the Netherlands. The Lowlands we're focusing on is the one at the heart of the mid-80s BBC comedy drama created by Andrew Davies for the series A Very Peculiar Practice.

A Very Peculiar Practice Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: A Very Peculiar Practice

A plate glass university on the edge of a town, the series itself satirised Thatcher-era higher education life through the eyes of the campus medical practice and, in particular, Dr Stephen Daker. Daker, a new member of the team struggling to understand both academic life and insititutional politics, was played by Peter Davison - much to the delight of tabloid hacks able to write "Dr Who becomes a doctor again" pieces to promote the programme.

The name Lowlands, and Davies' connections with the UEA make it easy to assume that is the university used as the real-life model here - and, indeed, the BBC originally wanted to film exterior shots in Norwich. The presence of Ron Rust - a fictionalised version of Davies, at Lowlands writing a comedy-drama series for the BBC - reinforces the Lowlands/UEA link.

However, Davies also spent time at Warwick University, and those experiences - coupled with the story arc which watches in horror as Lowlands shifts from being a teaching university to a private research institute - mean A Very Peculiar Practice can be read as a quasi-adaptation of Warwick University Ltd. Written by EP Thompson in 1971, against a background of student and public unrest, Warwick University Ltd unpicked a series of connections between politicians, industrialists and the university which, in his view, worked against the institution's academic aims. If this reading of Practice makes it seem less a Thatcher-era fable, it's worth remembering who the cabinet minister with responsibility for universities was at the time.

When it came to filming, the BBC struggled to find a university happy to be associated with such a strong take on education politics; the result was that the TV version of Lowlands is a Frankensteinian fudge up of The University of Birmingham, Keele University and, erm, a BT engineering training faculty in Staffordshire.

Read A Very Peculiar Practice at Film Quarterly

Read Warwick University Ltd at Posthegemony

Interested in becoming a student at a real university? Explore The Open University

Updates regularly throughout the day - or keep an eye on our Twitter feed at OpenLearnLive

Yesterday's OpenLearn Live included Harper Lee, autism and Mhairi Black

Today's Posts


From dinosaurs to the nearly-extinct...

One of the mysteries of the 2015 general election was how Labour was doing so well in opinion polls, only to collapse once the polling stations were open.  The British Election Study has been trying to work out what happened - did a lot of previous don't knows suddenly swap alleigance; were 'shy Tories' reluctant to reveal their favours to pollsters; was there a late swing; or were samples used by polling companies wrong? The BES thinks that the evidence shows the main impact was, actually, that people who said they were going to vote Labour when polled were a lot less likely to actually go out and vote, while people who said they would vote Conservative were - proportionally, and significantly - more likely to actually do do.

Read Why did the polls go wrong? By Jon Mellon and Chris Prosser

How do opinion polls work?

 


There's a new dinosaur in town

Yesterday we had the first look at Pluto and a brand new type of matter. Science is having a busy week, but it's not finished yet. Please meet a newly discovered species of dinosaur:

Zhenyuanlong Creative commons image Icon Junchang Lü and Stephen L. Brusatte under CC-BY licence under Creative-Commons license

The Zhenyuanlong, as it has been dubbed, is covered in feathers and looks just like a bird of today. Its wings even have three layers of quill feathers, just like the birds of today. This new creature is one of the closest cousins of the well-known velociraptor and is thought to have been alive around 125 million years ago.

Read Scientists just found velociraptor's feathered Chinese cousin at Wired

Read Paeleobiology: The biology of ancient organisms


Arctic nations agree to protect melting seas

Cod Creative commons image Icon August Linnman under CC-BY-SA under Creative-Commons license Swim north if you want to live, Cod

Some good environmental news (sort-of) today: as the Arctic melts, it's probable that fish might start to migrate further north. The Arctic nations have agreed that, if this happens, the new waters won't be treated as commercially exploitable fishing grounds, Reuters reports:

The United States, Russia and other Arctic nations signed an agreement on Thursday to bar their fishing fleets from fast-thawing seas around the North Pole, an agreement delayed more than a year by tensions over Ukraine.

