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OpenLearn Live: 4th August 2015

Updated Tuesday, 4th August 2015

More science-meets-music and then updating free learning and research across the day.

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Yesterday: early geological maps, NHS, and your digital footprint

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Today's Posts


More than a light entertainer

We started today's collection with some hardcore punk rock; to end, let's move to the other end of the musical spectrum and dip into Andy Medhurst's appreciation of Cilla Black:

We prefer our cultural pioneers to be edgy and challenging, and Cilla (as with many big stars, the mononym suffices) was none of those. In fact she was often the polar opposite of those adjectives, and her reputation rests on assorted zones of the uncool and unhip – the big ballad, the variety show, the cover version, the maligned cosiness of family entertainment. Yet it was a remarkable career, and it is difficult to understand the contours of the past half century of British showbiz with taking stock of the significance of Cilla.

In many ways, her achievements were most notable for establishing continuities between different eras. Despite being vaulted into prominence by the earthquake of Merseybeat, which shook a nation out of post-war deference by insisting on the new, the now and the young, she was within a few years drawing on entertainment codes honed in earlier decades. This led some to lament her supposed co-option by conservatism but the shift now looks more shrewd: a fusion of novelty and tradition that fashioned her into the unlikeliest of hybrids, a pop art Gracie Fields.

Read Andy Medhurst on Cilla Black


Researching woodlands

Trees take a long time to grow.  Forests and woods, being made up of lots of slow-growing trees, take even longer to happen. Which means if you're a researcher who is interested in woodland, you have to think in great big chunks of time.

Oak tree in winter Copyright free  image Icon Copyright free: DerRenner

Even by those standards, the work of Oxford University’s Keith Kirby and Nottingham University’s Charles Watkins is wide-ranging, as their new book, Europe’s Changing Woods and Forests: from wildwood to managed landscapes, uses a mix of tools including DNA, historical archives and more to follow 10,000 years of tree life:

The DNA research has improved understanding of how plants spread after the end of the last ice age. Keith Kirby explained:

‘It was believed that as the ice increased, species were pushed back and then spread back as the ice retreated. DNA analysis shows where they came back from, the routes they took and how fast they spread.

‘Plant species seem to have spread back after the ice age faster than they spread now. This is sometimes used to suggest that plant life will be able to cope with climate change. However, it may have been that pockets within the area of ice where some species could hold on. That could explain how they appeared to  spread so quickly, but it could also suggest that these species may not be able to cope with future climate change after all.’

Read Woodland concerns put into historical context at Oxford University news

Listen to Exploring Oak Woodland on OpenLearn


The leader versus Climate Change

Yesterday, President Obama outlined a widespread, challenging programme of actions to try and reduce carbon emissions and slow climate change. It's been praised as a bold move (and damned as a too bold a move) but it's not the first time a world leader has taken to a podium and insisted that something must be done. Those with long memories might recall Margaret Thatcher's speech to the United Nations in November 1989, which also sounded an alarm, and called for action: 

[A] framework is not enough. It will need to be filled out with specific undertakings, or protocols in diplomatic language, on the different aspects of climate change.

These protocols must be binding and there must be effective regimes to supervise and monitor their application. Otherwise those nations which accept and abide by environmental agreements, thus adding to their industrial costs, will lose out competitively to those who do not.

The negotiation of some of these protocols will undoubtedly be difficult. And no issue will be more contentious than the need to control emissions of carbon dioxide, the major contributor—apart from water vapour—to the greenhouse effect.

We can't just do nothing. But the measures we take must be based on sound scientific analysis of the effect of the different gases and the ways in which these can be reduced. 

Thirty years or so on, and the contentiousness of the issue hasn't lessened very much at all.

You can explore the issues of life in a changing climate through the diaries in our Creative Climate project


BBC Three, 9pm: Life Begins Now

While BBC Two is looking at life in schools, BBC Three is at college for this one-off special which explores the last few weeks at Derwen College for six students with learning difficulties. How will they fare as they prepare to leave education and re-enter every day life?

Discover more about Derwen College

Try our quiz to see what you really know about life with learning disabilities

Read more about the programme


BBC Two tonight, 9pm: Are Our Kids Tough Enough? Chinese School

A busy night for Open University co-productions tonight. First up is Are Our Kids Tough Enough, which takes Chinese school teachers and explores how they get on trying to use Chinese education approaches in a Hampshire classroom.

This is what culture shock looks like, when both cultures are being shocked simultaneously.

The series has already picked up a lot of interest in the press:

From the Telegraph: 'Britain's generous welfare system behind pupils' lack of ambition,' say Chinese teachers

Yang Jun, a science teacher who taught in schools in Xian before moving to the UK, said: “In China we don't need classroom management skills because everyone is disciplined by nature, by families, by society. Whereas here that is the most challenging part of teaching.”

She was also confused by a teenage girl who left the classroom in tears after reading reports that singer Zayn Malik had quit the boy band One Direction.

She said: “I found it difficult to understand such emotional behaviour over a pop band.”

In the Express, Ross Clark agrees with the teachers

As one of the Chinese teachers at Bohunt School pointed out, in China teachers don’t need classroom management skills because children arrive at school already in a disciplined state of mind.

They are well-behaved because they are taught to be so from birth. Besides the influence of parents, Chinese society teaches them to respect elders.

Moreover, as one of the Chinese teachers argued, Chinese pupils have a positive attitude to education because, in the absence of a strong welfare system, they know it is the way out of poverty.

In China, she said, pupils know “I need to study hard, I need to work hard to get money to support my family”.

I am not saying that I would like to live in China but the large and growing gap between the relative achievements of British and Chinese pupils should at least make us question whether we have become too soft on our children.

Read more about the series here on OpenLearn


Musical scientists: Milo Aukerman

Continuing our start-up segement highlighting musicians who are also scientists, or scientists who are also musicians (depending on where you stand), and today we're plunging into the 1980s LA hardcore punk scene and stopping off with The Descendents.

The man at the middle of the maelstrom is Milo Aukerman. Not an original member of the band - he joined after the first single - he became central incredibly quickly. The band's logo was a caricature of Milo, for example. And, off and on over 35 years, he's played with The Descendents.

But Milo Aukerman is also a professional scientist - he did postdoctoral research at the University Of Wisconsin and now holds a position with DuPont in research. But what do his colleagues at DuPont feel about having a punk hero in their midst? ASBM Today asked him that question:

Fellow scientists, he says, “are very interested in someone who’s not just stuck at the lab bench all day and who can actually go out and do something completely different, something wacky and bizarre.” Likewise, for peers in punk rock, “even if they don’t really understand what I do necessarily, it’s so different to them that it becomes more of a facet that can be fascinating,” he says.

Read A Champion of the nerds at ASBM Today

You can study science with the OU...

You can study music with the OU...

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