The accord, also signed in Oslo by the ambassadors of Canada, Norway and Denmark, is a response to global warming, which is melting sea ice in the central Arctic Ocean, an area the size of the Mediterranean.

The central Arctic probably has no commercial fish stocks now, experts say, but melting sea ice may draw fish such as cod farther north. Forty percent of the area was briefly open water when summer sea ice shrank to a record low in 2012.

Read Russia, US agree fishing ban in Arctic as sea ice melts at Reuters

Read Is fishing in crisis?

Watch Earth Reporters - Sea Change

 


Web accessibility online course

If you work in education, and you produce online teaching, you'll be aware of the need to keep your site accessible to all users. But it can be a challenge, especially when faced with so many technologies.

The good news is that there's an online course which can help you - it's developed by the Colorado Community College system, so some of the legislative aspects are American rather than UK-facing, but the principles and technological aspects are still relevant.

Sign up to Web Accessibility for Educators

If you'd like a more advanced course, try OpenLearn's Accessibility of eLearning course


Thumbing your nose at a challenge

If you're struggling to complete something today, you might want to take heart from Thomas Gainsborough. Signing up to paint a picture of the actress Sarah Siddons, Gainsborough struggled with one part of the portrait. As the National Gallery catalogue explains:

Gainsborough is reported to have had difficulties with the nose and to have exclaimed, 'Confound the nose, there's no end to it.'

A bit of persistence paid off; and the struggle with the over-running nose resulted in an artwork on display in the National Gallery 250 years later.

Need more inspiration? Watch the OU's Jessica Pinchbeck on persistence.


Listen over lunch: Jane Austen meets neuroscience

Don't worry; this isn't another one of those mash-ups of Darcy and Zombies (and, yes, Pride And Prejudice And Zombies is going to be heading to a cinema near you next year.)

Instead, it's a short piece from NPR on what reading literature does to your brain:

You can read more about the experiment and findings at OpenCulture

And here's a brief guide to the hippocampus

New from OpenLearn: Ministry of Sharing

New to the site this week, it's the Ministry of Sharing.

What sort of social networker are you? Do you overshare on LinkedIn, or are you a bad Twitizen? Find out with our new game...

Enter the Ministry of Sharing


Fictional Universities: Lowlands

First, to state the obvious - the fictional university we're looking at today isn't the very real, and very fine, Lowlands University in the Netherlands. The Lowlands we're focusing on is the one at the heart of the mid-80s BBC comedy drama created by Andrew Davies for the series A Very Peculiar Practice.

A Very Peculiar Practice Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: A Very Peculiar Practice

A plate glass university on the edge of a town, the series itself satirised Thatcher-era higher education life through the eyes of the campus medical practice and, in particular, Dr Stephen Daker. Daker, a new member of the team struggling to understand both academic life and insititutional politics, was played by Peter Davison - much to the delight of tabloid hacks able to write "Dr Who becomes a doctor again" pieces to promote the programme.

The name Lowlands, and Davies' connections with the UEA make it easy to assume that the East Anglian university is used as the real-life model here - and, indeed, the BBC originally wanted to film exterior shots in Norwich. The presence of Ron Rust - a fictionalised version of Davies, at Lowlands writing a comedy-drama series for the BBC - reinforces the Lowlands/UEA link.

However, Davies also spent time at Warwick University, and those experiences - coupled with the story arc which watches in horror as Lowlands shifts from being a teaching university to a private research institute - mean A Very Peculiar Practice can be read as a quasi-adaptation of Warwick University Ltd. Written by EP Thompson in 1971, against a background of student and public unrest, Warwick University Ltd unpicked a series of connections between politicians, industrialists and the university which, in his view, worked against the institution's academic aims. If this reading of Practice makes it seem less a Thatcher-era fable, it's worth remembering who the cabinet minister with responsibility for universities was at the time.

When it came to filming, the BBC struggled to find a university happy to be associated with such a strong take on education politics; the result was that the TV version of Lowlands is a Frankensteinian fudge up of The University of Birmingham, Keele University and, erm, a BT engineering training faculty in Staffordshire.

Read A Very Peculiar Practice at Film Quarterly

Read Warwick University Ltd at Posthegemony

Interested in becoming a student at a real university? Explore The Open University

 

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